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Say His Name!

The following blog is excerpted with permission from Steven Bickmore’s blog Dr. Bickmore’s YA Wednesday. Steven is Associate Professor of English education in the Department of Teaching and Learning in the College of Education at the University of  Nevada Las Vegas. 

Steven Bickmore, associate professor of Teaching and Learning for New Faces feature on September 21, 2015. (R. Marsh Starks / UNLV Photo Services)
Steven Bickmore, associate professor of Teaching and Learning at UNLV. (R. Marsh Starks / UNLV Photo Services)

I can’t begin to provide an eloquent eulogy [for what happened in Orlando], but it has been done by others who are closer to the people and the issues. Any senseless death is heartbreaking. The victims deserve to be remembered, not the perpetrator. I appreciated the way that  Anderson Cooper has addressed the loss in Orlando by saying their names. It is a valuable statement.

Reading literature that is vibrant, engaging, and controversial provides adolescents with a place for them to hear the names—even if they are imaginary or vicarious—of those who are neglected, marginalized, abused, discounted, scorned, and bullied. I see the events in Orlando as an ultimate act of hate and bullying from which there is no recovery for those who are gone and no easy recovery for those who survived.
Recently, I have been trying to make the point that scripted curriculum that has students reading fewer books and only snippets of texts has contributed to the language of hate, bigotry, and division that seems to be consuming our political and social conversations. In my opinion, students need longer and more frequent opportunities to discuss complex ideas that might fulfill the promise that Jefferson and other founding fathers offered when they promoted education in the new democracy.
Yes, I know that women, African Americans, and others were denied the vote, an education, and other opportunities [in that early vision], but the idea that an educated populace was essential in the promotion and protection of a secure democracy seems to me to remain a key idea if our democratic republic will continue to flourish. We have made advancements in terms of inclusion, but I fear that current policies have turned us to constant testing instead of promoting and fostering inquiry, critical thinking, and open debate—not just argumentation. (Please listen to Jimmy Fallon‘s short statement.)
The current policies do not prepare our children to participate fully in a democracy. So, while we include more people, it appears to me that we are somewhat short on the quality of education we are providing in many places. Plenty of educators have spoken about this issue more eloquently than I could in a small space. You might consider reading,Jonathan Kozol, Alfie Kohn, Gloria Ladson-Billings, Diane Ravitch, Linda Darling Hammond, and Peter Smagorinsky. I have highlighted these individuals because they are some who have weathered the educational storm of the last 15 years and can point to the ideals that we should adopt, that we shouldn’t have abandoned, and that we should continue.
To conclude, I would like to point to a recent event that does involve Young Adult Literature. It is the recent banning and bullying of Phil Bildner by Round Rock ISD (a school district in Texas). He was disinvited to speak to school children after several years of having successfully contributed in the past. This week, author R. J. Palacio contributed to the support of Phil Bildner. Her support is admirable and speaks to the way so many young adult authors support each other and the education of children. Much of the action of Round Rock ISD seems to be connected to a discussion of the book George by Alex Gino. All three authors—Phil Bildner, Alex Gino, and R. J. Palacio demonstrate the courage to speak names. They speak their own and the names of their characters. Thank you.
Phil Bildner was disinvited from a recent speaking engagement, allegedly because he was book talking a text with LGBT themes. George, by Alex Gino is under possible censorship challenges right now. Wonder by E. J. Polacio has been under censorship challenges.
By promoting censorship in any form we stifle education. We need to work vigorously to promote reading and critical thinking instead of scripted, routinized instruction.

We need to say their names, not only the names of those who are lost, but those who continue on by doing good works through their words and actions. I would like to say a few names that have been important to me lately—in the future, I am sure there will be others. Some you will know and some you won’t. It doesn’t matter, but I will say their names. Some of the people are authors, church leaders, scholars, and many of my former students who amaze me. The only family member is my wife, Dana, who is a rock, but all of my kids should be here and many of my current and recent students. Here are their names: David Levithan, Meg Medina, Jason Reynolds, Virginia Euwer Wolff, Paula Meiling Siebers, Matt J. Stannard, Dana Bickmore, Bernie Sanders, Elder Patrick Kearon, Bill KonigsbergJo Knowles, Teri Lesesne, Corey Whaley,Ryan Williams, Kylene Beers and Amy Albritton.

In two short weeks I will return to Steve Sheinkin’s Most Dangerous. It truly is a book where the author dares to speak his name: Daniel Ellsberg.