We Need Diverse Scholars

The most powerful panel at last year’s Children’s Literature Association conference was “Needs of Minority Scholars,” featuring Sarah Park Dahlen, Ebony Elizabeth Thomas, Laura M. Jiménez, and Marilisa Jiménez García.

  • If you are at the Children’s Literature Association conference right now, I encourage you to attend the follow-up session, “Beyond Diversity and Inclusion: Changing the Culture and Practices of the ChLA.” It will be held tomorrow (Thursday, 22 June) at 3:30 pm in Palma Ceia 3.

Beyond Diversity and Inclusion: Changing the Culture and Practices of the ChLA

  • Wherever you are, I encourage you to read last year’s panel, published in the latest issue of The Lion and the Unicorn (January 2017).  The panel’s papers published there, instead of in the organization’s own Children’s Literature Association Quarterly, because — as Michelle Martin points out in her contribution to the issue — “because the editors [of ChLAQ] didn’t consider these pieces research.” That fact proves the necessity of that panel, of tomorrow’s panel, and of the ChLA’s need to walk the walk — and not just talk the talk. As Kate Slater (the panel’s chair and editor of the special section) asks, “What if every marginalized scholar felt welcomed within the field of children’s and young adult literature studies? What if our community listened—truly listened—to their experiences, words, and perspectives, even when that experience of listening requires us to look uncomfortably at ourselves? And, perhaps most importantly: what now? How will we act together to make these ‘what ifs’ a reality?”

The Lion and the Unicorn (January 2017)

If you have any interest in children’s literature or in making your scholarly/professional organization (whatever its subject) a truly diverse one, I encourage you to read these essays.  (Note: Ebony Thomas’s piece is not included, but [as you will have guessed already] a new piece by Michelle Martin is included.  And the other three panelists are there.)

Need a brief summary of why?  I’ll offer succinct (and thus incomplete) highlights of each essay here.  ALSO: please access these via your institution because doing so helps underwrite the cost of the scholarly journal.  BUT if you cannot get behind the paywall, email me and I will send you pdfs.  My address is at right, under “A note on mp3s.”


Sarah Park Dahlen, A Step from Heaven: On Being a Woman of Color in Children’s Literature Studies

  • on the need for mirrors: on the experience of reading An Na’s A Step from Heaven for the first time, Dahlen writes, “I wasn’t alone. I saw for the first time that these things happened to other people too, other people who looked like me. Whose parents looked like mine. Whose mother suffered as mine did. Whose father was absent as mine was.”
  • on being the visible embodiment of racial identity: “I do not leave my personal history or identity at the door when I enter a classroom. As Ebony Elizabeth Thomas said at the Children’s Literature Association 2016 conference’s Minority Scholars panel, students read our bodies before we even open our mouths. How they treat us is based, first and largely, on how they read our racial identities. My Korean body disrupts assumptions about who is an authority in teaching children’s literature.”
  • on point: “We who are racially Other are fatigued by repeated distortions and erasure, and by exposure to micro- and macroaggressions in our daily lives and in spaces that masquerade as safe but actually exist to uphold the status quo. Racial battle fatigue is real. White fragility is entirely different. White fragility maintains power.”

Michelle Martin, Brown Girl Dreaming of a New ChLA

  • on the insufficiency of good intentions. I (and many others) are fond of quoting the organizations unofficial mantra: “We don’t eat our young,” which past president Roberta Trites likes to say.  It’s true: ChLA is welcoming.  But it also isn’t equally welcoming to everyone, as Martin reminds us: “when scholars come through the doctoral pipeline whose educational experiences have been rife with racial and gender microaggressions from more seasoned scholars (even well-meaning ones) and peers and when they, like Marilisa Jiménez García, constantly struggle to have their work acknowledged as (1) scholarship and (2) relevant, ‘we don’t eat our young’ is little comfort. Some of us feel that we’ve been eaten our entire careers.”
  • on how structural power magnifies microagressions; or, how the powerful forget the harm they do, but the less powerful remember.  Martin recounts a story shared by Tiffany Martínez — a Suffolk University undergraduate, McNair Scholar, and aspiring academic — who used the word “Hence” in a paper. Her professor circled the word, opined “This is not your word,” and accused her of plagiarism.  As Martin notes, “Although this incident was seismic for her, Martínez suspects that the professor might have already forgotten it.”
  • on the need for scholars from outside of minoritized communities to do the research and write what she terms “crossover scholarship”: “writing crossover scholarship should not be undertaken casually but with a commitment to excellence, with humility, and with a teachable spirit.”

