deborah: Kirkus Reviews: OM NOM NOM BRAINS (kirkus)
I've updated the online reading list for my Fantasy and Science Fiction class at the Center for the Study of Children’s Literature at Simmons College.

Some random statistics might be interesting. I kept track of them for my own purposes, and then I had too much fun with pivot tables, so I'm sharing some of my results. Keep in mind these are often guesses on my part, because I only needed rough numbers, and I could be wrong.Many stats! )
deborah: the Library of Congress cataloging numbers for children's literature, technology, and library science (Default)
So I have long understood the critiques of relying on Peggy McIntosh and Tim Wise for introducing white students to race theory and the concepts of privilege. And (while they are not the same person and should not be painted with the same brush), Tim Wise's current panstlessness on Twitter has reminded me of a question I've been meaning to ask for a while.

While I know that there are plenty of excellent writings by people of color on the concept of privilege, I've never found anything, personally, as good as The Invisible Knapsack for really doing that first, preliminary, kindergarten step of introducing the concepts to white students who are initially resistant to the ideas. Given that pretty much anyone with any privilege on any axis is going to get their back up the first time they learn about the concepts, and white students especially given how overwhelming the racial problems are in this country and how much the dominant narrative wants us to believe in a post-racial society, I really like starting with something gentle, something they find it harder to kneejerk argue with. It's certainly not where I finish, but I have found it to be a useful starting point.

I'm sure there must be other introductory essays which are similarly clear and gentle but also written by POC, but my librarian skills are failing me. Anyone have any good recommendations?

(I know there's Scalzi's difficulty level essay, but that suffers from the exact same problem, and also doesn't actually particularly address my usual audience.)
deborah: Kirkus Reviews: OM NOM NOM BRAINS (kirkus)
Last fall, when I taught with [personal profile] astern, it wasn't until after we had started the semester that we realized what the ideal opening assignment ought to be. Now that we are taking a teaching hiatus, we have to give the assignment to you. This assignment will not be graded on a curve, so do your best work! We expect you to abide by the Honor Code*, which in this case means you may work together.

Your assignment:

Pick a book. In the spirit of the class we are not currently teaching, I suggest a speculative fiction work for children or young adults, but pick any book you are interested in talking about.

Now pick three types of writing off the following list. You must pick option 9, but the other two can be any you choose.

  1. A personal blog post reacting to your reading experience.
  2. A professional blog post about the text.
  3. The political response: a reading of the text on purely ideological grounds.
  4. A Goodreads or Amazon style review of the book.
  5. A professional (e.g. Kirkus, Publishers Weekly) style review. If you pick this option, read several examples, and pay attention to such things as house style, word count, ratio of summary/analysis/judgment, etc.
  6. Librarian book talk write up.
  7. Editorial analysis, from the point of view of a publisher or agent working with the manuscript.
  8. Critical scholarly discussion of the sort you would post in an educational forum discussing the text for a class.
  9. Formal critical scholarly analysis of any element of the text, as with a formal paper.

Write at least 500 words in each of your three styles (unless you are choosing to write a professional review, in which case use the word count appropriate for the house style you are choosing). Pay attention to what is different. Besides obvious changes (such as casual versus professional language), what differs? What different choices did you have to make? Did more or fewer words make things easier?

One of our goals with this hypothetical assignment was to show how, while each of these styles of writing is valuable and important -- we certainly don't think, say, personal blog posts of squee aren't valuable -- they are all wildly different. In fact, we hope some of you will choose to write both personal and professional blog posts, or both Goodreads and professional reviews, just to focus on the more subtle (but vital) differences between these types of writing.

Current students are so incredibly proficient at writing about reading, because what with blogs etc., they do so much of it. And yet at the same time, they are proficient in some very specific kinds of writing about reading (primarily personal blogs and Goodreads-style reviews, with some amount of professional blogs), and the process of showing people the requirements of the different kinds of writing is different than it used to be. Without devaluing existing proficiencies, we hope to show that high quality reactive blog post, for example, is not the same thing as scholarly forum discussion.

