Sunday, November 02, 2008

This Might Actually Be A Work of Staggering Genius.

Last Friday I was exploring the web looking for ideas for expanding tutoring in classrooms and I stumbled on and something about it caught my attention. Then I discovered a familiar name--Dave Eggers, author of one of my favorite books--A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius.

It took me a minute or two to discover that Eggers was behind the site; that he is an advocate for education, particularly reading and writing. And not only an advocate of education, but of building bridges between citizens with skills to offer and kids who need one on one tutoring.

The website is the result of Eggers receiving the 2008 TED prize (Technology, Entertainment & Design Conference).

In his speech he details his dream, its roots, how he got involved, how his dream has grown, and how he wants to hand off this dream to communities everywhere using the onceuponaschool website to make the evidence visual and inspiring for others.

Eggers speaks rapidly (at light speed, actually) genuinely, passionately, with his hands, and in a style that is completely his own. He is funny and yet, I was completely moved. I urge you to watch the entire speech to really understand what he and others did at 826 Valencia in San Francisco. The video is 25 minutes. I realize that's a lifetime to typical blog reading, internet browsers. Yet, once I started watching it I was transfixed. Maybe you have to love Dave Eggers or be passionate about kids and volunteering and writing, but I thought it was entirely worth it. In fact, I can't stop thinking about it.

If the idea of watching that video is too much, read on. I have reprinted some of the best bits from this article by Alan T. Saracevic, Chronicle Business Editor

Each year, the TED conference organizers pick three extraordinary individuals to each receive an award and then make a wish. Then the TED community, made up of some of the most influential scientists, artists, business leaders and politicians in the world, goes forth and works to make those wishes come true.

This year, San Francisco's very own Dave Eggers, a Pulitzer-nominated novelist and community activist stole the show. In a hilarious, rambling speech that had the crowd roaring with laughter and applauding in appreciation, the 37-year-old writer made his wish:

"I wish that you - you personally and every creative individual and organization you know - will find a way to directly engage with a public school in your area and that you'll then tell the story of how you got involved, so that within a year we have 1,000 examples of transformative change."

To help facilitate the process, Eggers has created a Web site,, that will serve as a clearinghouse for people to chronicle their volunteer efforts.

Eggers founded a groundbreaking tutoring center/publishing house in San Francisco's Mission District. Named after its street address, 826 Valencia, it has grown into a municipal treasure and a national movement that is helping thousands of kids with reading and writing skills in cities from coast to coast.

The way it works is simple: Interested writers, editors and artists rent a storefront and hang a shingle offering tutoring services to kids in the neighborhood. During the day, the pros work on publishing projects such as Eggers' McSweeney's literary journal. When school lets out, the kids come in to do their homework and work on projects with one-on-one help. In many cases, the kids work up anthologies that get published.

Now, you're probably wondering how Eggers and his friends get kids to come in for more tutoring after a day of school. A lot of it has to do with the program's whimsy.

When Eggers first rented that storefront on 826 Valencia St., the landlord said they had to sell something. It was zoned commercial. So the writers put together a Pirate Supply Store in the front of the shop, selling gear for the "practicing buccaneer." Visitors can buy custom peg legs, and eye patches, and planks by the foot. Ocean maps and parrot feed. It's all pretty hilarious and it seems to put the kids at ease: This is not your average learning experience.

That very model, learning mixed with whimsy, caught on across the country. A group of writers in Brooklyn opened a store that sold superhero gear. In Chicago, there's a tutoring center masquerading as a spy store. And in Los Angeles, there's a time-travel mart.

Through those experience, Eggers has become committed to the power of tutoring and the need for supporting the nation's foundering public schools.

"This is a different kind of TED wish, one that we haven't had before," said TED organizer Chris Anderson, who went on to say that anyone can get involved in this idea, not only the world's elite power brokers. "I really hope that in a year's time, there's a thousand stories."

To learn more about 826 Valencia and the other like-minded tutoring centers emerging across the nation, go to Check it out.

Maybe my talented, intellectual, highly skilled friends in the Seattle area would be interested in volunteering at their site.

1 comment:

stephy said...

I just watched the clip and loved it so much I put it on my blog too! xo


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