Laura M. Jiménez, My Gay Agenda: Embodying Intersectionality in Children’s Literature Scholarship

  • on the need for an intersectional agenda: “it is not uncommon for me to be accused of having a “gay agenda.” I’ve read the phrase on student evaluations, reviewers’ comments, and heard colleagues use it to dismiss my arguments, assertions, and even my life experiences. Let me be clear, I have an agenda, and it is an out and proud agenda, but it probably isn’t the one most people assume. My agenda isn’t simply gay. My agenda is a race-class-gender-and- all-kinds-of-identities-that-make-people-uncomfortable-and-unsure agenda. In short, my agenda is an intersectional agenda.”
  • on importance of teachers making their own intersectionality visible: “At the same time they read these texts I provide an authentic model of intersectionality. I say the words that my students fear. The words that need to be said out loud and often. The words Black, White, Asian, Japanese, African American, Arab, Persian, race, racism, Latinx, Chicano, women, men, Native American and First Nations, cis-gender, able, disabled, neurotypical, gay, queer . . . all the words need to be said out loud. The words that need to be talked about so these teachers get to know the feeling of these words on their tongues. I come out to my students as a complex person by addressing my intertwined identities. I am performing myself in ways that most of my students have never seen a teacher do, have never had to do themselves, and will come to recognize as one way to normalize diversity.”
    • If I may, I would like to add here that it is especially important that a cisgendered straight, White, male teacher — like myself — take categories that are typically invisible (and thus normalized via their invisibility) and make them visible.  We must also acknowledge how the invisibly privileged among us may fail to acknowledge or even see the ways in which we are implicated in systems of privilege and oppression (typically without our active consent).  As Jiménez says, “The disruption of admitting to differences, by naming those differences and directly addressing them in a classroom, can be transformative and in that transformation, change is possible.”
  • on the need to make majority communities uncomfortable: “teacher education provides opportunities for them to learn to recognize the stories they are not a part of, are not native to, are not privileged by and to hear the voices that are unfamiliar, and believe the narratives that run counter to their lived experiences. Piaget’s concept of learning has helped me understand how to challenge preservice and practicing teachers. For Piaget, learning takes place when a person experiences disequilibrium, attempts to assimilate the new information into their existing schema, and finally must change that schema to accommodate the new knowledge. But for this to happen, the learner must first recognize what is unknown, must be aware of the disequilibrium and want to change it. Disequilibrium is by definition uncomfortable; this discomfort is often caused by the mere fact that the new knowledge is in direct opposition to the learner’s existing schema”

Marilisa Jiménez García, Side-by-Side: At the Intersections of Latinx Studies and ChYALit

  • on the need to dwell on intersections and contradictions. Citing Monica Brown’s Side by Side / Lado a Lado (2010) as a metaphor for this need, García writes, “The picture celebrates the coming together of Chavez and Huerta, yet we see that English and Spanish are also placed side-by-side: two languages with a violent history facing each other, but separated by a division on the page. Chavez and Huerta’s hands bridge the divide, yet that division between cultures and languages running side-by-side remains. U.S. children’s literature evidences these splits, switches, breaks, and unlikely pairings—these parallel stories and traditions greet us with a history of delight, violence, and contradiction. My research has demanded that I negotiate divisions both in the field of Latinx studies and children’s literature in order to exist in academia, and to dwell on the parallels, the intersections and the contradictions.”
  • on the need to displace English’s centrality to the field (citing Emer O’Sullivan): “Emer O’Sullivan writes in the ‘Preface’ to her study, Comparative Children’s Literature (2005), that ‘[c]hildren’s literature studies in English is mainly a monolingual phenomenon, mostly dealing with the wealth of children’s literature in English-speaking countries and referring to critical material written in English. Researchers who do not write in that language generally remain internationally unnoticed’ (x). She suggests that limiting inquiry to predominately Anglo children’s materials ‘neglect[s] to adequately describe and explain the crossing of linguistic and cultural borders’ (1)”
  • on the need to address diversity from more than one field: “scholars in Latinx studies rarely consider the position of literature for youth and writers for young audiences in the study of historically oppressed peoples. That is, in ethnic and postcolonial studies, literature for youth remains, for the most part, marginalized.” As she notes, “As a field, are we engaging in scholarship that values diverse communities and stories? What story does our scholarship tell about the communities and knowledges we value? Or is our scholarship centralizing only certain kinds of knowledge? I have argued in my research that you cannot know the story of American children’s and youth literature and culture without knowing the story of the Puerto Rican community in the United States; the same applies in reverse.”

 

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A Weaponized Campus Can Be Fun!

Excited about unregulated firearms coming to Kansas State University’s campus?  Well, be sure to thank Representative John Barker and Senator Jacob LaTurner.  They refused to let the university campus-carry exemption bills even come up for a vote in the full House and Senate. So, thanks to them, the citizens who voted for them, and to all the NRA lackeys who create the laws in Kansas, as of July 1st, Kansas State University will be fully weaponized!

What does this mean for those of us who teach and study here?  Well, this morning, the university shared with us its new Weapons Policy Training module.  You see, as the announcement tells us,

On July 1, the university’s exemption from the concealed carry requirements of the Personal and Family Protection Act expires, meaning that the concealed carry of handguns will be allowed in university buildings at Kansas State University and other state universities. K-State continues its commitment to the safety of students, faculty and staff and all members of the K-State community.

