Learning for a Cause, founded by Montreal educator and writer Michael Ernest Sweet, is a non-profit educational project that allows students to publish their creative writing and market it to the world. The project began in 2003 at Lester B. Pearson High School and has grown tremendously in the five years since. With two major publications to their credit, Learning for a Cause is radically changing how public education approaches creative writing and English language arts.
Michael Sweet speaks passionately about his concept, “For far too long we have asked students in schools to write for the trash bin. Students are writing great things – innovative and provocative ideas – we need to share them, publish them! When we publish student writing we are saying it is good, it is real and it matters. Living and learning begin to connect authentically – as they should.”
Each year Learning for a Cause selects a theme and then produces poems, plays, essays and short stories that explore that theme. In the end an anthology is published and the students go to work promoting their book. All the royalties generated from book sales are then directed into community initiatives and special projects – thus learning for a cause.
This year Sweet’s students are writing about environmental justice and our precious planet earth. The students invited a number of environmental leaders to write with them and two big names accepted their offer – Canada’s first woman in space Dr. Roberta Bondar and Justin Trudeau the son of one of Canada’s greatest prime ministers. Both Bondar and Trudeau will write introductions to the students work.
“This is a great initiative and I support it,â€ said Trudeau who also plans to attend the book launch at the school in May. Proceeds from this year’s book, Down to Earth, will support the students in their sending copies to world leaders in an effort to influence public policy in relation to the environment. Additionally, students will be using a portion of the funds to plant trees on their school grounds in the spring.
“Developments in on-demand publishing have made writing books a possibility for the classroom. This is big. Books, indeed writers have shaped and changed our world, how we see it, how we relate to it and one another. What I am doing is not so much novel, excuse the pun, but rather I am seizing new technology and making it relevant to the classroom. Education can be a socially transformative force if we dare to make it so. Print on demand publishing is a new technology which is available to educators to use teaching and learning as a gateway to strengthening our democracy. When students are granted a genuine voice, by way of writing and publishing, civic participation – opportunities to be agents of change – increase and become accessible. The classroom walls must come down. Teachers and students alike need to interact with the world outside to make it better – more humane.”
Learning for a Cause is a winner of a 2006 Quebec Entrepreneurial Award and will be featured at the 6th International Forum on Education and Culture in Rome, Italy in November. The Quebec Ministry of Education is also producing a documentary about the project this winter that will be used to train other educators in using this innovative cross-curricular approach to creative writing.