Learning for a Cause

By: Michael Sweet
from Solomon Schechter School of Manhattan

Real-World Learning

Subject(s) of entry:
English/ Writing/ Language Arts, History, Social Studies, literature

Constructivist, IBL - inquiry based learning, Socratic Method

Grade(s) to which this was taught:
6, 7, 8, 9, 10

Grade(s) for which this will be useful:
6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, Middle school, High school

Learning for a Cause is an ongoing project and the brainchild of educator Michael Ernest Sweet. The project seeks to engage students in learning and writing about real-world issues beyond the classroom walls, and then publish that writing in real books alongside celebrity guest writers. Students make REAL books about REAL issues.

Entry Narrative

Learning for a Cause was my way of tearing down the classroom walls and connecting my students with the greater and very real world outside. By engaging students in thinking and writing about real-world issues, they are permitted to enter the discourse about how we might attempt to improve our society and human condition more generally. Many classrooms as kids to write for grades, at best, or the recycle bin, at worst. I 2004 I decided to have kids write for their community, indeed, for the world at large. Our books are sold on Amazon and have been read by real people working on real issues. In fact, our book, Down to Earth – which featured a foreword by Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau – was sent to more than 100 world leaders! In this way, the thoughts of kids of some of our societies more pressing problems have actually landed on the desks of those who effect change.

The project is constructivist in that students develop their own project for change. Each student writes about the passionate issues and ideas that they want to see brought into the world. Additionally, students write in an ongoing way through a series of “free writes”. Later, they revisit their writing and select passages which they feel are potent and polish them for inclusion in the anthologies. In this way, even weak writers are able to find moments in their writing journals when they were able to shine – these are the same moments that make their way onto the pages of our books and then become immortalized. Yes, immortalized! Our anthologies are REAL books available for sale on Amazon and deposited in national libraries in both the USA and Canada.

The Learning for a Cause project is replicable too! Any and all teachers can take up publishing with their students, from their classrooms, by way of leveraging POD (print -on-demand) technology. And, you don’t even need a budget! With Amazon’s “CreateSpace” platform you only pay for what you print! A standard copy of a 200 page anthology is about $3 – a budget any school can manage. In fact, several schools have followed suit and are using my framework for publishing with their students.

By engaging celebrities as guest writers, students are able to see, first hand, that their thoughts are valued by the world beyond the classroom walls. Indeed, when we do not tap into the knowledge and wisdom of our youth we discount a whole section of our society – a vast number of creative minds willing, able, and ready to tackle our most pressing problems.

Through Learning for a Cause, my students come to the classroom to work on real problems in our world. What could make school more critical and creative than that?

PLEASE NOTE: The 2017 anthology underway at the Solomon Schechter School of Manhattan is not yet complete. I have attached a sample chapter below, as well as a draft of the book’s cover. Our 2017 edition is due to published in April, 2017. Our book this year will be titled, “Democracy Now” and will engage sixth and seventh grade writers on topics relating to being a more active and responsible citizen. What kind of president to we want? What makes a good citizen? Why do we value a democracy? Is education a necessary component of good citizenship? These are just some of the questions that student will grapple with in their writing for the 2017 edition. See a sample chapter attached to this application.

See some of our previous books here:




We Who Listened, was a collaborative project with the Azrieli Foundation and Holocaust survivor, Alex Levin.

Additional information about the Learning for a Cause Project:



Some press coverage about past books from the project:



I also wrote a full-length book about engaging students on social justice issues and having them write and publish their thinking to the world outside of the classroom. The book, The Social Justice Imagination, details the pedagogical philosophy behind the project and can be found here:


Coming to school, working on REAL problems, and publishing REAL books, is what Learning for a Cause is all about. Tearing down the classroom walls and putting an end to “busywork” or writing for the recycling bin is what Learning for a Cause is all about. More classroom need to engage children in real writing and real publishing and, hopefully, my initiative will inspire just that!

Praise for Past Books from Learning for a Cause:

“This immensely innovative project continues to challenge the skills and awaken the imaginations of an ever-widening circle of young participants with the written word…” – Actor and former guest writer, Martin Sheen

“Authentic writing, we all know, creates meaning — not only for the writer but for those who pay heed. This book, with its passionate challenge to those destroying our planet, makes youthful voices remarkably meaningful. I welcome this book and view it as a significant opening to possibility.” – Educational Philosopher, Maxine Greene

Entrant Bio(s)

Michael Ernest Sweet is an award-winning writer and educator. In 2004, he founded the non-profit student press, Learning for a Cause, which has in the years since published more than 1500 young writers. Michael's classroom has put nearly a dozen full-length student anthologies into print over the years dealing with topics such as environment, the Holocaust, social justice, and poverty. The collections have featured guest writers such as actor Martin Sheen, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and astronaut Marc Garneau. Michael Sweet is a national recipient of the Canadian Prime Minister's Award for Teaching Excellence as well as a recipient of the Queen's Medal for public service. Michael currently lives and teaches in New York City.