Over the next couple of days, we will be producing examples of each of these kinds of writing for a single book, and we will post our own examples as well as our own analysis of the differences in the writing style. Let us know here if you have tried this exercise yourself and would like us to link here to your results (whether that happens now or sometime in the future).

* Why yes, we are both bi-co, why do you ask? [Back]
deborah: The management regrets that it was unable to find a Gnomic Utterance that was suitably irrelevant. (gnomic)
After five awesome years, I'll be taking a hiatus from teaching my F & SF for children's and young adults class. I'm also going back to school for a third master's: computer science, this time. So that happened.

These are actually unrelated events, except inasmuch as I wouldn't be doing an MS program if I were still teaching. Once I realized I was taking a break from teaching, it occurred to me I'd have the time at last to take advantage of the free tuition benefit offered by my employer. That I went in about a week from "Maybe I should take some classes" to "You know what would be awesome? A degree program!" is par for the course of [personal profile] deborah. I would crack myself up if I didn't have to live with the aftermath of being me.

As I prepare for the mental shift from teaching master's students to being one, I think I might take some serious time to brush up my programming-by-voice skills. I haven't really spent any spoons on rewiring my brain for better dictation in years -- I don't use Natlink/Vocola or Utter Command or Dragonfly or even VoiceCode. When I was younger I was spending everything I had learning to function again, and then I knew all kinds of cruddy workarounds and just wrote terrible DNS scripting commands for Perl. And besides these days I can type a little.

I don't think my rotten VB workarounds and a little bit of typing will cut it for work + dreamwidth + grad school, though, so taking the time to buckle down and get better at dictating, while long overdue, is finally vital.
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I feel that as full-time academic staff but part-time adjunct faculty I can 100% attest to the accuracy of advanced faculty wrangling techniques, which explains why cat herding is so much easier than faculty wrangling. (h/t [personal profile] pauamma)

Since I do lecture as adjunct faculty, does that mean I can publicly state my feelings about faculty? Or will I be seen to be speaking as a staff, and not as faculty? :D
deborah: the Library of Congress cataloging numbers for children's literature, technology, and library science (Default)
There are many proud moments in my life as an instructor. One of my greatest joys, for example, is when my entire curriculum plan has to get thrown out the window because the complex idea I was planning on leading my students towards over the course of three hours gets raised in classroom discussion in the first 10 minutes. It's even better when the student who thus derails me is one I had thought was struggling. I'm proud when students come up with smart ideas I hadn't thought of. I'm proud when they debate passionately with each other.

But I can't deny that I am overwhelmed with pride when my students' work for my class gets accepted for paper calls. This year, three of my students submitted a set of proposals as a paper session for ICFA-32: The Fantastic Ridiculous, and the abstracts were accepted.

It was formative for me when, back in the day, Perry Nodelman encouraged a group of his students in the Simmons College children's literature summer symposium to submit a paper group to the annual Children's Literature Association Conference. I've tried to pay that encouragement forward to my own students.

I know it's their hard work, none of mine, that gets these students out there presenting and publishing. Still, I'll enjoy basking in the reflection. And as papers are presented and/or published (and as I learn about them), I will try to remember to brag about them.

The student work I know about. )
deborah: The management regrets that it was unable to find a Gnomic Utterance that was suitably irrelevant. (gnomic)
Tonight, during a discussion about the strengths and weaknesses of authorial intent, we decided there should be a graduate seminar in Milton, Blake, CS Lewis, and Philip Pullman. B decided we should call it "The Divorce of Heaven and Hell".
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It just occurred to me that it would be really easy in this day and age to put together a portfolio of online and offline writings by creators to show students how impossible it is to get at authorial intent as any meaningful way of interpreting the text. (I don't deny the you can get it authorial intent as a meaningful way of interpreting the authors, nor do I deny that some might find it fruitful to analyze the disjunction between stated authorial intent and the text as it stands. I just find neither of these interesting from a literary criticism point of view.)

