Archive for Education

Literature for Adolescents (Fall 2018): sneak preview

English 545: Literature for Adolescents (2018)

This fall, I am teaching English 545: Literature for Adolescents on-line for the first time.  That is, this is the first time I’m teaching the course on-line.  It’s the umpteenth time I’ve taught the course, and the second time I’ve taught on-line.

One thing I learned from teaching on-line this past spring: Build the entire course before the term begins.  And, yes, I learned that because I failed to do it.  So, I am building it now.  This week, I finished the curriculum for the first two weeks.  In case others may find it useful, I’m sharing that below.  (Scroll down.)

A word or two about what’s not in this blog post.  Missing are the ensuing discussion, my responses to students’ responses, quizzes, my responses to the quizzes, the full syllabus, and resources on the course’s Canvas site.  In other words, this is a partial representation of those first couple of weeks.

Here are the main literary texts we will read:

  • Laurie Halse Anderson, Speak.
  • M.T. Anderson, Feed.
  • Kristin Cashore, Graceling.
  • Cherie Dimaline, The Marrow Thieves.
  • Nancy Farmer, The House of the Scorpion.
  • Kiese Laymon, Long Division.
  • E. Lockhart, The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks.
  • Malinda Lo, Ash.
  • Walter Dean Myers, Monster.
  • Benjamin Alire Saenz, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe.
  • J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye.
  • Francisco X. Stork, Marcello in the Real World.
  • Angie Thomas, The Hate You Give.
  • Jacqueline Woodson, After Tupac & D. Foster.
  • Ibi Zoboi, American Street.

There will also be a few versions of “Cinderella” (both in preparation for Malinda Lo’s Ash and to get students thinking about the “YA” in many fairy tales), and a few secondary texts, all of which I will either link to or provide a pdf (available via Canvas).  I’m really excited about the novels, three of which are from 2017 — and thus I’m teaching them for the very first time.  I’m also teaching Ash (2009) for the first time.​

Thomas, The Hate U Give Malinda Lo, Ash Zoboi, American Street Cherie Dimaline, The Marrow Thieves

I never teach a class exactly the same way twice.  I’m always trying to improve.  Now that I’m teaching on-line, I am also trying to improve my skills as a creator of videos!  That learning curve is represented below: the second video is (I think) the weakest, and video #1 has some strengths but needs snappier editing.  By three and four, the edits are improving.  And the fifth (the first one on E. Lockhart’s Frankie Landau-Banks) is the best thus far.



WEEK 1

week #1, discussion #1: Intro.

I’ll repeat the questions from the video below.

1. What’s your name? And what do you prefer to be called?

2. Where are you from? And where are you located now, while you’re taking this class?

3. Here are our course’s objectives. Listen to them because at the end, I will ask you (A) which of our course objectives are you most looking forward to meeting? And (B) which objective do you think will be the most challenging for you?

This class will introduce you to a range of literature for adolescents, and develop your critical skills in reading these works. We will study works that feature adolescent characters, depict experiences familiar to adolescents, and are taught to or read by adolescents. We will approach these works from a variety of critical perspectives (including formalist, psychoanalytic, queer theory, feminist, Marxist, historical, postcolonial, ecological) — perspectives that many high schools want their teachers to know. In summary, this course will be about different kinds of literature read by young adults, approaches to thinking about this literature, and adolescence’s relationship to power. We will develop these skills via writing a once-weekly journal, participating in class discussions, taking a weekly quiz, and completing these and any other assignments on time.

Now that you know the course’s objectives, (A) which of our course objectives are you most looking forward to meeting?  And (B) which objective do you think will be the most challenging for you?  (C) Do you have any other objectives?  If so, please list them.

4. Your adolescence is very likely far more recent than mine. And yet I know that high school and college are different — that you have very likely changed at least a little since high school… and possibly quite a lot. So, my third question is this.  Describe your adolescence in one word.  And why do you choose that word to describe your adolescence?  The why is important.

5. Have you taken an on-line class before?

Format for answer: VIDEO


week #1, discussion #2: Adolescence, YA Literature, and… J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye (through Chapter 10)

Part I: Adolescence & YA Literature

Repeating (below) the questions from the video (above) —

1. What is adolescence?

2. What are the social characteristics of adolescence?

3. Drawing on Lee Talley’s essay, what is “Young Adult”?

Format for answer: TEXT


Part II: J. D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye (1951), through Chapter 10

Those two questions I asked you on day 1 — now is the time to answer them.

