As You Read This, I Will Be in the Midst of a Week of Classroom Visits
Years ago I remember being at some writers’ conference and a miffed parent asking whether editors ever went out and met kids. Clearly she was implying that we were out of touch. And there was something to that. In the interest of preserving a space for quality, and resisting the pressure of the mass market, we almost prided ourselves on trusting our own judgment, not a poll of our readers. BBYA, for this very reason, adamently refused to let teenagers attend its deliberations. All that has changed — teenagers have their own reading groups, and are invited to come to BBYA, and all publishers eagerly seek out contact with their readers. We still value our adult judgment, but we are more eager for the fresh wind of readers’ opinions. Maybe part of the difference is that we know that — outside of mega hits and tie-ins — there is no single teenage opinion, thus there is little danger of our being forced into some limited lockstep kind of publishing.
For me as a writer, that contact with readers often comes in school visits. But there is a second side that the visit — I meet teachers and administrators, as I did yesterday. Again and again I hear the same thing: they know NF is important, they know boys like it, they know kids are tested on it and are not prepared for that kind of reading and writing, and they don’t know what to do. At least on the administrator level, this is not a resistance to NF, it is just a complete distance from it — a land of textbooks on the one hand, and higher order thinking on the other, that is just so different from the world of fable, plot, character, point of view, story that has made up so much of at least the elementary school Language Arts curriculum.
This set of visits takes me to 6th through 9th grade, where content is already central, but when I asked the teachers how I could be of help, most of the comments went back to boys, reading, nonfiction — ways to engage young people in books, print, reading.
More as I know more, friends, but I keep feeling that what we have to offer is precisely what schools, teachers, and, especially, kids, need.