All posts by Millie Davis

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About Millie Davis

Millie Davis is Senior Developer for Affiliates, and Director of the Intellectual Freedom Center at the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE). In addition she works on NCTE’s communications efforts, particularly on social media. Millie's passion is working with literacy teachers across the country and beyond whose passion for their students and their students' learning is their reason for going to work each day.

An Affiliate Meeting Designed to Set a Precedent

This blog was written by NCTE President Susan Houser.

susanhouser3The power of NCTE’s affiliates has been an enduring part of our organization’s long and storied history, and affiliates have played a major role in my teaching career. Today, as NCTE’s president, I am honored that NCTE has committed to a redesigned leadership meeting this July 7-9 in Atlanta, Georgia: the leaders of all affiliates have been invited to participate in one meeting, at one time, to discuss and work towards common goals and NCTE initiatives.

NCTE’s officers and leadership are very excited about what we will strive to achieve together at this meeting and we hope you will consider joining us. We have a fantastic agenda and slate of speakers set for this meeting; remember the deadline to sign up is May 25.

We are coming together with several objectives in mind. We want to

• Discuss and plan future advocacy efforts with NCTE and between states, and develop plans together
• Equip state policy analysts and affiliate members with tools that can help in furthering advocacy efforts at local level through Everyday Advocacy strategies and ideas
• Develop new goals for leadership trainings and future online meetings with affiliates and their common interest/goals
• Discuss and plan membership initiatives and ways to involve more members in affiliate work, providing leadership models that work in today’s world with all members
• Provide affiliate journal editors with 21st century methods and engagement with their readers
• Provide networking opportunities for affiliate leaders and NCTE leaders to develop future programs

While these goals may seem lofty for one meeting in 3 days’ time, this meeting was developed to set a precedent. We are establishing a method for affiliate leaders to have direct contact with NCTE officers and staff as well as SCOA, with the end goal of finding new ways to reach more members through affiliates and the parent organization of NCTE. Working towards the same goals, our ideas will help move our organizations forward.

We hope this meeting becomes a catalyst for working together to plan and implement ways to help teachers at the local level advocate for what is important to all of us – the best literacy practices being supported and upheld in our schools and universities. The take-aways could be phenomenal: a networking of affiliates that is new and exciting, alongside NCTE officers, staff, and policy analysts, working in our local areas together to advocate for the best literacy practices.

To sustain this effort it will be essential to have follow up conversations and meetings in the next year, and facilitate more work together through NCTE-directed activities at our annual convention and in online meetings. While it may be difficult to actually have a measure of success for these efforts, the outcomes will be evident in the kinds of future meetings that affiliates wish to support and the overall support of NCTE goals and objectives. Sustained support from NCTE officers and staff will be essential to any groundwork laid by this meeting.affiliate-leadership-mtg-graphic-square_2-200-1
NCTE President Susan Houser retired in 2014 from the Pinellas County Schools, Florida, after teaching middle school reading, language arts, and gifted language arts for 14 years. She previously taught elementary and middle grade reading and language arts in the Duval County Public Schools, and recently taught courses in elementary education at Keiser University in Sarasota and general education English at Remington College in Tampa. From 2005 to 2014 she held a variety of committee and leadership positions with NCTE. Houser has also served as president and executive board member of the Florida Council of Teachers of English (FCTE) and coordinator of the FCTE Advocacy Team.

 

13+ Answers to 13 Reasons Why

NCTE Facebook has been ablaze with discussion of an article from The Atlantic.

The Netflix series of Jay Asher’s book 13 Reasons Why is causing a stir and everyone has an opinion. As of April 21, there were over 11 million tweets about the show.

Some are worried that the series “promotes suicide” while others laud the series for making real the pressures young adults feel, keep quiet, and that, often out of ignorance, adults pooh-pooh.

Others, like Tammy from the Juggling ELA blog, say the series does not promote suicide and wonder if the series were Romeo and Juliet would the complaints be so loud.

Steve Bickmore introduces Michelle M. Falter’s  post on his YA Wednesday blog this way,

“Both the posts by Susan and Michelle have me thinking about Joan Kaywell who reminds us that books save lives. They do but as educators we need to help lead the way.

Falter reminds us that,

“We need to be brave. Braver than we ever have been. Brave because our students are braver than us, and are ready to talk about these things. Kids will be watching this Netflix series with or without their parents. They will. And we can either ignore this, or we can acknowledge it. As parents, as teachers, as friends, we can and MUST have these conversations about the topics this book/series presents. Parent, educator, filmmaker, and social worker, Nina Rabhan, offers 13 insightful questions, in her review, as a starting place for this dialogue.”

She adds,

“Okay, so now that I have acknowledged this, let’s talk about 13 Reasons Why and why we should not just dismiss this book or TV series. While I certainly will not dismiss the real concern that psychologists and mental health professionals have issued around the graphic nature and potential for the series to trigger people (as I think this is a valid concern), I will push back on the idea that because of this we (parents, children, teenagers, schools, teachers, students, etc.) should not watch it or read it. I think this would be a huge mistake and waste.”

Most seem to agree that the series touches very real issues for teens—bullying and suicide—and that these issues are worth talking about so we can do something about them.

Many advocate for parents to either view the series before letting their children view it or watch it with them.

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Author Jay Asher made three important points at the Twin Cities Teen Lit Convention  in Minnesota last Saturday.

  1. He noted the novel is a cautionary tale, not a story glorifying suicide.
  2. He pointed out that, “Every scene in the book that one person has contacted me saying they have a problem with, or that they thought was irresponsible, I’ve had dozens of people say that was the part they connected with.”
  3. He noted, “I guarantee there’s nothing in that show or the book that hasn’t happened to teens. Sometimes it hasn’t happened very often, but it does happen. When we hear adults saying ‘adults wouldn’t react that way,’ I can guarantee, I’ve heard from teens who said that’s what happened when they reached out.”

