It is a bittersweet irony that words are mostly inadequate to express my appreciation to be nominated for and then recognized with the National Council of Teachers of English 2013 George Orwell Award—”established in 1975 and given by the NCTE Public Language Award Committee, recognizes writers who have made outstanding contributions to the critical analysis of public discourse.”
I am first humbled to be added to the powerful list of previous winners. I also fear I pale in comparison, but having been included, I now take on the obligation of fulfilling this recognition that my work does belong here.
So let me highlight briefly that the 2013 Orwell Award directly recognizes my blogging, identifying Evidence? Secretary Duncan, You Can’t Handle the Evidence.
As both public intellectual work and a part of New Media, my blogging is fraught with minefields in the context of my life as a university professor and scholar as well as my status as a teacher, identifying myself always as someone who spent 18 years teaching in a rural public high school in South Carolina.
Public intellectual work and blogging remain marginalized ways of being for academics and scholars, while they both are risky ventures for public school teachers.
I am cautiously optimistic that NCTE’s Orwell Award this year is about much more than me—it is about the New Media of blogging and about the importance of professional voices in public spheres.
And thus we have two obligations before us as educators, scholars, and academics:
- We must work diligently to create safe spaces for all teachers’ voices in public spheres. Currently, safe spaces exist for tenured professors (my status), but such is not the case for public school teachers and their students; as Arundhati Roy has explained, “We know of course there’s really no such thing as the ‘voiceless.’ There are only the deliberately silenced, or the preferably unheard.”
- And once those safe spaces are created, teachers must bring our individual and collective professional voices to the public sphere.
Because, as Orwell cautioned, public discourse is dominated by partisan political voices and “[p]olitical language–and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists–is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.”
Professional teachers’ voices in the public sphere must, as NCTE suggests “[contribute] to honesty and clarity in public language” as a form of resistance to the continued failure of partisan political discourse, especially as that partisan political discourse impacts our public school, our public teachers, and our public school students.