At NCTE in 2011, the very first break out session I planned to go to see John Green and Jimmy Santiago Baca speak about defending intellectual freedom (aka censorship and challenges). When the masses arrived and had filled the room, we found out that unfortunately Jimmy Santiago Baca could not make it. Although I was really looking forward to hearing him speak, this did leave 70 minutes or so for John Green to speak. And it was awesome!
John began by talking about his writing and why he writes for teens- “The great thrill of writing teen novels is they’re doing things for the 1st time and don’t know how.” He says the problem comes in because “authors write the porn and educators have to justify it to their audiences” and the audiences aren’t always so accepting. But what we all do not realize is that the “chilling effect of challenging books is people would rather not go through the trouble. But then the challengers win and we’re excluding a class of literature very relevant to teens these days.” The world needs to see “literature as a blanket that covers the world and has comforted us since the beginning of time… Reading can be a way in to not feeling alone but it is also important to read about those not like us. The better I can imagine being you, the more empathetic I am… Censorship is an argument against empathy.” He shared that if a book is challenged within your school, don’t give up. Contact the author, NCTE, others for help and fight it. He gave us one key piece of advice, but asked us not to say he said it so I am staying mum; however, if you ever meet me, ask me what he said and I will share.
This session was also a big pep rally for teachers. Here’s some highlights:
“Public schools exist for the benefit of social order. An educated society benefits us all.”
“We need to trust teachers and when we don’t we do us all a great disservice.”
“Part of the s#*tty thing of being a teacher is you are never thanked.”
His biggest piece of luck was having teachers who didn’t give up on him.
“Anticensorship = not giving up on beliefs and what is good for your students.”
“A teacher’s passion, attention is never wasted.”
“If you can empower teachers to do their job, they’ll generally do it well.”
Leaving the session you couldn’t help but feel empowered and
I hope that everyone in the room felt the same way as me.
But then, to keep my John Green high going, I was able to meet him (briefly) at the ALAN cocktail party and he spoke again at ALAN.
His session at ALAN was shorter and took on the topic of social networking and, of course, reading. He shared how our students are living in the information society and “the information society is about fear- fear of being bored, alone”. Really, most young adults do read, but they read online and “online reading/writing is skimming. It is like the cliffnotes version of consciousness. And it is all terrifyingly wonderfully distracting.” But that is why reading is so important. “Reading forces you to be quiet in a world that no longer makes a place for that.” He hopes that as a writer he can find “a seat at the table of the lives of his reader”.
John Green is one of those authors who I could listen to just ramble on because random acts of brilliance always accompany him. I was honored to see him speak twice and if you ever have the chance, you should try to see him as well.
It is times like this one that makes NCTE and ALAN a must-attend for me. It always leaves me with an education high that reminds me why I am doing what I am doing,
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