But these days, creators of texts are so willing to talk about their intentions that would be really easy to let students analyze a series of texts, make their own judgments, and then read stated authorial intent. Example: give them a series of texts whose creators have claimed to have major feminist intent but where the text itself is a mixed bag, such as Buffy, or (far worse) Veronica Mars. Or how about His Dark Materials, together with an essay by Pullman in which he explains how the trilogy brought down the kingdom of god? (/me pets poor Pullman on the head) Or a book by one of the many authors who has shown his or her ass on the Internet over the last few years -- because some of them have written quite thoughtful, kyriarchy-challenging books? Or the Twilight series, along with Stephenie Meyer explaining how feminist her books are, how much they celebrate her female characters' freedom of choice?

I feel like this could potentially be really fruitful, in helping students to understand that while what authors say might be interesting, it's not a useful way of analyzing the text in hand.
deborah: The management regrets that it was unable to find a Gnomic Utterance that was suitably irrelevant. (gnomic)
If you haven't seen The Five Stages of Grading, I heartily recommend it.

As I grade my students' first lengthy assignment, I am relieved, not for the first time, at how difficult it would be to plagiarize an assignment in my class. Close to impossible for this assignment, and difficult though possible for the final paper.

It's not that I suspect any of my students would plagiarize -- far from it! -- but I am relieved not to have to struggle with that fear.

On one mailing list which I'm subscribed, there is currently an active discussion going on about how the desire to prevent plagiarizing in computer science classes leads to faculty making rules that make it difficult to have any kind of collaborative learning. And I empathize with both faculty and students in that dilemma. It's become so much easier to cheat in the age of the Internet, and in computer science I can't imagine how either faculty or students cope with negotiating cheating in the new era. As an adult programmer, it's accepted and encouraged practice to solve specific problems by copying someone else's code and modifying it to meet your needs. Hell, that's the principle of FLOSS, right there. But with students, you do need to teach them how to write algorithms and solve problems themselves. I'm not saying it's impossible to negotiate that terrain, but it's difficult.

So I'm grateful once again that the risk of plagiarism is not one I need to worry about. When I look at a student paper that's better than I expected that student's work to be, I can be unreservedly pleased. And these papers are better than I had expected, for first papers. And so I am, unreservedly, pleased.

Nice to remember that there are joys from grading.

Although one of them is the cat on my lap.
deborah: the Library of Congress cataloging numbers for children's literature, technology, and library science (Default)
It's been years now since I've learned to put down the "I don't consider myself white" I used to use in discussions of race, and back away slowly. I own my white privilege, and I am slowly learning about how and when (white, German and Eastern European) Jews became white in America, and the demographic explanation of why I was raised believing I'm not white even though the dominant paradigm treats me as white. (I haven't had time to read The History of White People yet, although I've seen some interesting clips of Nell Painter speaking.)

And yet when discussing fantasy in a classroom, it becomes very weird when talking about how the generic fantasy tropes tend to be not just European but Northwestern European. My students talk about "our history" and "our mythology" in reference to the generic fantasy tropes, and it's always this odd moment when I say "I don't know about the rest of you, but I don't have any Northwestern European ancestry." (Well, not unless you count a couple of generations in the 20th and probably late 19th centuries as "ancestry".) I suppose my ancestors spent long enough in the Pale of Settlement that I could lay some claim to the rare modern fantasies that use Baba Yaga as a source, except, just, NO. My ancestral mythology is either shtetl myth (e.g. Chelm, golem stories, or the kind of folklore that later got turned into literary fairy tales by the likes of Sholom Aleichem, Isaac Bashevis Singer, or Cynthia Ozick) or Mishna-type tales of Lilith and the demons, or of Judea and the Babylnian captivity.

I grew up around enough immigrants that I tend to assume an first- or second-generation background when in crowds of white people, even though my adult experience should have taught me by now that first instinct is just wrong. So when I look at a classroom of my students (more students of color than I've ever had before, hooray, but that's still not many), and I say "I can't speak for the rest of you, but King Arthur is not my ancestral myth," I think I have a false perception that more of the students will want to say "No! Nor Mine!"

And once again, I absolutely don't want to call out any students in particular and ask them to Represent for Their Culture. If a student wants to volunteer that he or she does or doesn't come from a particular background, I'll certainly encourage that as long as it enriches the discussion, but I don't want to point to any students and ask them to talk about their personal background.