1. On page 1, Holden tells us “I had to come out here and take it easy.” Where is here? From where is he narrating this story?  And how do you know?  Beyond the quotation I called your attention to, offer a supporting quotation or quotations from the text that tells you where he is when he is telling the story (as opposed to where he is when it happens).

2. Once more, M.H. Abrams’ classic definition of the unreliable narrator:

The fallible or unreliable narrator is one whose perception, interpretation, and evaluation of the matters he or she narrates do not coincide with the implicit opinions and norms manifested by the author, which the author expects the alert reader to share. (A Glossary of Literary Terms, 6th ed., p. 168)

And… I asked you to track Holden’s unreliability.  So. offer a couple of examples where you see the narrator’s perception in tension with those “implicit opinions and norms” of the book.

Format for answer: TEXT


Questions to think about for next class (not this one) —

1. Symbols! This is why English teachers like the book. Holden keeps returning to ideas and objects that he invests with significance — this is how he conveys his emotional truths.  The red hunting hat.  The question of where the ducks go in the winter.  The “Little Shirley Beans” record.  Childhood (his own and his sister Phoebe’s).  And, of course, the title of the novel itself.  So, my question is this: track a symbol.  Where does it recur and why?  That is, what does it mean?

2. By the end of the novel, what (if anything) has Holden learned?  And what’s next for Holden?

3. In addition to finishing the novel, I’ve also asked you to read my “7 questions we should ask about children’s literature.” Pay particular attention to the first of those 7 — What does this book present as normal? Apply that question to the novel, following up with these more specific questions that I have borrowed (and slightly modified) from Nathalie Wooldridge:

  • What or whose view of the world, or kinds of behavior does the book present as normal?
  • Why is the book written from this perspective? How else could it have been written?
  •  What assumptions does the book make about age, gender, race, class, sexuality, and culture (including the age, gender, race, class, sexuality, and culture of the reader)?
  • Whose perspectives does the book present? Whose perspectives does the book silence or ignore?

4. Why has this novel become such a cultural touchstone? Should it be a cultural touchstone?  Indeed, should it be on this syllabus?  That last question is not a trick question.  First of all, I’m always changing this syllabus, and I don’t always include The Catcher in the Rye.  Second, you should question what’s on this syllabus.  For this class, there are millions of books to choose from.  Should Catcher in the Rye be among these 15?

Again, these last 4 questions are for next time.


week #1, discussion #3: J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye (to end)

Answer the question that corresponds with your group number.  Post your comment, drawing on examples from the book — remember the importance of close reading.  Quote from the text to support your arguments. And then please respond to at least one other person in your group — ideally to two or three.  Post your initial comment before the due date (end of Friday) for this discussion.  If your responses to others’ occur after that, it’s OK — the discussion will still be enter-able for a week after the due date.  Try to chime in as soon after the deadline as you can. I realize that we are all having a conversation asynchronously.  Do your best.


1. As I say, I think all the symbols are why English teachers like the book. Holden keeps returning to ideas and objects that he invests with personal significance — this is how he conveys his emotional truths. He’s not likely to say, directly, “I’m afraid of adulthood” or “I miss my brother Allie” or “I feel vulnerable.” No, he’s going to put on his red hunting hat. He’s going to wonder about where the ducks go in the winter. He’s going to search for and then carry around the “Little Shirley Beans” record.  He’s going to talk about childhood (his own and his sister Phoebe’s).  And, of course, his fantasy of becoming a catcher in the rye  So, I asked you to track a symbol.  Where does it recur and why?  That is, what does it mean?


2. By the end of the novel, what (if anything) has Holden learned? And what’s next for Holden? Holden talks about wanting to be a catcher in the rye: “Thousands of little kids, and nobody’s around — nobody big, I mean — except me. And I’m standing on the edge of some crazy cliff.  What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff” (173). He talks about pretending he’s a deaf mute, living in a cabin near the woods (198-99, 204-05). He tries to erase all of the fuck yous realizes he can’t: “If you had a million years to do it, you couldn’t rub out even half the ‘Fuck you’ signs in the world.  It’s impossible” (202).  People keep “asking me if I’m going to apply myself when I go back to school next September.  It’s such a stupid question, in my opinion.  I mean how do you know what you’re going to do till you do it?  The answer is, you don’t.  I think I am, but how do I know?  I swear it’s a stupid question” (213).  That he asks himself this question at the end tells us what?  Will he apply himself? Will he follow Antolini’s advice to learn from other writers?


