During his frequent travels in the past 24 months, President-elect Obama always paused long enough to solicit views from his audiences. He seemed to thrive on difficult questions and comments that revolved around education, the environment, global affairs, war, poverty, equity, energy and immigration.
He was especially receptive to the young voices who often spoke with deeply held views and emotions, and he admitted to being energized by the diversity of thought.
The College Board’s National Commission on Writing will soon issue a report to the president and Congress highlighting student voices. These have been drawn from a National Writing Project and Google site that asked middle and high schools students to write “Letters to the President” raising their concerns, offering advice and talking about life in their communities.
More than 6,600 students responded, an amazing number.
Equally amazing is the insight these students displayed. Here are some excerpts from a handful of the letters. I have noted first names and locations.
“In case you didn’t know, last year there were over 5.7 million people infected with HIV in South Africa … If you were to ask me, I would say we haven’t done nearly enough.” — Claire, Iowa.
“As young Americans, we are the future of our country … Many students have (education) dreams and goals they want to achieve, but some don’t have the checkbook for it.” — Anthony, Nebraska.
“Congratulations on becoming the leader of the great United States, don’t panic!” — Adam, Oklahoma.
“I am writing to inform the government of the lack of organ donors in the U.S. and how the number of organ donors can increase if the U.S. government helped to promote the significance of becoming a donor.” — Surabhi, Indiana.
“To space, I say! There, colonies will be built, on the Moon and elsewhere, and whole asteroids can be mined for the natural resources we humans crave. There, we can study new sights and sounds, new phenomena not yet explained, and perhaps even new life.” — Steven, Colorado.
“I would like to know why 12 states have no state-funded early education.” — Casey, Indiana.
“Every time someone drives their car, burns coal or oil, leaves their lights on, idles their car for more than 30 seconds, they are slowly helping to char the earth and all life on it … But I’ve got a ladder for you, renewable alternative green energy. So grab hold and climb up.” — Lauren, Washington
“So maybe you could come into different schools and survey kids of different age groups asking us how we would change something. Who knows, maybe one of us will find the answer to world peace!” — Ashley, Wisconsin.
Without question, many, many important views emerged from the comprehensive project which seemed to span the globe.
These young people are well informed about the myriad of issues that face our nation, and they care deeply about their country. They also hold high expectations for it and believe by working together the United States can indeed realize its dreams and hopes, which form the foundation of the Republic.
All of us associated with the undertaking — the National Writing Project, Google and the College Board’s National Commission on Writing — were refreshed and reassured by the thoughtfulness of the many and varied responses. One day, these students may well find the answers to our most perplexing problems.