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Sorensen Accepts Ted Kennedy Award from National Commission on Writing
Monday, October 26, 2009
Despite technological changes in communication, working with words is still an essential skill for students to master, said author, historian and renowned political adviser Ted Sorensen on Friday after receiving the Ted Kennedy Award from the College Board's National Commission on Writing.
Sorensen drew on his experiences as special counsel and speechwriter for President John F. Kennedy, emphasizing the importance of word choice in divisive, and sometimes dangerous, situations. With words, Sorensen said, Kennedy was able to break down religious barriers, turn the tide for civil rights, and galvanize and inspire the country to reach toward the moon.
The teaching of writing continues to be important, Sorensen said, even as communications grows more immediate through technology. Teachers' work can't be underestimated, he said, and recalled a quote from A Man for All Seasons, in which Sir Thomas More encourages his daughter's suitor to consider becoming a teacher. The young man scoffed, asking who would know if he were. More replied, "You would know; I would know; your friends would know; you students would know; God would know. That's quite an audience."
Sorensen, a native Nebraskan, chose to donate his honorarium to benefit "Words Matter," an elementary-school program to promote reading and writing in Lincoln public schools. Bob Kerrey, a former U.S. senator and governor from Nebraska who introduced Sorensen, announced he would match the gift, and College Board President Gaston Caperton said the organization would as well.
Kerrey, who is president of The New School; Caperton; and Arlene Ackerman, the superintendent of schools in Philadelphia, also participated in a panel discussion during the program.
A woman in the audience asked about teaching writing to today's students, who are accustomed to digital formats. Ackerman answered by saying, "They say their form of writing [on Facebook and Twitter] is writing. I think we have to find a way to engage them where they are. There is some disagreement about what value there is in it, but I think we're going to have to stand back and figure out a way to work with them and combine the best of both worlds of writing."