3. So, I also asked you to read my “7 questions we should ask about children’s literature” and to pay particular attention to the first of those 7 — What does this book present as normal? Apply that question to the novel, following up with these more specific questions borrowed (and slightly modified) from Nathalie Wooldridge:

  • What or whose view of the world, or kinds of behavior does the book present as normal?
  • Why is the book written from this perspective? How else could it have been written?
  • What assumptions does the book make about age, gender, race, class, sexuality, and culture (including the age, gender, race, class, sexuality, and culture of the reader)?
  • Whose perspectives does the book present? Whose perspectives does the book silence or ignore?

I am asking you these questions because I want you to think critically about this novel and all novels we read.  You do not need to agree with or like or enjoy each novel on the syllabus.  I ask that you make an attempt to understand each work, but I also invite you — I encourage you — to raise critical questions about each work — backing up your critique with examples from the book.


4. Finally, a big question: Why has this novel become such a cultural touchstone? Should it be a cultural touchstone? And should it be on this syllabus? As I said last time, that question is not a trick question.  (1) I’m always changing this syllabus, and I don’t always include The Catcher in the Rye.  (2) You should question what’s on this syllabus.  Of the millions of Young Adult books we could read, should Catcher in the Rye be among the mere 15 on the syllabus?  Key here as in all questions is defending your answer with examples from the book.

Format for answer: TEXT


Don’t forget: journal entry due Sunday night!


Next time: E. Lockhart’s The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks.  Its placement next on the syllabus is not accidental.  So, you might consider her novel as being in conversation with Salinger’s novel.  What would Lockhart’s book say to Salinger’s book?  Each book features a protagonist inclined to rebel — against what does each protagonist rebel?  And what does each protagonist accept?  You might compare/contrast a bit as you read.


WEEK 2

week #2, discussion #1: E. Lockhart’s Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks (2008), through “Broken Date”

1. Let’s start with an exercise in close-reading.  How does the novel’s opening letter position you, the reader?  (Read the letter that opens the novel.)

A. What are the key words or phrases in that opening letter? Why?

B. What questions does the letter raise about the novel you are about to read?

C. What clues does the letter give you for the novel that you are about to read?

D. And where does the letter position you in relation to the novel’s main character, Frankie Landau-Banks? What sort of relationship does it invite?  Are you sympathetic?  Unsympathetic?

Sketch out some answers to these questions, referring to specifics in that opening letter — actually quoting them — in your response.  Feel free to refer to moments beyond that opening letter, too.


2. What questions does Frankie (and the novel itself) raise about masculinity and femininity? That is, how might it invite us to think critically about the gender roles that we’re encouraged to inhabit — “acceptable” versions of masculinity and femininity?  Point to a few examples.  And one last question for part 2 of our discussion: If she landed in The Catcher in the Rye or he landed in her novel, what would Frankie say to Holden?


3. What is the panopticon? How does it work as a system of control? And… what might it tell us about adolescence — or, if you like, about Frankie?

Don’t forget to cite specifics from the novel in your answers!

Format for answer: TEXT


week #2, discussion #2: E. Lockhart’s Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, to end

1. Here is a more succinct version of this question than what’s included in the video: Does the novel propose the idea that women/girls and men/boys use power differently?  In what ways might it be helpful to think of power as distinctly gendered?  In what ways might that not be helpful to understand power as gendered?

Here is the longer version, which I offer mostly for the citations therein. Several times, Frankie notes how the Loyal Order of the Bassett Hounds — that bastion of patriarchal privilege — fosters bonding, “togetherness,” “connection” (see pp. 195, 221, 222). She longs for such a bond herself… but doesn’t get one. At the end, we learn that, while Trish is a “loyal friend,” “Trish’s lack of understanding is a condition of that loyalty” (338). Does Frankie’s lack of a female cohort undermine the feminist critique of patriarchy, expressed elsewhere in the novel? Is it positing that women’s power works differently (a version of Elizabeth’s argument in the debate, pp. 160-165)? If so, does that difference contradict Frankie’s frequent critique of the “double standard” she faces as a girl?  Or, whether it is or is not contradictory, might it be positing an alternate form of power?


2. Near the end of the novel, Porter asks, “Why did you do all that, Frankie?” She answers his question with two questions: “Have you ever heard of the panopticon?” And “Have you ever been in love?” (329). What do these two questions tell you about her motivations?  And why do you suppose Lockhart does not have Frankie elaborate?  Finally, how might these two questions influence our interpretation of the novel?


3. E. Lockhart has said that there will be no sequel to this novel. Her narrator, however, does offer two possibilities for Frankie’s future (336-337): “They sometimes go crazy, these people” or they “change the world” (337). Defending your answer with examples from this book, which future is more likely? Make sure you refer to the final chapter.


