Why Students Should Blog

When kids can type email addresses faster than they can write their own names, and their thoughts flow most naturally in the form of tweets and status updates, writing takes on new shapes and meanings. Opinions, desires, fears, and frustrations are relayed in typed text often before they’re even spoken aloud, and then posted for public consumption. So it’s no surprise that young people today have taken to blogs to find their true voices, and then share them with the world.

Though often more informal than structured essays, blogging can encourage young people to trust that their written words have power and that expressing themselves through written storytelling can transform themselves and our communities.

During my teenage years, when I was heartstruck and confused about whether that cute boy really liked me, frustrated because of drama among girlfriends, or enraged at unfair treatment from a teacher, I would scribble furiously into my journal, feeling release as ink spilled across the pages. I never expected anyone would read or care about my thoughts or stories. The action of assigning words and sentences to my inner ramblings always calmed me and helped me make sense of things.

But things certainly have changed in the past two decades. Through blogging, teens’ thoughts leap from diaries buried under pillows and into plain view, for the whole world to read and respond to. Teenagers can relate to the crises and dilemmas they read about on others’ blogs, realize they’re not alone, and find camaraderie in shared experiences—including experiences of injustice.

As executive director of SPARK, an intergenerational, girl-fueled activist movement to challenge the sexualization of girls, I work with an amazing team of 13- to 22-year-olds who each blog for us at least once a month. We have published more than 300 pieces on our blog since it launched in 2011. SPARK girls use blogging as the critical tool for our activism. They bring voices into the conversation that have historically been pushed aside, ignored, or quashed. They write about the issues they’re most passionate about: feminism, eating disorders, movies, politics, television shows, advertising, parents, activism, and thousands of other topics and issues that come up in their daily lives. Alice, 16, recently wrote a personal blog post about how she deals with anger, particularly as it relates to sexism at her school:

“I don’t like hearing something at school and taking anger home with me. It ends up hurting me WAY more than it hurt whoever made me angry to begin with. But sometimes I just can’t shake it off. It gets into my veins and keeps coming back. That’s not fun. It’s not healthy. I’m sick of it. If you’re reading this, then you can probably relate. So how do you deal with anger that won’t go away?”

Girls like Alice are putting the second-wave feminist mantra “the personal is political” into direct practice. Her post was shared with thousands of people Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr, and hundreds of people responded. We hope it ignited conversations offline and inspired other young people to think about and change how they express rage.

Girls’ blogs have also launched direct action campaigns that have caused positive social change. Stephanie, 22, wrote a piece in December critiquing a popular toy company’s new line that was marketed for girls. She believed that the company’s pink and purple beauty salon reinforced negative gender stereotypes. She was angry. She wrote about it. Her blog post circulated throughout the blogosphere and eventually garnered a Twitter response from the toy company. SPARK decided to take the issue further and launched a petition that was supported by a dozen more blog posts by girls, expressing their charged opinions about the toys. Mass mainstream and social media attention led to a meeting with executives at the toy company. We have recently seen positive changes from this company, showing us that they not only read our concerns, but also listened and took action. It all started with a blog.

In addition to blogging as activism, teachers across the country have been finding fantastic ways to include classroom blogs as part of their curriculum, encouraging students to post in these public forums and share their work with each other. Blogs can encourage shy students who might not raise a hand during discussions to put finger to keyboard and express themselves through writing. High school English teacher Ileana Jimenez makes her high school class’s blog public, so anyone anywhere can read her students’ writing, encouraging a global conversation. Another SPARK blogger, Tyanna, 21, says, “When I blog, there is less focus on the grammar aspect of my writing and more focus on the content. Blogging has helped me realize that I am good at writing. It’s hard to see past an adult’s red pen.”

Blogging as a writing form opens the door for 21st-century creativity. The format begs for multimedia inclusion and interactivity. Instead of describing an image, link to a photograph. Instead of quoting from a news report, embed the YouTube link. Instead of reading a blog and fuming or cheering from the solitude of your desk, add a comment. Though often more informal than structured essays, blogging can encourage young people to trust that their written words have power and that expressing themselves through written storytelling can transform themselves and our communities. Georgia, 14, writes:

“I blog to free myself of all the binds other people might put on my thinking and my self-expression. I love being free to say what I believe without having to worry about saying it in a “ladylike” or “gentle” way—blogging allows me to channel all my passion into something to share with the world and to feel proud of something! I think the reason I love it so much is there are no rules—unlike an essay, no one is marking it, and you’re given essentially free rein. I love knowing that what I say is going to be seen by other people, and hopefully help them.”

Dana Edell, Ph.D., is an activist-scholar-artist and has been the executive director of SPARK Movement since May 2011. She is co-founder/executive director of viBe Theater Experience, a nonprofit performing arts education organization that empowers teenage girls. She also co-founded and directed Inside/Out Performing Arts, a theater-making program for girls affected by the juvenile justice system in San Francisco, and she has worked as a theater artist-in-residence in New York City public schools. Since 1998, Edell has produced and co-directed more than 60 plays, seven CDs of original music, eight music videos and three radio episodes, all written and performed by girls. She has spoken as an expert on girls’ issues on ABC’s 20/20, Al Jazeera, Fox News, Fox & Friends, BBC and NPR. Dana teaches education, qualitative research methods, and theater and social change courses at New York University and the City University of New York.

This article is commissioned by Amplify Education Inc. The views expressed are the author’s own, and do not represent those of Amplify Education Inc.