So in any case, whenever I say "I can't speak for the rest of you, but King Arthur is not my ancestral myth," when I face up to the sudden barrage of startled, somewhat disbelieving looks, it's this odd moment of choosing not to pass, which is a weird thing to say in a blog post I began "I own my white privilege."

Many years ago, I got in an argument with my high school biology teacher when he insisted that everyone in the classroom had some particular northwestern European genetic code. I don't even remember what it was. When I said that none of my ancestors had lived in northwestern Europe (again, disregarding the last couple of generations), he casually informed me that I was wrong. In retrospect, I can't have been the only student in the class about whom that statement was nonsense. There must have been at least a couple of Russians in the class, although I assume he wouldn't have said it if any of the few PoC in my freshman class had been in the room. But it comes back to this same issue, this idea that all whiteness is the same, that all whiteness comes back to King Arthur.

I don't know how to challenge this without falling back into that festering sinkhole which is people from other whitenesses (including white Jews) refusing to acknowledge white privilege where we have it. I want to be able to have this conversation about assumptions of whiteness -- what I'm starting to call in my mind the Camelot problem -- while knowing that it isn't going to degenerate into a conversation about the horrific oppression of having your biology teacher in high school assume that your ancestors include northwestern Europeans, Oh Noes.

Clearly I need to read Painter's book, don't I?
deborah: the Library of Congress cataloging numbers for children's literature, technology, and library science (Default)
My students all appear great this semester: thoughtful, provocative, and engaged with what one another say. I've had some good teachable moments in class so far, including a moment when a student responded to a critical article's claim that ethnic Americans have seemingly no mythology inherently their own, by saying "well, there was a mythology, but we came here and we wiped out everyone, so then it was gone". (I paraphrase what the student said, and the critical article was Celestine Woo, "Toward a Poetics of Asian American Fantasy: Laurence Yep's Construction of a Bicultural Mythology", Lion and the Unicorn 30:2, April 2006. To be fair to Woo, though the quotation is provocative both in and out of context, she is using "ethnic American" to mean... well, I'm not entirely sure, but I think she is talking about non-immigrant WASP culture. And I should emphasize that the student is one of the smart, thoughtful types who occasionally provides teachable moments because high levels of student engagement sometimes mean that such things get said if we are operating at the pace of a discussion class. Moreover, the student responded thoughtfully to the follow-up discussion.)

I thought I did okay in engaging the students with thinking about that one (apart from some teaching/race fail on my part where I said "Anansi" and meant "Coyote", and what does that say about my brain?), and then came home and read [personal profile] sanguinity's essay "...the native peoples had the most troubles with the immigrants...". And... I know I am absolutely guilty about what she is discussing, and I'd never thought about it in those terms before. I shall have to think back about the conversation in class and see if that conversation carry the same connotations.

Class was loaded in all kinds of ways, actually. We were discussing a book by a PoC which was based loosely on non-Western myths, and one student in the class came from a similar but hardly identical background as the author. She did volunteer that she knew a version of the myths. I haven't yet had enough experience navigating the minefield of not wanting to ask that student to Represent On Behalf Of Her Culture, but also not wanting to speak as an expert about something for which one of my students might have substantially more in-depth knowledge that I do. (It wasn't a set of myths for which I am a subject expert, not even an outsider subject expert.)

It makes me think, though, that whenever I am teaching and talking about some culture which is not my own, I should always act as if one of my students might be from that culture. For all I know it's true, anyway. (It's related to how I started to confront a lot of my own internalized racism; always assume that somebody standing behind me in any conversation is a member of a group I'm discussing. When I realized how much I was self-censoring, that made me realize how much I was saying that needed reeducation.)
deborah: The management regrets that it was unable to find a Gnomic Utterance that was suitably irrelevant. (gnomic)
The Norton Anthology Contest

Between September 15 and November 15, college and high school students worldwide are invited to submit an original online video, between 30 seconds and 5 minutes in length, depicting a work from a Norton Anthology. Creativity is encouraged! Students may choose to act out a scene from a play, compose a song based on a favorite poem, even create a claymation movie or puppet show of a short story.