Please respond to at least one other comment in your group.  As before, post your initial comment before the deadline; your second (and third, etc.) can fall after the deadline.

Format for answer: TEXT


Don’t forget: journal entry due Sunday night, and quiz due Monday night.

For next week, we’re reading Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak (1999).  Talk to you then!



Incidentally, I’ve been posting these on YouTube because the Hale Library fire knocked our course infrastructure system (Canvas) for a loop.  Its video-sharing apparatus (MyMediaSite) hasn’t been working.  So, I decided to use my YouTube channel.  I haven’t yet decided if I will post all Literature for Adolescents course videos on YouTube… or just do so until the university’s Canvas site stabilizes again.*

The main downside is that students will be able to see the videos far ahead of two weeks in advance.  Following the advice of other on-line teachers, I make visible curriculum for only two weeks into the future.  The philosophy behind that is you don’t want a student to rush through the class.  They should proceed at roughly the pace of the semester, learning as they go, improving their discussion responses etc. in response to feedback from me and other students. Showing them two weeks into the future allows them to better manage their time — and work ahead if their schedule demands that.

The upside is the possibility that these videos might be useful to other teachers or students of Literature for Adolescents.  If you do find any of these useful, let me know.  Also, if you spot any mistakes or have suggestions, let me know — though keep in mind that you are not seeing all of the teaching.  I will be joining the students’ discussion — typically via text, though sometimes via video.  And my responses to their discussion will sometimes result in additional readings — always brief ones, but useful ones.

That’s all for now.


* A public thanks to everyone working in K-State’s ITS, Telecommunications, and all who have been putting in long hours to get the university fully on-line again.  I appreciate it!  And so do my fellow faculty members!

Comments (2)

Oppose Concealed Carry Reciprocity: Don’t Be Fooled by HB-2042

No guns (sign)On February 13 at 10:30 am in Topeka, the Kansas Senate will hear testimony on House Bill 2042, which appears to offer sensible gun regulation but in fact does nothing of the kind. (Try to contain your surprise.)  I cannot be there myself.  So, I have submitted my testimony in advance.  I am also posting both text and video of my testimony here. If you can be at the capitol, please go.  If not, please contact your representative.   Thank you!



Testimony opposing HB-2042

Philip Nel

13 Feb 2018

My name is Philip Nel. I am a Professor at Kansas State University, but I offer this testimony as a citizen only — not as an employee. I would be pleased by the fact that HB 2042 mandates that 18-to-20-year olds get a permit and that anyone on a university campus get a permit to carry a weapon. I would be pleased, but the bill also includes Concealed Carry Reciprocity (CCR) — that NRA-promoted legislation says that all states must admit firearms from any state, irrespective of how unregulated that state’s guns are. So, if you’re from one of the twelve states that allows concealed-carry without a permit, then you can also carry in Kansas without a permit. In other words, CCR effectively supersedes HB-2042’s permit requirement.

In effect, HB 2042 makes matters worse by allowing people under 21 to concealed-carry, too. It invites yet more guns into the state and into our workplaces. Thanks to the state’s Guns Everywhere Law, guns have already been forced into college dormitories, libraries, laboratories, classrooms, and offices. The actual name of that law is of course “The Personal and Family Protection Act,” so-called because the law does nothing of the kind and because those who named it are liars. Similarly, those who claim that Concealed Carry Reciprocity will make Kansans safer are also not telling you the truth. Which, at this point, surprises no one.

The university where I teach does not need more guns. It needs more funds. Now, I realize that guns and funds rhyme. So, just to be clear: Guns are weapons that can kill people. Funds can employ faculty and staff who educate people. To be extra clear, I’ll use these words in a sentence. The arrival of guns on campus caused a former colleague to leave Kansas State University for a job at another university in another country.  Funds could help hire a new faculty member to teach the courses that he is no longer here to teach.

So, I ask the Kansas legislature to oppose HB-2042. Instead of endangering the lives of your constituents, do something that helps them. Pass sensible gun regulations, and provide adequate funding for education at all levels. Instead of arming citizens with bullets, arm us with reason — via a good education.

Thank you.