What seems to be missing in most of what people are saying is the important notion that while the series may not be right for them or their children, it could be very right for someone else and their children. What’s missing from nearly all conversations are the real and poignant reactions of the young adults who’ve watched the series. Here are a few from Common Sense Media.

100,000 Forbidden Books and Counting

“Books are the maker of culture, ” notes Argentinian artist Marta Minujín, who is promising that her performance art installation, The Parthenon of Books, will be one of the top ten moments of 2017.

Built into The Parthenon of Books will be books such as Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl, James Baldwin’s Go Tell It on the Mountain, Ernest Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls, Beatrix Potter’s The Tale of Peter Rabbit, and J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye. See the long list or the short list, both of which are lacking in many commonly challenged books here in the U.S., and donate your favorites that aren’t yet on the list.

This Parthenon will be a visible, participatory structure that encompasses the Athenian ideals of the first democracy and symbolizes “resistance to any banning of writings and the persecution of their authors.”  That the Parthenon was a temple to Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom, “reason, intelligent activity, arts and literature” is not lost on the project which will be constructed in Friedrichsplatz in Kassel, Germany, where “on May 19, 1933, some 2,000 books were burned by the Nazis during the so-called ‘Aktion wider den undeutschen Geist’ (Campaign against the Un-German Spirit).”

“A symbol of resistence to political oppression,” the finished Parthenon will actually move, as Minujín’s 1983 Argentinian version did, with the help of cranes;  and two-three times a day people will be allowed to enter and to take home a “forbidden book.”

Who Gets to Speak and Be Heard?

The first rule of free speech is that everyone gets to speak as long as they don’t break the law (like shouting “Fire!” in a crowded theater or slandering someone).

Yet college campuses are at siege right now over this very issue. Take the University of California, Berkeley, which is known as the home of the free speech movement.  But there, on February 1, the planned speech by Milo Yiannopoulos was ended because of riots and violence.  This week Ann Coulter’s April 27 appearance was cancelled, then rescheduled for May 2 when Coulter says she’s unavailable, and now Berkeley being sued, and Coulter is promising to show up on the 27th anyhow.

From an article by Adam Steinbaugh of FIRE (Foundation for Individual Rights in Education):

“As a public university, Berkeley is unquestionably bound to comply with the First Amendment. The university itself doesn’t have to extend an invitation to any speaker in particular, but a public university — an agency of the government — can’t veto who its students invite to speak. Speech is not deprived of protection under the First Amendment simply because is viewed as offensive or hateful…

“But the First Amendment does not permit law enforcement to ban or burden speech on the basis that some people opposed to the speaker might, or are even likely to, react in a violent manner with the intent of stopping the speaker. When it does impose such a burden for that reason, it has established what is known as the “heckler’s veto.” When this is allowed to happen, it provides an incentive for protesters who wish to silence a speaker to act violently, knowing that the police will do the silencing for them. As the Supreme Court held in Forsyth County v. Nationalist Movement (1992), restrictions based on the expected violent opposition to a speaker would work to inhibit the expression of ‘views unpopular with bottle throwers’:

“In a balance between two important interests — free speech on one hand, and the state’s power to maintain the peace on the other — the scale is heavily weighted in favor of the First Amendment. … Maintenance of the peace should not be achieved at the expense of the free speech…”

English Teachers as Contemporary Shamans

I am always behind in my reading, so today, I finally picked up the Winter 2017 edition of The ALAN Review. The issue’s theme is “Story and the Development of Moral Character,” and it begins with the printed words of Jandy Nelson’s 2015 ALAN Workshop Keynote Address.

I need to stop here and say that I hope you’ve heard of ALAN (the Assembly on Literature for Adolescents of the NCTE), NCTE’s first assembly and the sponsor of that two-day book and author extravaganza on the Monday and Tuesday after the NCTE Annual Convention each year.  If you teach adolescents, you’ll want to join this group, and if you’re lucky, one day you’ll be able to join 499 other book and author loving English teachers for the ALAN Workshop, schmooze with YA Authors, and build your muscles carrying that 40-pound box of YA books you’ll receive.

But back to Jandy Nelson who started off her address by explaining “this belief I have that English teachers are our contemporary shamans: the wakers of sleeping souls, the planters of dreams in heads, the imparters of some of life’s most valuable gifts: compassion, empathy, humanity, ambiguity, wonder, joy.” She went on to describe a few of her own deep learning experiences with English teachers.

There was her 14th year of

“Man’s Inhumanity to Man”…books that explored genocide, poverty, oppression, racism, human cruelty and brutality, existential angst, social alienation, loneliness, moral bankruptcy, spiritual impoverishment…

“Audre Lorde said, ‘The Learning process is something you can incite, literally, incite, like a riot.’ This is what happened that year. We read and talked and disagreed, and the world, so very much world, began to shake inside us as we found our humanity in all this inhumanity, found empathy and compassion, found moral compasses, as we learned to hold history accountable, to hold the newspaper headlines accountable, to hold each other accountable. And all this in English class, not at home, not at church or temple or mosque, but from reading novels with Ms. W. In one year, she turned us into thinkers. I began to understand reading and writing as a revolution, thinking as being a profoundly active verb. I began to understand that a person writing quietly in a room might be burning down the world. And then rebuilding it, word by word, into something magnificent.”

Words worth contemplating this week before NCTE Advocacy Day, and all the weeks of your years as shamans for students preK-16+.

By the way, please enjoy the columns from this issue (and others) of The Alan Review. To read the full and future issues, join ALAN.

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