“The Turtle on the Fencepost”: #SpeakLoudly Reflections

Good afternoon, #SpeakLoudly people!

Thank you to each and everyone of you who has responded in some way to the #SpeakLoudly campaign at Twitter this week. For this educator it has been a most tumultuous time, emotionally, to read. . .to reflect. . .to reveal. . .to respond. . .to re-evaluate.  Four the past four days, YOU have done some of the same things. We can even add an “R” to help with the alliterative device–you RT’d.  For those of you who don’t speak the Twitter-ese, to RT someone else’s Tweet is the digital equivalent of saying “Amen during a testimony Sunday.” It’s affirming to a the Twitter users who post items all of time without response. This week, you have responded. I see RTs for some messages that were in the 100’s on Sunday. Again and again, as you share this #SpeakLoudly message with your friends and colleagues, the messages from Sunday keep coming back to remind me (for one) why we started this initiative.

To defend? Okay. Laurie is a big girl. I have heard her #SpeakLoudly in the past. Sarah Ockler’s video on Tuesday left me with little doubt where she stands on the issue we are addressing with this campaign. To see Speak and Twenty Boy Summer get the attention they have this week by way of purchase and giveaway is well worth anything we have done or said this week.

To celebrate? Sure. Post after post, we have seen Twitter users talking about what Speak has meant to them and how this book has brought them out of a darker time. Many have pointed to SlaughterHouse Five as the reason they fell in love with Vonnegut or the science-fiction genre.

Maybe it was just a chance to #SpeakLoudly. Teachers posting all week know what it feels like to work “inside of the fishbowl.” Just when administration and bureaucracy have shaken the food can again. We don’t have to eat all of this. We can burp back, now and then, and say “Enough is enough!” I am competent, caring professional who can support (why must we always defend) my decisions for books selected for the classroom!”

Time and time again I hear, we need to give kids the classics. If they don’t read them now, they never will. Bull chips. I fake-read my way through high school. Graduated 47 out of 94 students in the Class of ’88 at Boyne City High School. Yes. I was the least of the best and the best of the least. The paragon of average. But I balance out my reading with the stuff I thought would be helpful. I loved A Confederacy of Dunces (but it wasn’t in our curriculum). I loved Bukowski and wanted to write poetry like this (and got a C when I tried–I guess Mr. Fowler wasn’t up to speed with my Beat sensibilities; who knew?). I read Reader’s Digest because it was on my grandfather’s coffee table and read Mad magazine because it was hidden under my Awake and Watchtower‘s (a whole other blog post, people. Give me time).

So, what happens? The YA market is passed over by well intended curriculum coordinators while its potential readers move through grades 9-12, used up and adults who will have missed their own stories. The summer school veteran (the kid with the sunburst on his letterman’s jacket) isn’t excited that you just put another Dickens tome in his hands and told him to read three chapters before the next class meeting.

And look. I am an English teacher. I can touch my chin to my chest repetitively as we discuss essential texts for students as long as others at the table can mirror-match me as I talk about Sharon Draper, Ellen Hopkins, David Macinnis Gill, Kate Messner, Jo Knowles, Sarah Darer Littman, CJ Omololu, Cheryl Rainfield, and a host of other super, super YA authors. Tanya Lee Stone, Chris Crutcher, Kimberly Willis Holt. . .don’t get me started. The power of Jennifer Brown’s Hate List and the anticipation surrounding releases like Mockingjay and Monsters of Men.  These are conversations I am not having in my own building. I have them hear at Twitter.  So, when I see a book being challenged–it’s personal. I take it personally because of the student I talked to who said Speak was the catalyst (I know, I know. Puns happen) for her to tell her own story. Personal.

If we really want to get picky, I can point to a number of stories from the Bible that have never made their way to the felt form board. I don’t even want to know what the scene would look like with Ham, Shem, and Japeth as they enter the tent of their drunken father. But I am not a picky person. I just wanted to throw this in because I mentioned this to a Writing Project friend last night and she laughed. I thought you might too. . .

All I want to say is “Thank you.” Thank you for your responses to my Tuesday blog. Thank you for your mentions in your blog posts. Even when someone blogs “the English teacher,” I think to myself, “Hey, it might be someone I know or would be pleased to work with.” Thank you to Laurie for her participation in the campaign and to my new friend, Sarah, who tells me Fixing Delilah is on its way to Southern Indiana. I hope this one doesn’t get challenged because I am afraid, after this week’s response, of what might happen if I launch a #GetFixed campaign.

I would also like to thank my grandmother, who has had those two names for me all of my life. She does not Tweet. Her birdsong would sound more like a harpies’  hymn.  She taught me to #SpeakLoudly (a union boss in the 70’s, my grandmother is fondly remembered for throwing rocks at your car. She does not apologize for this) and taught me an important lesson I will share with you here:

If you see a turtle on a fencepost, celebrate the person/people who put it there. Turtles cannot climb.

It feels good to support Laurie, Sarah, and fellow Hoosier (R.I.P), Kurt. I am a classroom teacher who supports choice within the independently chosen titles of the students in Room 210. In retrospect, I feel like if I had not responded to this situation on Sunday, my credibility as lead learner would be in question. This is a new time for YA. The authors and publishing houses with whom I have contact are most discerning about the titles they accept and the titles they publish. Involvement in weekly forums like #kidlitchat (Tuesdays at 9PM EST) and #YALitChat (Wednesdays at 9PM EST) help to affirm for me that YA literature is a good match for young readers and can serve as connector pieces to the canonized literature students read before and during their post-secondary education.

As we move into Banned Book Week, please remember what you have done this week. I see you. . .on fence posts across our country and around the world. Take time to celebrate what you have achieved this week, something no less than remarkable and a new example of what social media can do to arouse the public into advocacy and community. To each and every new follower this week at Twitter. . .thank you. Twitter has me on lockdown now for following you back. If you could encourage a friend to help me close the ratio a little bit so that I can keep my celebrities (grin), I will follow you as soon as I can.

We are still holding on to the big announcement regarding #SpeakLoudly. It’s the punchline to a cruel digital joke–how do you keep hundreds of Twitter users in suspense?

Wait until the next blog. Thank you all for being a part of #SpeakLoudly

3 thoughts on ““The Turtle on the Fencepost”: #SpeakLoudly Reflections

  1. Paul, it has been a phenomenal experience for everyone, I bet. And I graduated from Missouri State University in Springfield, near Republic, MO, so I took it personally too, and it impacted how I wrote my post for banned book week. Whether it was a tweet, a blog post, a letter, or simply a retweet, the combined effort was empowering. Thank you for getting the ball rolling!

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