The dark irony created by the juxtaposition of these two sentences is genius.  They tell us, first, that “concealed carry of handguns will be allowed” all over K-State campus and, second, that “K-State continues its commitment to the safety of students, faculty and staff.”  Because, you see, these two ideas are in no way incompatible!  Hahahaha. Ha.

But, for more fun, let’s get to that Weapons Policy Training module, shall we?

Weapons Policy Training module: first screen

Yep! “K-State Faculty/Staff.”  That’s me. (For now, anyway.)

Weapons Policy Module: screen 2

Ordinarily, I’d say “don’t repeat the same joke twice.” But I have to admit that the “dedicated to the safety and security” of everyone juxtaposed with WELCOME GUNS! is still pretty funny the second time around. Nicely played.

Weapons Policy Training module: screen 3

We have no choice about having armed and untrained students (to get a weapon, Kansas law requires no training, no background check, no license). But getting a choice of the order in which to complete the training makes me feel so much better. Thank you!

OK, I think I’ll start with “FAQ.”

Weapons Policy Training module: FAQ 1

Right, of course.  It’s much more fun to be surprised by the firearm accidentally going off or by the student using it on a classmate or the instructor.  Also, this policy helps protect the sensitive feelings of those people so cowardly that only being armed at all times makes them feel safe.  Poor little snowflakes.

Dropping a gun into a backpack seems like such an easy way to store it. Why bother to secure the weapon?  I mean, it’s not like someone could easily grab a classmate’s backpack or unzip the backpack and get the gun out.  That’s highly unlikely.  And since a person with no training on how to use a weapon will of course take all appropriate precautions, we can be confident that he (or she, but probably he) will leave the safety on.

Also, the need to keep the backpack “within the immediate reach of the individual” creates a fun new classroom game: Is That a Gun in Your Bag or Do You Suffer from Backpack Separation Anxiety?  The game works like this: Watch your students, and see who keeps the backpack very close at all times.  Is that student carrying?  Could be!  What about that student, over there?  Hmmm.  And why are those two students whispering near that satchel?  Points will be awarded based on the ratio of correct answers to survivors.

Weapons Policy Training module: FAQ 4

So, then: office hours cancelled until further notice.  Great!  I’m learning so much from this module!  Bonus: Not having office hours will save time, as will absenting myself from campus except when I absolutely have to be there.  This Weapons Policy is looking better and better!

Weapons Policy Training module: FAQ 5

Introducing my new policy: A’s for all students!  You are all brilliant, wonderful people!  You all get A’s!

Another part of the genius of concealed carry: by making every student a potentially armed student (and thus an implicit threat), faculty can treat them accordingly.  We can be spared the time of grading, by acknowledging that each and every one of our students is a certified genius!   Also, since campus carry revokes the safety upon which freedom of speech depends, why bother laboring over challenging discussion questions?  Fear inhibits discussion, and, well, we wouldn’t want a student to feel threatened by an intellectual challenge, now would we?  Of course not.  That would be rude.  I mean: the very idea of challenging students to think!  That’s so, I don’t know, pedagogically sound.

Extra credit question: Is there any chance that weaponizing the campus will lead to such egregious grade inflation that a degree from a Kansas university will become meaningless?  Let’s find out!

Well, this has been a fun survey.  I’d really love to take the rest of it, but no time at the moment.  After all, I have an exit strategy to plan — er, I mean, work to do!  I have work to do!  Bye!


To any academics who may be reading this: Is your university in a state or country with (relatively) competent governance? Or is it a private university (and thus not required to weaponize)? Does it seek an expert on children’s literature? Well, seek no further! Here is my curriculum vitae and a page devoted to my books (with selected reviews of same):

Drop me a line. (Email address is at right, under “A note on mp3s.”)  I’d love to hear from you!


Related writing on this subject (by me, and on this blog unless otherwise indicated):

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Emily’s Video Dance Party

During the past week, my six-year-old niece Emily has invited me to — and I have joined — many dance parties.  “Dance party!” she declares, and then goes to the CD player to put on one of the (dance) mixes I’ve made for her.  She then skips directly to her favorite songs, and dances only to those songs.  Were that possible when I was a child, I might have done the same. (A child of the analog world, I lacked instant access to favorites — unless the first song on the mix tape was a favorite.)

Kool and the Gang, "Celebration" (gif)While dancing to Kool and the Gang’s “Celebration,” I often think of and emulate (poorly) the dance moves of the band on stage.  So, I thought: I’ll show Emily the video.  This intrigued her — perhaps in the way that seeing my favorite artists on TV intrigued me (and hooked me to MTV) when I was younger.  And so we began to look at the videos for other favorites.  As I prepare to leave (my flight to Denmark departs tomorrow morning), I thought I would leave her — and whomever happens to read this — with videos of her favorite songs.

In the words of one of her favorites, “Nothing I can see but you when you dance, dance, dance.”  Dance, Emily.  Dance, dance, dance!  With love from your Tonton Phil.  [Emily is Swiss; “Tonton” is a playful French term for “Uncle.”]