Philip Nel: photo by Michael HenryTo 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):

Leave a Comment

Children’s Literature vs. Nationalism: IRSCL’s Statement of Principles

The International Research Society for Children’s Literature (IRSCL) — an organization of which I am a member — is today issuing a statement in support of academic freedom, and against the rising tide of nativism/nationalism that threatens to curtail it.  We’re issuing it in 20 different languages (with more to come) and you can see all of those on our YouTube channel: ArabicChinese, Danish, Dutch, English, Estonian, Farsi, Finnish, French, German, Italian, Kazakh, KoreanLamnsoNorwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, and Swedish.  Coming soon (we hope): Japanese and others. 30 Nov. 2017: added Ukranian, updated link to Danish.

YouTube mosaic: IRSCL statement

I concede that our language may be a little too “academic,” but consider that we coordinated this across borders, languages, holiday calendars, and extremely busy schedules.  And it’s important to speak up for our shared humanity, for a scholarly community that transcend national borders, for free and open inquiry.


Press Release: Current Global Politics Limit Academic Freedom

IRSCL logoOn Universal Children’s Day, November 20, 2017, the International Research Society for Children’s Literature (IRSCL) issues a Statement of Principles, because it is worried about the ways in which contemporary geopolitics curtail academic freedom.

This summer, IRSCL convened its 23rd biennial congress in Canada. More than 20 percent of the scholars whose papers were accepted were unable to attend Congress 2017, not only because of radical economic disparities in the world but also because of current restrictive travel policies and the “chill” caused by them.

  • IRSCL finds the current xenophobic situation worrying as it curtails academic freedom. The free flow of people and ideas across borders has to be defended anew, says Elisabeth Wesseling, President of IRSCL.
    For this reason, IRSCL will issue a Statement of Principles, which explains why scholarship can flourish only in a world with open borders. The statement will be released as a collection of videos featuring IRSCL members reading the statement in their native language
  • the statement is issued on November 20, Universal Children’s Day, to emphasize not only the importance of our research, but also of children’s literature’s potential to foster empathy, nurture creativity, and imagine a better world, says Elisabeth Wesseling.

IRSCL is an international scholarly organization dedicated to children’s and young adult literature with 360 members from 47 different countries worldwide. Every second year the organization arranges IRSCL Congress, the world’s most international congress within the research field.

Professor Elisabeth Wesseling (Lies.Wesseling@Maastrichtuniversity.nl), President, IRSCL

IRSCL on Facebook


Videos of IRSCL members reading the statement in 18 languages

(These are also available en masse via our YouTube channel.)

Yes, that’s me reading it in English.  (I’m one of the statement’s many co-writers. )


Arabic


Chinese


Danish


Dutch


English


Estonian


Farsi


Finnish


French


German


Italian


Kazakh


Korean


Lamnso


Norwegian


Polish


Russian


Spanish


Swedish


Ukranian


In reading the statement (above) and writing this little blog post, I’m proud to stand with my friends and colleagues around the world.  And I’m especially delighted to see them speaking their native languages.  When we meet, we converse in English — because English is the “international” language of communication among scholars.  So, English-speakers like me have it easy: everyone else speaks my language.  But for everyone else, this is of course grossly unfair.  I am grateful to them for learning English so that we can share ideas, and participate in a global community.  And I thank them for tolerating my general inability to speak their languages.

Reading children’s books about all different people (all types of difference, though in this case, national difference) helps raise a younger generation to be less susceptible to the narrow nationalisms that pervade our political culture.  Diverse children’s books work because — as the research of Tali Sharot shows — emotion is more persuasive than reason. They work because, by expanding our emotional life, stories show us how we are connected — offering “a glimpse across the limits of our self,” as Hisham Matar puts it. And yes, yes, I know that white supremacy, xenophobia, and fascistic nationalism are resilient and adaptable — aided, as they are, by white fragility, white innocence, and colonial amnesia. And I know that children’s literature is but one front in a larger battle. But books for young people remain one of the best resources to oppose xenophobia and the structures that sustain it because children’s literature reaches selves still very much in the process of becoming; minds that have not yet been made up; future adults who can learn respect instead of suspicion, understanding instead of fear, and yes, even love.

Comments (2)

Resolutions for a New Academic Year: A survival guide for higher education in perilous times (Chronicle of Higher Education)

Chronicle of Higher Education (logo)Over at The Chronicle of Higher Education today, I have a piece on “Resolutions for a New Academic Year: A survival guide for higher education in perilous times.” Here’s one of those resolutions:

Teach students to use language well. We can help them to be wary of lazy euphemism — not just because it is bad writing (though it often is), but because its bland familiarity can anaesthetize the attention. As George Orwell’s famous 1946 essay, “Politics and the English Language,” observes: “If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.”
The president and his staff spend their days wresting words from their meanings. Amplified by repetition and news coverage, their linguistic nihilism infects our usage, and compromises our collective ability to make sense of the world. So encourage students to discard “alt-right,” “climate skeptic,” and “alternative facts,” and instead, say “white supremacist,” “anti-science,” and “lies.” Help them to resist the slippery idiom of propaganda.

