A flurry of writing in schools?

Is the pandemic a catalyst for creativity?

I’ve been teaching writing for the past three years as one component in my Computer class. I teach technical skills –formatting documents, and creating presentations — while always introducing current, big-picture issues in information and communication technologies, or ICT, and social media. You know, privacy, trolls, AI, disinformation…

BUT 202O DELIVERED A SURPRISE PACKAGE, besides a micro-organism that derailed us: An explosion of student writing. Fiction, mainly. The capstone project for the past three years has been an eBook my 7th graders research, write and produce. I noticed a sudden interest in fiction writing by last December, so I invited this semester’s students to consider a Writer’s Club. This week, the club is beginning to take shape. It’s fitting: Benjamin Franklin was a prolific writer, after all!

In parallel with this, in my other class on Writing and Publishing class for high school students, writing seems to come naturally. Which is why they take this elective, after all. But what surprises me is how much of writing they have already begun. Two students are already working on a book. Reading their assignments makes me wonder where these young authors have been hiding all these years. Has COVID been a catalyst for creativity? Somewhere, in some research department, there’s probably a study going on about how lock-downs and screen-time have driven young people to books again; how young adults are discussing issues not covered by memes and Tik-Tok.

AGAINST THIS BACKDROP, I INVITED JESSICA MCCANN, a Phoenix based author and freelance writer to talk to my class on Monday. Jessica writes historical fiction, and her story of how she researches her character, and crafts her story is inspiring. Her examples are what we writers could identify with such as taking on the mundane work (writing about topics such as ‘garbage’), editing work for a different kind of ‘reader’ (corporate documents), and a brush with law literature. The latter is what serendipitously led to her digging into a court case involving slavery in the late nineteenth century, which led her to a character who figures in one of her books.

Speaking of craft, Jessica talked about the need for a writer to capture and convey the sensory experiences of a scene or a character, whether it is interviewing a celebrity or an anonymous figure in history. [Her books areA Peculiar Savage Beauty” set in the 1030s Dust Bowl, and “A different Kind of Free” set in the pre-Civil War era. Having always leaned toward Sci-Fi, I’ve never read much in the historical fiction genre. I’m sold now!

My students this week are working on a blog post. In a few weeks they will create and produce a podcast, and then a newspaper. Elsewhere, and anecdotally I hear that interest in journalism is on the rise. Does that mean a return to long-form journalism, and greater value placed on writers across all genres? I hope so.

Good Apple, bad Apple: Tough call to unlock phone

Which side are you on regarding the FBI’s request that Apple unlock the phone of a killer?

I lean on the side of the agency because I would want those who protect us to have every possible lock-picking device to thwart criminal behavior. But I can see Apple’s point of not wanting to give up liberty for security, as it could tip the balance when citizens (and businesses run by citizens, never mind if they are global corporations) hand over their freedoms to the state.

Incidentally, that Ben Franklin quote, which must be resounding in your ears about how Those who would give up Liberty for safety deserve neither, is one of the best mis-quoted statements by old Ben. He actually said that “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”  (Note the qualifiers – ‘essential’ and ‘temporary.’) 

What if Apple gives up a little temporary liberty, and stop making a huge thing of this Apparently Apple has unlocked some 70 phones before, but had done it without the media baring down on it. Given that there are dozens of websites that provide back-door services, and there being ‘ethical hackers’ who could unlock phones, I’m surprised no one has offered to do it for Apple, thereby freeing them of the PR nightmare.

Perhaps the government ought to hold a hackathon and see what surfaces. After all, DARPA holds cyber-security hackathons, don’t they?