Justin Timberlake, “Can’t Stop the Feeling” (2016)

Emily prefers the one from The Trolls (above).  I prefer the participatory dance video (below).

Kool and the Gang, “Celebration” (1980)

As I said (above), this video inspired me to show her these videos in the first place.

Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, “I Love Rock and Roll” (1981)

I actually put this — and the next song — not on a dance mix, but on a “drums” mix for her when she was a much smaller child (and very fond of drumming). I remember, back in the day, thinking this was a badass video. Joan Jett is still a badass. And Emily really rocks out to this one — air guitar and all.

Stevie Wonder, “Superstition” (live on Sesame Street, 1973)

This is not the same recording Emily and I danced to, but, hey, it is live on Sesame Street. And it’s fantastic.

Pharrell Williams, “Happy” (2013)

The version above features the Minions (favorites of Emily) at one point. The version below (from the “5am” episode of his 24-hour video of “Happy”) features only Minions.

The Go-Go’s, “We Got the Beat” (1981)

The Pipettes, “Pull Shapes” (2006)

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Laughter and Resistance: Humor as a Weapon in the Age of Trump (Horn Book)

The Horn Book, May-June 2017In its new issueThe Horn Book joins the resistance. If the previous statement is a slight overstatement (and it is, because the magazine’s values have opposed those of Trumpism since before it acquired that name), it is only a slight overstatement.  The May-June 2017 issue includes at least four pieces critical of the current regime: Raúl the Third’s “The Adventures of Baby D” (which imagines the tiny-fingered tyrant as a tiny-fingered tyke), Eugene Yelchin’s “Mocking Moscow” (Russian jokes, including some on Trumpy), an amusing anecdote by Molly Idle, and my contribution (named in the title of this blog post).

My article isn’t on-line, but UPDATE, MAY 2: My article went on-line today, and here’s the “thesis” paragraph:

Having a race-baiting, Muslim-banning, pussy-grabbing, narcissistic sociopath as president of the United States is not funny. But we can use humor as a weapon against him. As Mel Brooks famously said of a different real-life fascist clown who bullied his way into power, comedy can cut men like this down to size, robbing them of their “power and myths.”

In the piece, I discuss books by Michael Ian Black and Marc Rosenthal, Lewis Carroll, Norton Juster, Florence Parry Heide, Julius Lester, Rowboat Watkins, Toby Speed, Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith.  So, yes, the essay is in no way comprehensive.  It is instead suggestive, offering ways of thinking about humor and resistance.

Horn Book May-June 2017: photo

Back in the fall, Roger Sutton asked if I’d contribute to The Horn Book‘s upcoming special issue on humor.  I thought: sure, that might be fun.  After all, by the time my essay was due, the election would be over, Hillary Clinton would be president, and we’d all be in a better mood.  So, I agreed to write the piece.

Well, to paraphrase Mose Allison, it didn’t turn out that way. No matter what those pollsters said, it just didn’t turn out that way.

So, I wrote this instead.

If you pick up this issue of The Horn Book, you also get…

  • three Niblings in one issue!  Betsy Bird and Jules Danielson have a piece on their late friend and collaborator, Peter D. Sieruta.
  • Lisa Yee on the expectation of being funny, which you can also read on the Horn Book‘s website.
  • Lisa Brown, rewriting the classics to make them funny.
  • many articles by people not named Lisa.
  • jokes, sprinkled throughout the issue.
  • cover art by Jon Agee.

You can see a full table of contents here.

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Refugee Stories for Young Readers: Francesca Sanna’s The Journey (Public Books)

Public Books (logo)Over on Public Books today, I have a new, short piece on Francesca Sanna’s The Journey, a.k.a. one of the best picture books published last year.  If you have yet to read it, check out “Refugee Stories for Young Readers” (my essay), which includes some images from the book.  In the piece, I observe that

As Francesca Sanna’s The Journey (2016) demonstrates, the children’s picture book is the ideal medium for voicing that unsettling feeling when something unbelievable suddenly becomes true. Its visual metaphors render difficult emotions clearly, and illustrate children’s literature’s ability to express dark realities in the language of the fantastic.

Francesca Sanna, The Journey (2016)The book follows a refugee family’s journey away from their home country, towards an uncertain future. It’s beautiful, wise, moving and, yes, appropriate for children.  (In the essay, I also look at some other recent children’s picture books on refugees.)

As I also note in the piece, more than half of the world’s refugees today are children under the age of 18. That’s nearly 50 million young people, making this the worst child refugee crisis since World War II.

If you can, please donate to the International Rescue Committee.  You might also consult the organization’s website — lots of useful information there.

At the beginning and explicitly at the end of my brief essay, I call out the U.S. government’s inhumane response to refugees. Though I’ve written other pieces critical of Trumpy’s amoral regime, they’ve mostly been on my blog.*  This is my first such piece to appear in a “real” publication.  There will be others.

