Listening to Our Elders: Working and Writing for Change

Listening to Our Elders: Working and Writing for Change

Listening to Our Elders: Working and Writing for Change

Listening to Our Elders: Working and Writing for Change


Samantha Blackmon, Cristina Kirklighter, Steve Parks

“The real enemy is ignorance, and we can work together to
combat ignorance with knowledge”

Charlotte Brooks, 1976


In 1979, J.N. Hook, Executive Secretary of National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) from 1954–1960, published A Long Way Together: A Personal View of NCTE’s First Sixty-Seven Years. His description of the new voices and identities in one of his latter chapters, titled “Human Equation, 1968–1978,” marked the early days when identity based groups and activists began writing, speaking, and working for change that not only changed the face of NCTE but the nation with their identity-based initiatives and revolutionary ideas. As an identity-based collective, our “long way together” for the most part began in the ‘60s, and it has been a long, challenging, and uplifting historical road of heartaches and breakthroughs.

In 2011, our “profession” will turn one hundred years old, at least if we mark our beginnings as the formation of NCTE. Still, it is probably more accurate to say that our profession is endlessly beginning, constantly changing its identity and purpose as new voices and identities claim their rights in our classrooms and in our country. The recognition of such claims, however, does not occur without a struggle, without collective work.

Listening to our Elders attempts to capture the history of those collective moments where teachers across grade levels and institutions of higher education organized amongst themselves and sometimes with other organizations to insure that the voices, heritages, and traditions of their students and colleagues were recognized within our professional organizations as a vital part of our classrooms and our discipline. As will be detailed in the chapters that follow, this recognition was not always easily given. Instead, whether the issue was race, gender, sexuality, language, class, or disability, committed activist organizations have often had to push against the existing limits of our field and its organizations to insure that a broader sense of common responsibility and humanity was recognized.

In part, then, this book records those moments when the field did not live up to its highest ideals—those attitudes and practices which acted to exclude the insights of its broad disciplinary membership:

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