The Real Work: Essays from the Youth Heritage Festival

We’ve finally got the Heritage Online Magazine built, so we’ve begun posting essays from the Youth Heritage Festival. We hope you send your students to read these, as models for their own work and as sources of inspiration for what is within their reach.

The essays are quite different in many ways, but one thing they share is that in each of them relationship emerges as an important theme. Each writer’s topic aims at a deeper understanding of people in the past, and each writer’s research method involves making or strengthening relationships with a source who can shed some light.

Though writing is done in solitude, it’s an inescapably social act for many reasons, including the simple fact that language itself is fundamentally social. As we grow, we become aware of others long before we become aware of ourselves. We come to consciousness within the language that those around us use. Dialogue precedes monologue.

For these young Montanans to write as powerfully as they do, they must have had good teachers, going back years. Some were classroom teachers, no doubt, but there were also those who held them on laps and read stories and those who spoke only through books. Every writer makes his or her voice out of communities or even multitudes.

Real writing—honest writing—is an important form of human relationship.

These essays are real writing. They aren’t cut and paste jobs or quick assignments cribbed from the internet. They’re works of creative scholarship by living minds. Because of that, they’re useful in many ways. They teach us things. They help us feel things worth feeling.

And they remind us why the ability to write well has always been taken as prima facie evidence of a quality education. Since writing well is a high order skill, it can’t be done unless a host of subskills are also done well. Not only do good writers have control of the complex apparatus of language, they also know facts and understand ideas and have some vivid and precise sense of the relationships between them.

And so we celebrate when our young people bring us these gifts of scholarship.

Just a note on the selection process: these essays were chosen by Heritage Project teachers, staff, and an outside evaluator as excellent examples of student writing. The evaluators were looking for essays that documented, and added to, a community’s or a person’s history. These essays that rated highest were well-researched by using primary and secondary sources and by interviewing local residents and participants. They’re good examples of local history and we’re pleased to offer them for your enjoyment. 


Posted by Michael L Umphrey on 11/17 at 10:44 PM
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