I'm assuming this is a very US-centric description, despite the "worldwide" element, and by "college" they mean "student in an undergraduate degree program". (Why yes, I am sensitive about once having had it explained to me that the explainer's children were better than me because they hadn't gone to college but university.)

Anyway! This is wonderful! And yes, Norton anthology of children's literature is one of the eligible anthologies. :D
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I find that, perhaps because of my profession or because my home has enough books to provide structural support, people tend to assume that I will agree with the sentiment "But at least they are reading!" For the record, I don't. I don't see any intrinsic value in reading, per se. I know plenty of people who read and gain nothing from it. I know plenty of people who spend substantially more time online or watching television and gain as much from those tasks as others do from reading, or more.
Rachel Maddow Read Poster

Here's what I do see value in:
  • The mechanics of reading: I'll readily admit that the mechanics of being able to read, basic literacy in the reader's home's language, is exceptionally valuable, but its value can be overstated. Here's a hint: if you are looking for intellectual, thoughtful participants in society, literature, and the media who don't have access to the basic mechanics of looking at letters and deciphering them, you need look no further than your nearest friend who is blind or visually impaired (I know, I'm ignoring braille). I won't deny that it's much easier to get by if you can decipher letters on the page/screen, but it's patently not necessary. I say this as a reminder to myself as much as anyone. Why did I have no problem with a student using audio books when the student had a registered disability, and yet I had a gut negative reaction when a student with no registered disability mentioned to me that she was listening to the assigned reading on her iPod? If I think that the reading experience for the student with the disability was as valid and as rich when she used the audio books, why should I think that experience would be any the less for the able-bodied student? This is not to say that I think that people who have the ability to learn the mechanics needn't do so; of course I think they ought to. But we need to have more respect for other forms of consuming texts, such as audio.

  • Literacy in a second language, spoken and preferably written: Like many Anglophones, I actually don't have this one. I wish English-speaking countries had more respect for the importance of bilingualism. I'm not going to say that bilingualism automatically makes people less chauvinistic. But still, having more than one language increases your capacity for being able to understand other cultural perspectives.

  • The ability to understand, critically engage with, and discuss fiction and nonfiction texts: Where by "texts" I mean books, newspapers, television shows, commercials, movies, and Internet materials. All of these types of texts participate in the construction of our society.

  • The ability to enjoy nonfiction and fiction texts: I believe that the ability to enjoy fiction enriches a reader's ability to posit hypotheticals. I believe that the ability to enjoy nonfiction increases a reader's willingness to learn about the world. Note that I am not privileging any type of text; I don't see more intrinsic value to enjoying John McPhee's The Control of Nature, an episode of Discover, or a stellar piece of investigative journalism.

  • The ability to distinguish among the different genre characteristics of the media consumed : Note that I am not saying that readers need to prefer high quality to trash, just that they need to be able to distinguish between them. The reasons for this are more obvious with nonfiction. If a reader can't distinguish between nuanced nonfiction and tabloid journalism, she'll be easily deceived. This doesn't mean it's not okay to enjoy tabloid journalism (or junky television, or pulp novels). But a reader who can distinguish what the characteristics are of the media she's consuming will be better able to critically engage.

