Friday, April 04, 2008

Such a simple idea

Though I've been a fan of McSweeney's for some time now, I haven't been that big of a fan of Dave Eggers, the prime mover behind it. He often comes across, it seems to me, as too clever by half, and even as working pretty hard to appear effortlessly so.

My mind has been changed completely. This morning, given an extra hour on the train due to mechanical difficulties, I finally got around to watching Dave Eggers's TED talk video. Okay, so 'TED' stands for "Technology, Entertainment, Design" (obligatory link to their site), and it's basically an organization that gathers luminaries from all sorts of industries to talk about their research, their ideas, and their practices. Eggers was invited to speak and to receive his TED prize at their annual conference because he developed a model for providing neighborhood-based, one-on-one language and writing tutoring for public school kids. As he describes rather endearingly in the video below, his idea is a rather simple one: Lots of writers and publishing professionals have flexible work schedules; many public school kids don't get much one-on-one attention from their teachers. Eggers decided to dedicate the front on his publishing office to tutoring space, and editors and writers leave their books and magazines on their desks in favor of helping individual students work on their own after school. Once Eggers's group discovered how to do what they wanted to do, the "publishing center" simply called 826 Valencia took off, and they now have more than 1400 volunteers that tutor both inside and outside of public schools in San Francisco (while selling pirate supplies). They've also triggered similar initiatives across the US.

It's such a great idea, and it's impossible not to find Eggers's passion infectious. I encourage you to watch the whole video sometime (about 20 minutes or so), and maybe think about how you could perhaps get involved in something similar. Sometime soon, we'll have to dedicate an afternoon to the Super Hero Supply Company in Brooklyn.


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