In early October, I delivered the keynote address at the Kansas Association of the Teachers of English Conference. I have been outspoken about the relatively recent willful political attempt to strip-mine public schools and public libraries of funding in order to cultivate an uniformed constituency (see this Chicago Tribune article).
Here’s the damn deal: censorship is going on right this very minute, right before our very eyes. It’s not happening vis-à-vis high-profile, ALA banned book lists or Hitlerean book burnings. Nope. That’s all way too obvious. Censorship is occurring in a much more inky and clandestine fashion, it is a creeping shadow that deemphasizes books, the word and the teachers who celebrate these monuments to power, knowledge and speech.
So I went to Wichita in October. And I knew right off that I was with my people. And I told them this. YOU ARE MY PEOPLE.
I often speak at comic book conventions and literary festivals to an assorted mélange of cosplay geeks, word-nerds, book-worms, collectors, furries, four-color weirdos and assorted genre freaks. -I get these pop-cultural urchins. I am one of them. But at the KATE conference, I was truly with my people. English teachers are the trench warriors on the front lines of education, facing the Trumpian mustard gases of fetid disinformation. Teachers yearn for an informed society.
The KATE conference was a joy. I met so many incredible teachers who believed in their students and their futures. These teachers were attending this conference to learn new pedagogical practices towards the teaching of English and creative writing. The excitement and commitment was palpable. I played nerdy literary games in a hotel suite until 2 am, alongside Jay Asher, author of 13 Reasons Why. Jay and I connected. He is a towering talent and a great guy. Maybe it was the cheap pizza, or the cardboard cookies, or the beer that ran out, but I think it’s much more. We both know how important English teachers are. We both believe in teachers and, yes, having spoken there often, we both love Kansas. And we both know that much of the secret to the future of education lies in that archaic remnant of the past. . . .