A Note from the Editor
Pamela Sissi Carroll
In June, I learned a lesson in the politics of young adult literature-"politics" as in elected officials, legislative policies, Democrats and Republicans. It was an experience that I think you, the readers of The ALAN Review will appreciate, because you are advocates for adolescent and young adult literature. I must warn you, though; the events recorded here are true, and contain some language that might make you blush. The Governor of the State of Florida did. Here is what happened:
In Florida, the Governor and Cabinet also serve as the State Board of Education. Every once in a while, this group votes to mandate changes in the way public education happens in Florida. (I bet is it much the same in your state.) This year, an Advisory Group, comprised of college presidents, deans, professors, and interested citizens, recommended that the state abolish the requirement that Florida's future teachers of English language arts take course work in young adult or adolescent literature. Members of the Advisory Group referred to adolescent literature courses as "wastes of time" for prospective and inservice teachers.
Pumped with enthusiasm and information, I attended the Cabinet/State Board of Education meeting at which the recommendation would be presented and a vote would be taken. Like other citizen speakers, I was promised a five minute slot of time during which I could try to convince the Cabinet that the recommendation was a bad idea.
I wore a suit to that meeting -a skirt and blazer that helped me look serious. I wore my humidity-impaired hair tightly wound into a bun. I wore pumps. And panty hose. In late June. In Tallahassee, Florida. That says a lot about how much I believe that teachers-and as a result, their students-need to have an opportunity to be introduced to the genre, artists, and art of adolescent and young adult literature.
My turn to speak came at 3:30 in the afternoon. When I approached the speaker's podium, the Governor said, cordially, "Hello! Thank you for coming!" But his voice was not coming from the direction of his body. Instead, his voice wound around me from the back and the side. I looked around and felt like I was being addressed by the Wizard of Oz. The Governor recognized my disorientation and chuckled, "I'm up here." Gulp. I began to state my case.
I started, calmly enough, by asking the Cabinet/School Board to reconsider the Advisory Group's recommendation. I pointed out that teachers need to learn about the books that teens actually enjoy READING and THINKING ABOUT and DISCUSSING. I suggested that there may be a connection with improved critical literacy, and even the possibility of improved statewide TEST SCORES for students who have a diet that is rich in full-length YA texts that fuel their imagination.
I should have stopped there. But I had a couple of minutes left, so I went on to describe the characteristics of YAL that set it apart from the literature of the university English curriculum. I was doing fine until I said, "Young adult books hold special appeal to adolescent readers because they typically feature issues and themes that are of immediate importance to the readers, such as growing up, athletics, sexuality, family relationships, friendships, history "
"Explain what you mean by 'SEXUALITY,'" the Wizard of Oz boomed.
I looked up as he spoke, and saw the unmistakable wave of a blush move across his face when he pronounced the "S" word.
"Well, ummm, you know that teens are going through a lot of, uh, umm, changes?"
"Yes. Thank you."
I recognized when I had been dismissed. Apparently, I had told him all he needed to know about YAL.
Later that afternoon, the Florida Cabinet/ State Board of Education voted to eliminate the requirement that prospective teachers of English take coursework in young adult/adolescent literature.
Was it a waste of time to sit all day, waiting for five futile minutes during which I voiced an opinion that I think many of us share? Yes and no. Yes, it was a waste in that my lame pleas had no impact on the vote of the Cabinet. Yes, it was a waste if we resign ourselves to the notion that educational legislation will always hinge on decisions made by those who blush at the idea that teens are interested in their sexuality.
But no, it was not a waste of time to speak up for YAL. If we who are passionate about YAL don't continue to try to demonstrate that it has a place in our schools, and in the preparation of teachers, who will? As a teacher in middle and high school and at the university level, I have benefited from being able to refer to just the right YA book at just the right time. I have improved as a teacher as I have learned how to incorporate good YA books into my instruction, and have brought it into students' lives. I am sure that you have, too.
So I'd probably do it again. Face the Wizard of Oz. And if I did, I'd take my first minute at the microphone to ask the Governor and his Cabinet members if they enjoyed the copies of issues of The ALAN Review that I left for each of them as I walked away from the podium!
As you read this issue of The ALAN Review, I am confident that you will find, among the articles, columns, features, and reviews a wealth of compelling support for your commitment to the genre. The contributions of teachers, professors, media specialists, authors, young readers, and interested parents inspire us to continue to be advocates for YAL, whatever the setting.
And if you happen to have the chance to talk to the Wizard of Oz where you are, be sure to tell him or her that you know where you can find books that fill the heart, challenge the brain, strengthen the courage of young people-and books that might just help teens who have lost their way to find the road home.
Reference Citation: Carroll, Pamela Sissi. (2000) "A Note from the Editor." The ALAN Review, Volume 28, Number 1, p. 3.