Academic journal article Research in the Teaching of English

The 2014 NCTE Presidential Address: Powerful English at NCTE Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow: Toward the Next Movement

Academic journal article Research in the Teaching of English

The 2014 NCTE Presidential Address: Powerful English at NCTE Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow: Toward the Next Movement

Article excerpt

The following is the text of Ernest Morrell's presidential address, delivered at the NCTE Annual Convention in Washington, DC, on November 23, 2014.

I initially conceptualized this address as dealing with powerful English at NCTE today and tomorrow moving forward, and something felt not right in portraying ourselves in that way. It is unconscionable to think of ourselves as at the beginning of a movement, or at the beginning of the first movement in the history of NCTE. NCTE has been about movement, and to say that we have not is to dishonor the legacy of those who have come before us and worked so hard on our behalf. So I added zyesterday to today and tomorrow because I think that we don't often reflect on who we are and what we have become to think about where we need to go. So it is not towards a movement, it is towards the next, or another, movement because that is who we are and what we do. Deborah Brandt (2010) in her foreword to Reading the Past, Writing the Future said:

What we take for granted in our professional background is there as a result of somebody's insight and effort. In retrospect, we appreciate how the activism of forebears built the house in which we do our work today: Reading as constructive. Writing as process. Language as a heritage right. Assessment as formative. Teachers as leaders. Scholarship and pedagogy as one. We assume these truths to be self-evident, but only because NCTE members studied, taught, argued, and presented them into existence, making them programmatically real to the wider field. So this begs the question: Whose forebears are we? What do they need from us now? (p. xii)

NCTE and Its Movements

Let's begin at the beginning of NCTE and movements. In its third year as an organization, NCTE released the report of the Committee on Home Reading (NCTE, 1913), which sold 400,000 copies. At that time, NCTE members were concerned with the undue influence that the College Board had on the selection of reading texts. Even then, in 1913, NCTE members were arguing for the need to read different books. So much so that they basically neutralized the influence of the College Board and began exploding the cannon over 100 years ago. We see that work continue with the NCTE Black Caucus, who initiated the African American Read-In to encourage a greater appreciation of African American literature.

In the 1940s, NCTE stepped out front to think about teaching in a context of war, a context not unlike today, almost 80 years later. Even then our predecessors were contemplating, "How do we talk about freedom? How do we talk about peace? How do we talk about democracy in a time of war, and what is the role of the English teacher in that process? How can we think that teaching English is not a political act?"

In the 1960s, NCTE was far out front in thinking about teaching English to speakers of other languages. We are having this conversation again now, in 2014, as if we all of a sudden have become a multilinguistic nation. We have been a multilinguistic nation since we became a nation-people were speaking languages other than English when the British colonists arrived! But NCTE was on top of this issue even in the 1960s.

It is important to acknowledge the wonderful work that ReLeah Lent and her colleagues on the Standing Committee Against Censorship are doing now in 2014. But we should also acknowledge that NCTE has anti-censorship challenges going back to the 1960s. I love the note below because it sums up so much of what I think is a part of NCTE. You can read it. It is a letter written to the director of publications in 1963 about fighting the good fight against the censorship of Catcher in the Rye, and the part I love says, "Alas, it was to no avail." This fight did not succeed, but NCTE was still fighting, and that was over 50 years ago. We are still fighting that fight.

Anti-racism: NCTE has been fighting against racism in curriculum in American education since the 1970s. …

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