Am I indulging in the delusion that my writing is changing hearts and minds? If I am honest with myself, I hope my words might do that — even if they reach only one person. I think it more likely that what I write may aid someone already resisting our tiny-fingered overlord and his wrecking crew, perhaps by reflecting back her thoughts in a slightly different light, or by offering another way of approaching a question, or by providing information.  At the same time, I know that phoning and writing my representatives, marching, protesting are all more important. So, I’ll keep doing those things, too. Though any result of my scholarly/writerly efforts will be hard to quantify (and may be purely imaginary), I’ll keep on doing this simply because it’s what I do as a writer and scholar.  Not incidentally, it’s a theme I notice across the culture. 99% Invisible recently did a two-part episode on sanctuary (part 1, part 2). The Allusionist devoted an episode to the history of sanctuary.  Podcasters create podcasts, composers make music, and writers write.  In addition to whatever direct actions we also take, we can all contribute via our chosen medium.  (And, on that subject….)

Migration, Refugees, & Diaspora in Children’s Literature

Call for Papers

There’s still time to submit an essay for this special issue of the Children’s Literature Association Quarterly!
DUE: 1 Nov. 2017

My job is thinking about how literature for young people can help children — and all of us — make sense of the world.  As I’ve written elsewhere, children’s books have much to say to those of us who are no longer children.  The Journey certainly does.

————

* Mostly on my blog. I also wrote a piece for the Dedicate Your No-Trump Vote effort last September. Earlier this month, I was extensively quoted in Michael Cavna’s Washington Post column, and a little bit in this Key Reporter piece.

Timothy Snyder, On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century (2017)Is cataloguing this information here simply aiding the Trumpocracy, should it wish to add me to its list of undesirables?  It might be. But it’s important to remind ourselves: Do not obey in advance.  If you haven’t already read it, check out Timothy Snyder‘s brief, useful, and conveniently pocket-sized book On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century (Tim Duggan Books/Random House, 2017).  Its very first lesson is:

Do not obey in advance.

Most of the power of authoritarianism is freely given. In times like these, individuals think ahead about what a more repressive government will want, and then offer themselves without being asked. A citizen who adapts in this way is teaching power what it can do. (17)

So. Do not obey. Resist! Contact your representatives and senators — at both the federal level and the state level. VOTE in all elections! And keep paying attention. As The Washington Post‘s Trump-era slogan (introduced Feb 22nd) reminds us, “Democracy Dies in Darkness.”

Washington Post: "Democracy Dies in Darkness"

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Happy π Day from Nine Kinds of Pie

π Day is upon us once again!  Here are 3.14 pieces of Pi (as it were).

1. The π sculpture in Seattle, Washington.

Pi sculpture, Seattle, Washington

Photo by Niall Kennedy.

2. π to 1000 decimal places

3.1415926535897932384626433832795028841971693993751058209749445923078

16406286208998628034825342117067982148086513282306647093844609550582

23172535940812848111745028410270193852110555964462294895493038196442

88109756659334461284756482337867831652712019091456485669234603486104

54326648213393607260249141273724587006606315588174881520920962829254

09171536436789259036001133053054882046652138414695194151160943305727

03657595919530921861173819326117931051185480744623799627495673518857

52724891227938183011949129833673362440656643086021394946395224737190

70217986094370277053921717629317675238467481846766940513200056812714

52635608277857713427577896091736371787214684409012249534301465495853

71050792279689258923542019956112129021960864034418159813629774771309

96051870721134999999837297804995105973173281609631859502445945534690

83026425223082533446850352619311881710100031378387528865875332083814

20617177669147303598253490428755468731159562863882353787593751957781

8577805321712268066130019278766111959092164201989

This website lists π out to its one millionth digit. So does this one.

3. My childhood obsession with this number.

I have never cared a great deal about the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter.  But, when I was a child, I did memorize π out to its tenth decimal point. I also wrote it out on a piece of paper out to its hundredth decimal point — an item I discovered a couple of years ago when cleaning out my childhood archive (then stored in boxes in my mother’s basement). Why write it out to the hundredth digit?  Perhaps I planned to memorize the number all the way out to that decimal?

Most likely, its novelty captivated me.  I loved paging through the Guinness Book of World Records, and even bought a new edition of the book each year.  There, you could learn about Chang and Eng Bunker, or the longest word (that isn’t a technical term or proper noun): floccinaucinihilipilification, which (in case you were wondering) is the act of estimating something worthless.  π is not worthless, but my attraction to it derives more from its oddity than its utility.

The sarcastic among you might observe that an affection for arcane information is a fairly good description of my profession — college professor. And you wouldn’t be entirely wrong. But you would be belittling the fact that knowledge is worth pursuing for its own sake. Knowledge has no obligation to be useful. Or, to put this another way, do not be discouraged if its purpose may initially elude you.  You never know when knowledge might come in handy, or what ideas it might generate.

0.14.  Two Previous Posts on π

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Firearms and Fascists: Does the Kansas House believe in democracy?