The upshot of all of this is that someone who cares passionately about, say, So You Think You Can Dance, The Babysitters Club, Slashdot, Buffy, and The New York Post, thinks about them all critically, and discusses them with other people who think about them critically, is likely to be a better thinker and more informed participant in society than somebody who sits at home statically consuming the latest Booker prize winner without any further thought or discussion.
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Tomorrow I'm going to be teaching Virginia Hamilton's The Magical Adventure's of Pretty Pearl (alongside Donna Jo Napoli's Breath and Robin McKinley's Beauty), and I have to admit I'm somewhat terrified, as a white instructor in front of a classroom of (apparently) all white students. It's such a complicated book, and I just don't feel like I have the qualification or training to deal with the text's complications, such as its valorization of the mammy figure, or the way it presents phonetically spelled-out dialect. This is doubly complicated for me by some of Hamilton's own writings on the language. When she talks about it, she acts as if she's inventing a dialect out of whole cloth, albeit somewhat researched:
"I tried to imagine what the speech patterns would be like for the first generation of blacks after surrender. I decided that the African influence would still be there in some of the characters who were with the group just as in Roots there was the African influence always on the people of that family. I tried to figure out what the language would be like from my research into the narrations from the time done by blacks, from the Caribbean dialects that I had heard and understood were pretty authentic as to the way people talked for generations in the Caribbean, and also from the way Africans speak contemporaneous today. It seemed to me that the use of "him," of the pronoun in a certain way, changed the language to make it seem older or newer in a very special way. I wanted to use "de," pronounced "deh" in the way we say "red," not in the old-fashioned way that blacks are supposed to speak, "and de (dee) man said," not that kind of thing, but "deh" which has a more flowing sound to it. That's why I included the footnote for the pronunciation: I was afraid that when people saw "de" they would pronounce it as "dee" like in the old slave narratives, and that was not what I was getting at, at all. I was trying to do different things, and I used the pronoun "him" many times in a very different way, which changes the language somewhat. It is dialect, but I don't think it's difficult; it is more language structure that has been changed than the dialect."
-- (Apseloff, Marilyn. "A Conversation with Virginia Hamilton." Children's Literature in Education, 14:1 (1983), 204-13.)
She does identify her research here, and as a complete ignoramus even I recognize certain vocabulary and dialect in Pretty Pearl having origins in Gullah, not made up entirely. But she self-identifies as an outsider to this folklore and language:
"The black folktales are uniquely southern. Many of you have known some of them all of your lives. As a northerner, I felt privileged to have got my hands on them. "
--(Hamilton, Virginia. "The Known, the Remembered, and the Imagined: Celebrating Afro-American Folktales" Children's Literature in Education , 18:2 (1987), 67-75.)
And then there are all the mammy issues, which in her own writing and talking about the book Hamilton identifies as strongly feminist, and I feel like my basic fandom/Internet-culture course in Intersectionality 101 hasn't prepared me for this. I feel like I need at least Intersectionality 201, and I probably need more historical context that I have.

You know how Zora Neale Hurston took a lot of crap for writing down oral traditions and making them available to white people? The more I prepare for this class, the more I feel like this is the kind of story which is a beautiful reworking of oral traditions for insiders, but in clumsy (my?) hands can just reinforce stereotypes among outsiders. I'm sure I don't have enough knowledge of musical history to be sufficiently lucid about the gorgeous call and response patterns the book evokes. I have only an academic knowledge of the John de Conquer stories, and though I was brought up on John Henry picture books like many American kids, they were decontextualized from their racial and class history, tossed in a pile with Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox and Johnny Appleseed. I've been spending the evening reading selections from Alan Dundes' 1973 Mother Wit from the Laughing Barrel: Readings in the Interpretation of Afro-American Folklore, and the very fact that I've been finding so many of these incredibly dated essays (many from the 1930s) informative is excessively worrying.

I'm starting to think I'm not smart enough to teach Virginia Hamilton. Last year I tried to teach Justice and Her Brothers. It's bad enough that the book makes no sense without the rest of the Justice cycle. I find that trilogy too difficult for me under any circumstances. I hoped that teaching it my students might bring some insights to it but they were fairly hostile and I felt too dense about the whole thing to bring any deeper understanding.

And yet at the same time, the more I read children's literature critics discussing Virginia Hamilton, the more uncomfortable I am with their overall treatment of her. Not because it's not deserved -- Hamilton is an artist, an author who writes beautiful books that frequently made me feel like a complete idiot because they are so rich and complicated. But because the towering pedestal on which Hamilton's work is placed in the context of decades lacking any critical praise for any other black writer of children's and young adult novels feels, well, icky. How much of the praise for Hamilton's work acts as a Band-Aid making people think it's unnecessary to confront the absence of critically praised black American writers for children? Yet by raising this question, am I implying the Virginia Hamilton has received praise she hasn't deserved? Because that's not what I mean at all.
deborah: the Library of Congress cataloging numbers for children's literature, technology, and library science (Default)
I have all of these half written posts I haven't made -- one about the Simmons College Summer Institute, one about Bloomsbury mercifully caving on their dreadful cover decision for Justine Larbalestier's Liar. But summer is coming to a close (already!), And I should just go ahead and post my syllabus for Children's Literature 414, Fantasy and Science Fiction.