The rest is over at The Chronicle.  Thanks to Robin Bernstein for putting the editor from The Chronicle in touch with me, and to that editor (is it appropriate to name her here?) for publishing this.

She — the editor — asked me to write something on “A column of suggestions for how professors (rookies and senior ones) can get the year off to a good start. Kind of a New Academic Year’s Resolutions.” I said sure! And then jotted notes, and more notes, … and wrote a half-dozen incomplete (failed) drafts. I kept getting stuck because offering the usual beginning-of-term advice felt reckless and irresponsible. It felt like the privileged giving advice to the privileged. In any case, there are lots of columns on the challenges of managing our various and proliferating obligations, or setting writing goals, and related professional predicaments.

Indeed, Robin curates an excellent page of advice. (Her own columns are also full of wisdom. I highly recommend them!)

So, instead, I wrote a piece inviting educators to consider how they might shine a light through the fog of lies that envelops us, nurture the capacity for critical thinking, and help others resist the allure of fascist blowhards. Of course, the younger generation did not vote for the tiny-fingered bloviator. But they will live amidst the damage he and his quislings inflict for many more years than their teachers will.

We should really restore that word — quisling — to contemporary discourse. It comes from Vidkun Quisling (1887-1945), the Norwegian Prime Minister (1942-1945) who collaborated with the Nazis, and thus can refer to any short-sighted people who collude with those who do their fellow citizens harm. For instance, most (though not all) of the Republican Party have been happy to betray their country and its citizens. Sure, here and there, they’ll offer a few words of criticism. But will most back up their words with actions?  The majority still fantasize about a tax policy that will increase the misery of those in need, and so put their qualms aside to work with the grifter-in-chief. For instance, right now, will they join Democrats & support DACA legislation for immigrants who — though they lack citizenship — have known no other home than the US? Or will they stand by, while America’s fascist clown deports 800,000 hard-working members of their community? Most Republicans’ behavior thus far does not inspire me to hope. (But I would love to be proven wrong on this!)

Brian Herrera: "I'm With Us" (301 of 304): "Hope requires" — Philip Nel

By design, the administration’s cruelty harms minoritized communities the most. (This is what happens when a white supremacist becomes president.) So, in offering advice, I tried to take into account the fact that, for some of us, merely surviving the regime will be not only enough but truly miraculous. For some, simply continuing to be is itself a form of resistance. And I also understand that critical pedagogy animates some of us more than others. We all move through the world, bearing different and often unseen burdens. What works for one may not work for all.

But those of us who care about democracy and human rights are all in this together. We need to support each other, and — in whatever way we can — ignite beacons of hope amidst the gathering darkness.

A well-educated public is less likely to admire demagogues. So, we educators have our work cut out for us — important, necessary work. And we might locate at least some of our hope in that endeavor.

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

Image from Brian Herrera‘s “I’m With Us” series added 7 Sept. 2017.

Leave a Comment

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):

Leave a Comment

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!

Leave a Comment

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):

Leave a Comment

Testify! Keeping Kansas Universities Gun-Free

Today, supporters of Senate Bill 53 arrived in Topeka (Kansas’ capital), offering reasons for why firearms should not be invited onto our campus and into KU’s medical center. If you’re from a more rational U.S. state or from outside of the U.S., you may be wondering why bringing guns into classrooms is even being debated. But, as of July 1, our campuses will all be weaponized. And, yes, I am serious.  So, I and three colleagues — two professors, one graduate student — drove to Topeka together in support of a bill that, if passed, would continue to exempt universities and the med center from the Kansas Personal and Family Protection Act — the official name of Kansas’ “Guns Everywhere” law. (And, yes, I am familiar with George Orwell’s works. Why do you ask?)

Photo by Regan Tokos, Topeka Capitol Building, 26 Jan. 2017

As you can see from Regan Tokos’ photo (taken just before the hearing), above, the room was packed: standing room only, with many people spilling out into the hall.  We supporters of SB 53  far outnumbered those who sought to invite guns into our classrooms, libraries, dormitories, lecture halls, offices, and laboratories. Last night, I learned that 53 people had submitted testimony supporting the measure, and only 5 people had supported testimony against it.  The rules were: testimony must be submitted in advance in print (could not be emailed), and if you also wanted to testify in person, then you also had to phone or email Senator Jacob LaTurner‘s office to let them know you planned to testify.

