Tuesday, 10 September 2013

IRSCL 2013 – Take One

 by Jean Webb

The 21st International Research Society for Children's Literature Conference, 'Children's Literature and Media Cultures' 2013 was very efficiently convened and hosted by the Faculty of Arts and Social Science, Maastricht University, Maastricht. Having attended most of the IRSCL conferences over the past twenty years I cannot recall one which was so heavily influenced by literacy and educational approaches. Perhaps this was because the subject of media lent itself to discussion of the contemporary place of the book, approaches towards reading and the impact of media in relation to literacy. Although a most enjoyable experience from the perspective of a literary scholar in the field, one would have hoped for more literary discussion in the keynote lectures. Nonetheless it was interesting to learn about what is currently available in terms of electronic texts for children. I was hoping that there would be some breakthrough in terms of the materials available which in some way really did use the technology to open up exciting and stimulating ways of reading. Julia Eccleshare has rightly commented upon the lack of imagination applied to date by those who are producing electronic texts when asked to give her informed opinion at various venues. The 'cutting and pasting' of picture books into electronic format does little more than give some support to reading processes, but then the reader is principally made to work at the pace of the format. So there was some critique at IRSCL of the productions to date.
What was lacking in the 'literacy' keynote talks was the critical awareness of the implications of culture, power and control, which was surprising. Perhaps they felt that IRSCL was not the platform for such discussion. It did arise in some of the sessions, for instance those papers given by Branwen Bingle and Sandra Williams, both of whom are teacher educators. It led me to thinking that perhaps there are currently two camps in teacher education: those who perhaps comply with National Curricula and government dictats, or maybe are too immersed in the immediate practicalities of literacy and those who look beyond such barriers and rail against such and call out for a critical thinking educational approach. The conference did highlight the space between the two. The experience confirmed the political awareness of IRSCL colleagues which was displayed in exemplary manner in Prof Kerry Mallan's keynote which interrogated the political and moral power of young adult literature and which is also reflected in her latest publication Secrets, Lies and Children’s Fiction. Her argument was that 'children's literature along with other forms of children's media employs disinformation (or lies, gossip, and other harmful stories) as a narrative strategy to draw readers into the moral or ethical dimension of this practice of telling lies.' Kerry's keynote discussed the current state of civil observation, i.e. that western culture has 'Big Brother' looking over every shoulder. A salutary warning of which I hope and trust colleagues in teacher education are fully aware.

No comments:

Post a Comment