Let me see. That's 41 fictional works, or 38 if you lump the Prydain books. As far as I know, and with some of these being judgement calls, 3 authors of color; 7 protagonists of color (8 if you count Laura Chant as multi-racial because of her Maori great-grandmother), 28 white or white-coded, and 2 neither; 20 female and 18 male authors; 16 male protagonists, 18 female, and 3 neither or multi; and 0 canonically queer authors or protagonists. Though there's one canonically-if-subtextually queer secondary couple. Also, three fat (if you count Wilbur) and two disabled (if not-neurotypical counts as disabled).

Obviously I'm better on some aspects of diversity than others. How much of the fail here is mine as opposed to the genre's? Probably a little of both. On the bright side, we spend a lot of the semester talking about these issues, both in ourselves as readers, and in the genre itself.
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I have 60 words in which to review a lengthy YA book which includes, in passing, hateful language which is totally in character for the protagonist (e.g. "fags," "spazzes in helmets"). The language is condemned neither by the text nor by any of the other characters; in fact, no attention is called to it at all within the text.

What I'm finding most problematic about this is not how to write the review. That's easy: I have 60 words, which means I tack on "bigoted" to one of my mentions of "the protagonist", which is about all I can do. No, what I'm finding most problematic is that this wouldn't have been an issue for me if the protagonist had been equally briefly and casually fatphobic, because I so take that for granted that I would have cringed and moved on. What's surprising in this book is that I don't actually expect over language of this sort to make it to the editing process without some kind of textual self-awareness being added. (I certainly am not surprised to find homophobia or ableism in contemporary YA, but more of the systemic kind, and not this sort.)

I know some people could make the same post and turn it into a judgment on the publishing industry for self-censorship, but I'm not one of them. I do think that language helps shape thought, and I think a raised eyebrow from another character or from the narrative voice could have clued in even the less aware reader that yes, the protagonist said "fags," and maybe that language is worth a second thought. I find it much more problematic that fatphobia is much more often treated with the same casual disregard this text gave to homophobia and ableism.

(Yes, I acknowledge that children's and young adult literature comprise a corpus created by adults for a group of readers who don't have control over their own literature and that we use their literature as a teaching tool. Like Nodelman, I find this both problematic and necessary.)
deborah: the Library of Congress cataloging numbers for children's literature, technology, and library science (Default)
For some time now, I have been unhappy about the thinning of the wall between authors and readers that has taken place in the blogosphere. I've never been able to pin down exactly why (except in little ways -- as a reviewer, I had to stop reading Scott Westerfeld's blog when he started posting gleefully about positive reviews he'd received from me). I've also found it frustrating when other people post mixed or negative reviews on their own blogs, which they immediately retract if the author shows up in the blog comments to ask why the review was negative. The sense the blogosphere gives us of all being friends makes it more difficult to fulfill the professional obligation of the reviewer: to advise people on where to spend their limited resources.

Now I have a non review-related example of how this thinning wall aggravates me. Will Shetterly's behavior online has made me feel uncomfortable about the fact that his Elsewhere is required reading in my class, because I don't want to give him the sales. This is clearly a ridiculous concern on my part. For one thing, I regularly support far more loathsome people with my purchases. Shetterly, on the other hand, was probably once a pretty well-meaning guy who has just reacted pretty badly to being told that his own history of hardship does not make him always right. But more important, much more important, the book is pedagogically important. It's a little-known precursor to the genre which would eventually spawn Wicked Lovely and Twilight. Giving Shetterly a few dollars in royalties (dollars he desperately needs; the man is filing for bankruptcy, not living large on ill-gotten gains, and unless I'm going to stop requiring Twilight I really just need to get over myself) is the necessary price to teach my students what I need them to know to understand the genre.