Photo by Regan Tokos, Topeka Capitol Building, 26 Jan. 2017

Citing our large numbers, Senator LaTurner (who chairs the committee granting the bill a hearing) gave supporters of the bill only 90 seconds each. He granted opponents of the bill between 2 minutes and 4 minutes 30 seconds each. (Senator LaTurner opposes the bill.) So, we all abridged our remarks on the fly. Here is my full statement.  I managed to fit in points 2, 3, and 4 today at the hearing.


Statement in Support of SB 53

Good morning. My name is Philip Nel. I’ve called Manhattan home for over 16 years. And I’m here to urge the legislature to vote yes on Senate Bill 53. Though teaching at Kansas State University has certainly shaped my opinion on the subject, I’m here as a private citizen only. Here are five reasons you should support SB 53.

First, unlike other campus-carry states, Kansas doesn’t really regulate guns anymore — you don’t need a license or permit or even lessons on how to use a gun. Inviting unregulated firearms onto college campuses does not make students safer. It places them at greater risk. Accidents happen. Suicidal students with a gun are much more likely to succeed in killing themselves. College can be an emotionally volatile time. Adding unregulated guns is dangerous.

Second, the military does not allow guns in its barracks or its classrooms — unless the class is actually on how to use those guns. So, if trained professionals prohibit guns from their classrooms and living quarters, why should we invite people to arrive on a university campus or in a hospital armed but untrained?

Third, that whole “good guy with a gun stops a bad guy with a gun” notion is what we might call an “alternative fact.” In other words, a lie. Between 2000-2013, the FBI found only 1 of 160 active shooter incidents was stopped by a civilian with a concealed carry permit. Again, that’s 1 out of 160. In contrast, during that same period, 21 incidents were stopped by unarmed civilians. In fact, armed civilians are much more likely to get in the way of first responders than help them.

Fourth, in a university, we are armed with reason, not weapons. University classrooms have long been a safe space for students to discuss important, contentious subjects. Campus carry would change this dynamic profoundly. In a concealed-carry classroom, every student is a potentially armed student, and thus an unspoken threat to his fellow students. In other words, campus carry revokes the safety upon which freedom of speech depends.

Fifth and finally, if the legislature passes SB 53, then it will be helping universities and the KU medical center by making them places that attract talented people — rather than encouraging those people to decide that, because of campus carry, they would rather take a job in another state.  So, please vote yes on SB 53.

Thank you for your time.

— Philip Nel, 26 January 2017


 Thanks to LoudLight (who filmed this), you can see and hear all of the testimony.

Senator Tom Hawk (D-Manhattan) begins, and hits all of the main points of our argument — even, I was pleased to see, a citation of the Kansas State University Distinguished Professors’ opposition to campus carry.  You’ll hear activist extraordinaire (and KU grad student) Megan Jones at around 12 mins. in, K-State UDP Elizabeth Dodd at 15:45, yours truly at about 27, K-State Associate Professor Daniel A. Hoyt at 29:15, and K-State undergrad & general force-for-good Regan Tokos at around 45 mins.

What now? Well, we next need Senator LaTurner to have the committee pass the bill out of the committee for debate of the full senate, giving all senators a chance to debate its merits.  We also will need support from the house, and the governor.  Incidentally, inspired by Megan Jones, I spoke with Governor Brownback before the hearing. (Megan spotted Governor Brownback first, and went up to talk to him. She was swiftly followed by Elizabeth Dodd. I was next.) We all asked him to support the safety of faculty, students and staff. He was polite and non-committal, appearing receptive to our concerns. However and given his previous support for the “Guns Everywhere” law, I doubt that he will in fact support SB 53.

That said, I would very much like to be wrong, and so shall continue to speak up — and encourage you to do so, too! In particular, contact the members the Kansas Senate Federal and State Affairs Committee, and encourage them to bring the bill to the full senate for a vote. Thank you!

Photo credits: Regan Tokos.

News coverage of today’s hearing [updated 8:35 pm, 27 Jan. 2017]:

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

Comments (3)

The Public University in an Age of Alt-Facts: Remarks on Receiving a Higuchi Award

Brief remarks on the university in an age of misinformation, delivered today when I received a Higuchi Award.