No guns. Sign on door of ECS Building, Kansas State UniversityFor nearly two months (since January 18th), Representative John Barker — the chair of the Kansas House’s Federal and State Affairs Committee — has refused to bring House Bill 2074 to the full Kansas House so that the entire chamber can vote on it.  The bill extends universities’ and hospital’s exemption for campus carry, and it’s a popular bill: the public testimony in favor has consistently far exceeded the testimony against it.  Instead, tomorrow, the committee will consider HB 2074’s nemesis, HB 2220.  It prohibits any regulation of guns on college campuses, and any current regulations are rendered “null and void.”  And no, I’m not joking.  Read the bill.

I cannot be there to testify at 9:00 AM Thursday March 9th in Room 346-S.  So, I have sent my testimony in advance.  It’s my third such testimony this semester.  Though I wrote it in haste, I make no apologies for its content.  HB 2220 is a fascist bill.  And the committee’s failure to bring HB 2074 up for a vote prompts me to question Representative Barker’s commitment to the democratic process.  Let the House vote!


HB 2220 is not only a bad bill.  It is a fascist bill.  Faculty, students, and staff of Kansas Universities are overwhelmingly against campus carry.  And so, has the House Committee on State and Federal Affairs advanced HB 2074 — which would continue the exemption for universities and hospitals — so that the full House may vote on it?  No.  Instead, it is now considering HB 2220, which forces guns onto Kansas university campuses against the will of those who study and work there.

My question for the committee is this: Do you believe in democracy or don’t you?  Why not let the House vote on HB 2074?  Why advance this dangerous bill (HB 2220) instead?  There is no evidence that weaponizing campuses makes them safer.  In fact, quite the opposite is true — as many have told you before.  In a state where guns are not regulated (where owners of firearms do not even need to learn how to use their weapons), inviting them onto college campuses is reckless in the extreme.  You increase the risk of death by accident, and by intent — the likelihood of a successful suicide increases when firearms are accessible.  And you do not prevent mass shootings.  The “good guy with a gun stops a bad guy with a gun” is an alternative fact promoted by the NRA.  Think about it: in an active shooter situation, an untrained but armed person will magically be transformed into a superhero?  Really?  (Hint: NO, guns do not turn untrained civilians into superheroes.)  If the military does not allow guns in its classes (except for weapons-training classes) or in its barracks, why should colleges?  The military are trained professionals.  Faculty, students, and staff on college campuses are not — by design, since Kansas refuses to adopt even the modest provision that gun-owners learn how to use their guns.

Though I offer these thoughts as a private citizen, my opinions are informed by my job as professor at Kansas State University.  I have enjoyed my decade-and-a-half living and working in Kansas.  However, now that the legislature insists on endangering my life, and the lives of my colleagues and students, I find that I enjoy it much less. Indeed, in addition to seeking another job, I find that I have to spend valuable time trying to convince my state legislature not to kill us all.  So.  Oppose HB 2220.  Bring HB 2074 up for a full vote.

Thank you for your time and for your attention to this urgent matter.

Philip Nel

Manhattan, KS


Representative John BarkerKansans, please contact every member of the House Federal and State Affairs Committee, but especially Representative John Barker

Tell him and them to exempt university campuses and hospitals from firearms.  Advance HB 2074 to the floor of the House for a vote.  Oppose HB 2220.


Related writing on this subject (by me, and on this blog unless otherwise indicated):

Finally, to any academics who may be reading this: Is your university in a state or country with (relatively) competent governance? Or is it a private university (and thus not required to weaponize)? Does it seek an expert on children’s literature? Well, seek no further! Here is my curriculum vitae and a page devoted to my books (with selected reviews of same):

Drop me a line. (Email address is at right, under “A note on mp3s.”)  I’d love to hear from you!

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Seuss’s Matilda: Horton’s Ancestor

Happy Birthday, Dr. Seuss!  To celebrate the 113th anniversary of Theodor Seuss Geisel’s birth, here are two things Seussian.

1. The True Story of Horton Hatches the Egg

Dr. Seuss, Horton Hatches the Egg (1940)When asked how he came up with the idea of Horton Hatches the Egg (1940), Seuss would often give an answer like this (from a September 1972 interview):

Horton Hatches the Egg was a lucky accident. I was in my New York studio one day, sketching on transparent tracing paper, and I had the window open. The wind simply took a picture of an elephant that I’d drawn and put it on top of another sheet of paper that had a tree on it. All I had to do was to figure out what the elephant was doing in that tree. I’ve left my window open for 30 years since that, but nothing’s happened.

That’s a delightful story, but it’s not true.  Not only do earlier accounts contradict it, but in a 1938 issue of Judge magazine, Seuss published “Matilda, the Elephant with a Mother Complex.” In that story, an elephant also hatches an egg — but it does not turn out happily. Matilda’s egg hatches, the bird sees her, and it flies off in terror. In contrast, Horton’s baby elephant-bird chooses him over its biological mother, Mayzie.

