What follows are two notes that Executive Director Emily Kirkpatrick and I sent to an NCTE member pertaining to concerns raised about the location of our Annual Convention—and upcoming conventions. The member’s concern mirrors the concerns and, yes, fears so many of us have always had and growing numbers are having during this tumultuous time in our country—indeed around the world. After much reflection and conversation with each other, we deemed sharing our two responses helpful for the entirety of our membership, for the concerns expressed in this member’s email invited us to drill more deeply and substantively into what NCTE, with its members, really represents to students and teachers around the country—our English classrooms, PreK–graduate.
Through this sharing, Emily and I hope we all begin to remember, reflect, and perhaps even rethink the importance of what we, the National Council of Teachers of English members, do in classrooms. Ours is most certainly critical work—critical work that cannot be allowed to stop.
We move forward—always forward.
From Jocelyn A. Chadwick, NCTE President, August 14, 2017
[Member], I earnestly understand your anger, your passion, and your position. I also understand that in every state in our country and in most every city in our country, angst, anger, hatred, and disdain exist to the point of despair. Juxtaposed to all of this exist students, PreK-graduate, and educators who must live and deal in these environs. You know this, too.
To run away is no longer anyone’s choice: not NCTE, not MLA, RSA, ALA, ILA, PEN America—there are no safe, untouched havens, even if we don’t read about them in the news, or through statements the NAACP, La Raza, the Jewish League, Urban League, or the Human Rights Campaign elect to issue citing one specific instance or events. Teachers and students and communities exist everywhere that need to see us, hear us, believe that we are not deaf, nor frightened, nor unwilling to show our efforts and work for equality, equity, and ethics in the classroom—in all classrooms.
You cite hypocrisy. It would indeed be and has been hypocrisy for NCTE in the past not to go into these cities of controversy, just as the civil rights workers of the past walked, as did my own parents. They did not run, cancel, or hide. They moved forward, forward—talking, modeling, illustrating for me and everyone else around this country what equality, equity, and ethics looked like, stood for, and the price it would cost.
So, we move forward, toward the controversy, toward any controversy that affects children’s right to lifelong literacy and our teachers’ right and ability to teach them. While you and I live in a very privileged and unusual state, you and I both know that South Boston, Roxbury, Mattapan, and Dorchester seethe every single day with the very same anger, hatred, disdain, and violence we see and read about across the United States. Knowing this fact, however, does not keep me out of Dorchester or South Boston, Mississippi or Louisiana, or even East and West Texas (my home state), although I remain incredibly frightened each and every time I go into any of these spaces.
As a colleague on the NCTE Executive Committee recently inquired: ask any African American to be honest and say just where do you feel entirely safe and secure in the United States of America, what would you hear? From me, I can show you the KKK cards I have received from students, my journal entries detailing what I have been called, asked, when I’ve been closely monitored, and my experiences driving while black. So I get it.
I will not quit doing what I am doing, and nor should you. But you have choice. Again, I have no choice. At this time and at this juncture in the United States, if NCTE is going to be of any worth to any teacher and student in this country, it, too, has no choice.
We move forward. I earnestly hope you will move forward toward this controversy and the many yet to come, with us, with NCTE. But I will always respect your decision in whatever you choose to do.
From Emily Kirkpatrick, NCTE Executive Director, August 14, 2017
Thank you for sharing your concerns with us. We value your forthrightness and take your concerns seriously.
Jocelyn’s response reiterates the policies of NCTE which drive our decision to stay in Missouri and to bring the values and principles of the organization to that space. If we have not done enough at our conventions to move the work of equity and civil rights forward, we need the wisdom of members like you to help us find new and better ways to do so. But now is not the time to retreat from that responsibility as an organization. We are living in a world that requires NCTE to show up and speak for what is right. Our teachers and students require that of us.
Your voice and your leadership are incredibly important to the work that lies ahead.