It’s a great honor to be joining Professors Christer Aakeröy, Judith Carta, and Randolph Nudo in receiving recognition for our research. It’s especially meaningful to be receiving this recognition right now, at a moment when facts and the notion of policy based on facts are being pushed aside in favor of — oh, let’s call it alt-truth. As I’m sure you know, the incoming presidential administration has nominated a climate-change-denier to head the EPA. And yet, here we are today, honoring scientists, as we should be — honoring a pioneering scholar in rehabilitation medicine, and an international leader in crystal engineering and supramolecular chemistry. light bulbMeanwhile, in decisions being made outside of our hallowed halls, the nominee to oversee our nation’s public education system wants to dismantle it, replacing it with unregulated, for-profit charter schools. And yet we’re here today honoring a national leader in early childhood special education. As we should be. This incongruity between what we’re celebrating now and what we face in the very near future makes the Higuchi Award feel even more special — a bright light in the gathering darkness.

I have been feeling lately — and I would imagine that my fellow Higuchi honorees may share this feeling — that our work has become much more urgent than it was before November 9th. My next book — which is on racism in children’s literature — will appear a few months into an administration with a White supremacist Attorney General, a White supremacist Senior Advisor, and an Islamophobic National Security Advisor.1 As we’re entering this period of backlash, I continue to believe that diverse, inclusive children’s literature is one of the best places to imagine a better future. Stories we encounter when we are young, when we are selves in the process of being formed, have a lasting impact on the people we become. Stories tell children that they belong (or don’t belong) not only to a broader community of readers, but also in their neighborhoods, their schools, and their country. As we face a concerted federal effort to revoke civil rights, we can — and we must — nurture a new generation that is less susceptible to bigotry and the many wounds it inflicts. That’s something we can do in children’s literature, and anywhere in higher education.

Whatever our role in the university system, I think we now must imagine ourselves as keepers of values that we probably have taken for granted. We know that evidence-based reasoning, that carefully tested knowledge, that peer-reviewed scholarship best serves the public interest, and we will need to defend this value repeatedly over the next four (and possibly eight) years. We know that, to create new knowledge, we will also disagree, but that we will do so with civility and respect for those we disagree with. This value — of respectful disagreement and the compromises that may result — we will also need to defend, and to model for our students. We know, too, that knowledge is created by people of all races, genders, sexualities, abilities, and faiths (or absence of faith). Indeed, intellectual labor thrives in diverse communities such as those at KU and K-State. We will need to defend this value, too.2

So. Thanks to KU and the Higuchi family for supporting these values by supporting our research. My personal thanks to Jim Guikema for assembling my nomination, to Elizabeth Dodd for her support, and to Karin Westman for her love, encouragement, and extraordinary patience over the past 23 years. And thanks to all of you, not just for coming today, but — through your roles in Kansas higher education — for continuing to work for a state, a country and a world where research matters, where facts matter, where education matters, and where all of us can receive the same inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  Thank you.

— Philip Nel, Univ. of Kansas, Lawrence, KS, 13 Dec. 2016


Endnotes

  1. Scott Pruitt is EPA nominee; Betsy DeVos is Secretary of Education nominee; Jeff Sessions is Attorney General nominee; Steve Bannon is Senior Advisor; Gen Michael Flynn is National Security Advisor.
  2. Third paragraph draws from Greg Downey, “The presidential election of 2016 and the values of a research university.” Greg Downey 9 Nov. 2016.

Final note

Ordinarily, I wouldn’t post something as (frankly) inconsequential as a thank-you-for-this-award speech. But, in these dark times, I have been finding it helpful to read others’ affirmation of our core values. We need to keep speaking out. We need to affirm our shared humanity, our belief in civic discourse, our certainty that facts matter. It is in this spirit that I’ve decided to post these remarks.

Comments (3)

Unregulated, untrained, unsafe: campus carry at K-State (in the K-State Collegian)

No guns. Sign on door of ECS Building, Kansas State UniversityIn addition to increasing the risk of suicide and fatal accident, armed students make other students uncomfortable and squelch debate. A university should be a safe place where students can discuss important but uncomfortable subjects, where they can engage in vigorous exchanges of ideas. Campus carry changes this dynamic: when every student is a student with a potential gun, an unspoken threat revokes the safety that sustains freedom of speech.

— me, from my op-ed in today’s K-State Collegian

I would also add this: without freedom of speech, the university ceases to function as a university. So, if you’ve an interest in Kansas State University continuing to be a university,… VOTE!  In the November elections, support candidates who oppose campus carry, and who are willing to either repeal or amend the so-called Personal and Family Protection Act (which would more accurately be described as the Guns! Guns! Everywhere! Act).

[The title of this blog post is the title under which I submitted the piece. It was published as “Permitting guns on campus is unsafe, disruptive to learning.”]

Leave a Comment