This past December, Southebys attempted to auction some original art of Matilda — though not precisely the art used in that Judge story. It seems to be an earlier version of the art, but it’s not clear how much earlier. Its provenance suggests it could be over a decade older.

Dr. Seuss, Matilda the Compassionate Elephant (1938)

The auction described the piece like this:

ESTIMATE: $30,000 – $40,000
DESCRIPTION: signed Dr.Seuss pen-and-ink drawing on paper 10 1/2 x 6 1/2 inches; 11 x 8 1/2 inches (267 x 165 mm; 279 x 216 mm) Executed circa 1938.
CATALOG NOTE: A delightful original drawing comprising the earliest known version of Dr Seuss’s beloved character Horton (here a femaile [sic] elephant, Matilda), looking very pleased with herself, seated on a small egg, with captions written on banners above and below the image.

The catalogue offers other information, some of it accurate and some of it less so.  But let’s skip ahead to the provenance:

PROVENANCE: Given by Geisel to Harvey Poe, Jr (born in 1916) while the artist was vacationing in Brookline, Maine (Harvey Poe, Sr managed the Mountain Ash Inn & Cottages, where the artist stayed). Mr Poe believes it was given to him when he was about 9 (i.e. 1925) and while this is of course possible, it seems more likely the drawing was given to him well after Geisel’s return from Europe, probably soon after the similar design appeared in Judge magazine (April 1938).

Is the piece really from 1925? It could be. On June 23rd, Geisel graduated from Dartmouth, and two months later left for Oxford, England.  He was in the U.S. for most of 1925, and not far from Brookline, Maine.  In addition to New Hampshire (where Dartmouth is), Geisel was also in Springfield, Massachusetts (his hometown). Prior to then, he had been drawing cartoons for Dartmouth’s Jack-o-Lantern.  Stylistically, however, this piece looks closer to his art from a decade later.

Priced at $30,000-$40,000, the original “Matilda” drawing failed to sell.  To the best of my knowledge, it is still being held at Southebys. So, if you have that sort of cash lying around (I don’t!), try bidding on next time it goes up for auction.

2. Me, talking about Seuss, yesterday on The Joy Cardin Show.

I was on for the entire 8 o’clock hour of yesterday’s show.  Did I have anything interesting to say?  You be the judge.  Listen here.


To continue your celebration of Seuss’s birthday, you may enjoy perusing other posts tagged Seuss. Here’s a selection:

From time to time, I get asked to talk about Dr. Seuss:

  • Joshua Barajas, “8 Things You Didn’t Know About Dr. Seuss,” PBS News Hour blog, 22 July 2015.
  • “New Window into Dr. Seuss’s genius” (26 Feb. 2014). John Wilkens’ article in the San Diego Tribune discusses new Seuss material that his widow, Audrey, donated to the Dr. Seuss Papers at UCSD.
  • “Dr. Seuss: Mini-Biography.”  A&E Biography (2013).  Time: 4 minutes.
  • All Things Considered. Lynn Neary, “‘The Bippolo Seed’ : The ‘Lost’ Dr. Seuss Stories” (13 Apr. 2011): audio & transcript.  Charles Cohen & I talk about the new book of “lost” Seuss stories (edited by Charles).  Time: 3 mins, 30 secs.
  • Diane Rehm Show. Dr. Seuss’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (22 Dec. 2010): audio | transcript. Reverend Derrick Harkins, Maria Salvadore, and I talk with Diane Rehm about the Grinch.  Time: 1 hour.
  • Morning Edition. Lynn Neary, “Fifty Years of The Cat in the Hat” (1 Mar. 2007): audio & transcript. Anita Silvey and I talk with Lynn Neary about the Cat in the Hat.  Time: 7 mins, 20 secs.
  • Talk of the Nation.  Steve Inskeep, “Celebrating the 100th Birthday of Dr. Seuss: A New Book Looks Back on the Life of Theodor Geisel” (10 Feb. 2004): audio.  I was a bit nervous at the beginning (I believe it was my first time on live national radio), but after the first few minutes I seem to settle into it well enough.  Time: 1 hour.

Though the website design impedes its utility, Random House’s Seussville‘s author section includes a bio. and timeline I wrote — the former heavily influenced by Judith and Neil Morgan’s excellent Dr. Seuss & Mr. Geisel.  (If you read only one book about Dr. Seuss, the Morgans’ bio is the one I’d recommend.) Happy Read Across America Day!*


*Each year on or near March 2nd (the birthday of Theodor Seuss Geisel, a.k.a. Dr. Seuss), the National Education Association sponsors Read Across America, designed to promote literacy. This year, it’s being celebrated on Wednesday, March 2nd. Read more about it at the NEA’s website.

