Wednesday, September 28, 2011

"Conversations" and Controversy in the NCTE

Question: What is it like to join “conversations” in NCTE (National Council of Teachers of English) controversies?

 Answer/Quote: “It’s raining and cold. But you have stepped indoors, and you stand at the door of a room where a fire is blazing, the drinks are flowing, and friends, acquaintances, and intriguing strangers are laughing and talking cheerfully. They beckon you to join them, and soon enough, you are part of the conversation.

                “This scene could serve as an analogy for what we do as readers and writers in ‘rooms’ such as English Journal (EJ). Perhaps you have been a longtime reader, or maybe this is your first encounter with EJ. Regardless, by reading these pages, you are entering into a conversation that is already underway. But is the discussion here really like the scene I have portrayed?”

                “Is a heated discussion the kind of conversation you would like to enter? Is it the kind of conversation that unfolds within each new issue of EJ? Is it what you should expect to see from English teachers attending the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) Annual Convention, or in the online discussion forums?” p. 43.

                “Once again, I find that there are no easy answers to my…questions. And once again dissenting voices in EJ require me to think about what it means to teach and learn the English language arts. I am having to figure out for myself what it might mean if bothand … are right. I trust that others, too, are doing some of these same mental gymnastics, and that some of us will put our ideas forward here in EJ. There will be some disagreement, perhaps, even some heated discussion. If we can be smart and civil while letting the conflicts play out, we will help each other to hone our thinking. And if we do that, everybody wins.” P. 45.

 Comment: This article invites dissenting opinions about issues in the teaching of English, admits that the discussions can become heated, urges that civility be essential to the discussion. The NCTE adopts policies and its publications seem to favor one side of issues. It seems to create “either/or” arguments (phonics, grammar, writing process vs. product, the five-paragraph essay to name a few).

Members of the NCTE organization play politics: (“One Person’s Opinion” became “Two Persons’ Opinions” when I disagreed with the expression of the NCTE/IRA standards and I found myself, without any warning, debating the reigning president of the NCTE on the issue.) Ethics anyone? I’m glad that the author of this article invites dissenting opinions. Just be ready for negative consequences.

To Leila Christenbury (Editor of EJ at that time), I did notice your locking me into the debate with the president of NCTE, who stole my ending as her response. I just chose not to respond. I know when I’m licked. I still think your ploy was a dirty trick. RayS.

Title: “Contentious Conversations.” Leah A. Zuidema. English Journal (September 2011), 43-45.

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