Still, it sticks in my craw. And it shouldn't, I should be able to keep the artist and the art separate in my head. It makes me sad that the blogosphere has made that more difficult for me.

ETA: A. helped me narrow down exactly what's making me uncomfortable here. It's not an artist being Wrong on the Internet; Orson Scott Card, for example, is Wrong on the Internet pretty much every time he opens his keyboard. It's this thinning of walls, this Internet-created feeling of fellowship which allows us to engage with each other in the same spaces. When Card is an ass, he's an ass in newspaper columns. When authors engage with their critics (not even critics of their books, but critics of their extratextual words) in the spaces populated by their fans and critics, I get uncomfortable. As A. pointed out, some of the people Shetterly is insulting, investigating, and posting rumors about could easily be my students or potential students. It's that which makes me uncomfortable, not his willful blindness to the legitimate concerns of people whose side he would like to think he is on.

Well, that, too.
deborah: the Library of Congress cataloging numbers for children's literature, technology, and library science (Default)
There's a minor kerfuffle going on in both F&SF fandom and media fandom this week about some accusations that academia is the enemy of genre fiction and of fandom, and that SF should never be taught, and that "fans don't teach" (emphasis original). Now, this amused me no end for any number of reasons (not least the assumption that the bloggers' own experiences that literary analysis lessens reading enjoyment is universal; not to mention the assertion that scholarship is "a way to secure tenure" -- excuse me while I look at my own adjunct paycheck and then ROTFLMAO), so I read without comment, and then toddled off to teach my course in F&SF for Children.

And there I realised why, perhaps, fans shouldn't teach. Because the students almost universally disliked a book I think is one of the best books of its year, a book to which I'd have given the Printz. As instructor, I had to tamp down the part of me that was screaming "Fs all around! Why didn't you like this book! Aiyee!" and replace it with the calm, collected discussion leader trying to explore the text's use of language and character development. I think I succeeded, but oh, it hurt.

And the fan in me wants to chant: "Stupid stupidheads."

(They are great students, and smart, and we have great discussions. But I question their taste.)
deborah: the Library of Congress cataloging numbers for children's literature, technology, and library science (Default)
If I'm going to be teaching a class, and my institution doesn't have an Open Courseware instance, how should I put up the course materials? CC-licensed on my own site? Connexions? Something else?

many links

Feb. 22nd, 2008 02:40 pm
deborah: the Library of Congress cataloging numbers for children's literature, technology, and library science (Default)
The only way to get all these tabs out of my browser is to actually post some links.

This is one I've been saying for awhile "somebody has got to be working on this". Omeka is creating a free platform to help people create curated digital exhibits. The next thing that needs to happen is a hosted service -- not CONTENTdm style hosted service, but a real hosted curation service including preservation planning.

Republicans utterly refuse to compromise on telecom immunity, while the president insists that anyone who doesn't grant immunity to the telecommunications companies want the terrorists to win.

Why students want simplicity and why it fails them when it comes to research is a good introduction to the idea that the skills learned in googling for facts are not actually going to serve a student who needs to learn how to do complex research. Sometimes we need to adapt to user-perceived needs, but sometimes, as academic or school librarians, our job is to teach our patrons. The trick lies in choosing the right balance.

It doesn't do us much good to have an independent, bipartisan Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board if the President can make it vanish simply by not appointing any members.

The MPAA's numbers about the effect of campus music piracy were vastly overblown. Only about 15% of their losses were due to campus downloading, and only about 3% probably came from on campus networks, but the record companies and Congress are bullying the universities to police anyway.

These pictures are very beautiful and very, very sad. "It will rise from ashes" is a blog post and accompanying Flickr set of images from an abandoned Detroit school system book depository. Trees growing from the soil created by burned then rained upon books; it's a kind of renewal, but renewal not from the typical post-apocalyptic vision of a rich industrial culture, but renewal from... well, I don't want to be too horribly melodramatic and say shattered potentials, so I don't know how to finish the sentence.
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