I'm writing from NYC, where yesterday, Rebecca, Cam, and I did our first presentation on book clubs at the NWP conference. Our segment was part of a larger session on "hard talk." It went very well (especially considering that we were operating on very little sleep, and Rebecca was operating on none at all thanks to a delayed flight), and we had a good response from others who thought the work was interesting and important. Our solo session at NCTE is Sunday.
Even though I thought I would NEVER finish putting the Keynote presentation together, doing so was worth it. I discovered that we weren't just making this up--there's a lot of substantial, significant work here. Below, I'm pasting in one of our handouts that's just a list of the questions, topics, and issues that kids in both Cam and Rebecca's classes have raised in the last semester. As you look at their comments, please remember that the comment from one group (reading Wringers, I believe) was written by an ELL kid who Cam says came a very long way in the course of the year in terms of his phonetic awareness, so you'll see some inventive spelling there.
When I get back to the Fort, I want to write more about how the search for a "civil discourse" definition has become even more interesting as I've enlisted the help of multiple reference librarians who've run into the same challenges I have--lots of invocations, few--if any--definitions. There have been some significant surprises along the way, though, and I think I've arrived at a cool solution to the problem.
Gotta get off here now. Nothing's free in NYC, including wireless! Here's the handout:
A SAMPLING OF QUESTIONS, TOPICS, AND ISSUES
CAM’S AND REBECCA’S STUDENTS HAVE RAISED IN BOOK CLUBS
• Is peace possible?
• Why don’t teachers talk about “real things” in school [in re students’ feelings of isolation from current politics, esp. the Iraq war]?
• Is the Bible “true” [in a literal sense]?
• If a friend is hurting herself, what should you do? What would we do?
• What would it be like to be disliked?
• Can love overcome fear [in re interracial relationships]?
• Is punishment necessary? Is revenge inevitable? What role does human nature play in the ability to forgive [in re circumstances of war]?
• What does it mean to “make a difference”? If you can’t change everything, do small changes matter [in re non-violent resistance]?
• What’s the relationship between fate, foreknowledge, and free will? Would foreknowledge result in the ability/responsibility to change the future?
• What’s the line between parental responsibility and a child’s independence?
• How do parents influence/attempt to control their children’s identities?
• Is there such a thing as civic silence?
• What’s the difference between arguing and disagreeing?
• What role should art [and literature, in particular] play in our culture? (“Art should shock you.” – 10th-grade student)
• How has my religion influenced my views on sexuality [and homosexuality in particular]?
TOPICS & ISSUES
trust, betrayal, death, euthanasia, “grey areas” (good/evil, right/wrong), disabilities, divorce, infidelity, parental abandonment, friendship, technology, racism, war, cutting, censorship, sexuality and identity, the emotional and physical effects of violence, power of organized religion, idea of “original sin,” semantics, technology, personal connections, historical connections (e.g., genocide, Ghandi, Hitler, etc.), multiple allusions (e.g., quantum physics, Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, Icarus myth, thematically-related movies, literary and biblical texts, etc.)
dealing with people’s feelings vs. ignoring them – “One of the tough topics that we talked about was people’s feelings…My book club dealt with this problem by talking about it and not just egnoring it. We talked about how people have felt like that and what they have done because we didn’t want to hide from that topic for the rest of our lives.” (excerpted from Book Club Discussion record, 6th-grade group reading Wringers by Jerry Spinelli)
religion – “The cherectors talked about the bibl and what it said. Riligin is controversial and people biliv in what thay biliv. We talked about what we bilived.” (excerpted from Book Club Discussion record, 6th-grade group reading Bridge from Terabithia)
influence of one’s background on one’s empathy for characters and capacity to connect to texts – “We can’t relate personally to their experiences, but we can understand.” (from “Mapping the Terrain” project, 10th-grade group reading In the Time of the Butterflies)
sexual identity – “We spent some time talking about if he [Jacob, the narrator] is beginning to think that he may be gay or if he could have been born that way. We felt this was really relavent to his lack of self confidence around Daan & in general. He might be wrestling with himself trying to re-define who he is.” (excerpted from “What My Group Thinks” column of Dailies, 10th-grade boy reading Postcards from No Man’s Land)