Read Across America: An NEA Project

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MLA 2018 Call for Papers! Calling Dumbledore’s Army: Activist Children’s Literature

MLA NYC 2018 logoBooks can encourage children to question rather than accept the world as it is. Literature for young people can invite them to imagine a world where black lives matter, women’s rights are human rights, poverty does not limit one’s life choices, LGBTQ youth know they are loved, indigenous peoples’ rights are respected, the disabled have equal rights and opportunities, refugees find refuge, and climate change does not imperil life on this planet.

Jenny Sowry's Woke BabyThis guaranteed session (sponsored by the Children’s Literature Forum) examines children’s literature as a vehicle for social change. Subjects panelists might consider include (but are not limited to): Children as activists, books aligned with social movements, satire or humor as catalyst for change, the repurposing of children’s culture as means of expressing or inspiring adults’ activism. Papers may cover any country or historical period.

The panel will convene at the Modern Language Association Convention in New York, which will be held from January 4 to 7, 2018.

Send 1-page abstract and 2-page CV by March 15, 2017 to Philip Nel <philnel@ksu.edu>.

scholarship on activist children's literature

Image credit: Photo is of Jenny Sowry’s “Woke Baby,” at the Women’s March, Jan. 2017. The image became a meme, and you can read more about it in this BuzzFeed article.

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Killing Higher Education, Literally: Kansas’ Campus Carry

No guns (sign)Yesterday, in response to overwhelming support for rolling back Kansas’ insane campus carry law, Senator Jacob LaTurner‘s Kansas Senate Federal and State Affairs Committee decided instead to prevent the full senate from voting on Senate Bill 53 — a bill which would have exempted college campuses from their imminent weaponization. Would the full senate have supported the measure? The committee’s decision not to bring the bill before the full senate suggests that it would have had a fighting chance. (If they thought it would fail in the full senate, then sending it there to fail would at least look democratic. So, my reading is that, fearing the possibility of failure, the majority of the committee opted to thwart the will of the people.  Their allegiance is to the gun lobby and not to their constituents.)

There is, however, a Kansas House bill that offers a chance to bring this idea — exempting campuses from firearms — to the House for a vote.  If it passes a House vote, the bill would then get sent to the Senate for a vote.  Thus,… more testimony in Topeka this morning!  I cannot attend today’s hearing.  So, I have submitted my testimony in advance.  Here it is.


Statement in Support of HB 2074

My name is Philip Nel. I am a University Distinguished Professor of English at Kansas State University (though, of course, I am speaking here as a private citizen). I’ve happily called Manhattan home for over 16 years, but — in response to campus carry — I’m not sure how much longer I’ll be calling it home. The legislature’s decision to force firearms into our classrooms, offices, libraries, laboratories, and student centers has me looking for another job.

My specialty is Children’s Literature. There are not a lot of senior positions in my field. So, I cannot predict when my departure may be. I may be here for a while longer.

I first went on the market last year and received the offer of an endowed Chair in Children’s Literature at a top university in another country. I very much wanted to accept the offer, but my wife (also an English professor) was understandably unconvinced that there would also be an opportunity there for her. So, for her sake, I reluctantly turned it down.

If campus carry does arrive as planned, I could not turn down such an opportunity again. Perhaps she and I will have to live in separate states or countries until both of us find a way out of Kansas. I don’t know. I do know that guns endanger the lives of students, faculty, and staff. I know also that in college classrooms, we discuss difficult, contentious subjects. Armed students make these difficult, necessary conversations impossible to have. Concealed carry turns each student into a potentially armed student — and thus into an implied threat to fellow students. Fear inhibits discussion. Campus carry makes it impossible for me to do my job.

So, I’m seeking work elsewhere. Since that may not happen immediately, I am also applying for fellowships out of state (and out of the country). I like my job, and I love my colleagues. However, if the state of Kansas wants to make it impossible for me to do my job, then I’ll need to find a way to keep doing my job somewhere else.

The prospect of leaving great friends, colleagues, and students saddens me. The great people I work with are the main reason I’ve stayed here, despite the legislature’s and governor’s persistent defunding of public education. I’m more than willing to put up with Kansas’ ongoing efforts to kill higher education.

But when Kansas also wants to kill me and my colleagues and my students, then I want out.

So. I urge the legislature to vote yes on House Bill 2074. Thank you.

— Philip Nel, 1 February 2017


I would add here that if I am unable to find employment elsewhere, my stance remains unchanged.  Should students wish to take my classes, they will need to disarm.  Period.  I will never teach armed students.  That is not negotiable.

In fact, the fact that I should even have to make this argument offers some indication of how insane this state and this country have become.

So, dear reader: Is your university in a state or country with (relatively) competent governance? Or is it a private university (and thus not required to weaponize)? Does it seek an expert on children’s literature?  Well, seek no further!  Here is my curriculum vitae and a page devoted to my books (with selected reviews of same):

Drop me a line.  I’d love to hear from you!

And, Kansans: contact every member of the House Federal and State Affairs Committee. Tell them to exempt university campuses and hospitals from firearms.  Do it.  Now.  Silence is complicity.


Related writing on this subject (by me, and on this blog unless otherwise indicated):

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