Until We Meet Again!

Well, my friends, it is time to part. CRN600 will be coming to an end tomorrow. I’m a little sad that my uni community will be disbanding, but goodness me, I have learnt a lot! In the spirit of all things ‘pop culture,’ I think it’s time all of us take a deep breath and… LET IT GOOOOOOO

How many memes in one? Source: Pinterest.

How many memes in one? Source: Pinterest.

Ok, please forgive me for that. But I really couldn’t help myself!

In all honesty, this unit has opened my eyes to the plurality of technological practices, platforms and groups that are available on Web 2.0, and it has given me huge food for thought when considering my own teaching practice. I have become significantly more informed about youth, texts, and popular culture, my digital literacy has improved, and I have realised that my voice (no matter how small!) can count online. I think this exercise has been excellent professional development. It is guided insight into a world that too many teachers are content to ignore. I think it’s actually our professional responsibility to be aware of our student’s technology use, and the ways in which they engage with others online. How can be be sure we are creating lessons and teaching in a pedagogically sound and appropriate manner for the 21st century if we have no idea who our audience is?

After blogging for the past three months, I feel much more prepared to enact new types of digital pedagogies and engagement with technology in my classroom. Digital literacies are central to modern social and academic proficiencies and I am keen to explore these further. Additionally, my discovery of many online teaching communities (which have their own page on my blog now) has been an exciting and heartening experience. Teachers across the world may be far apart geographically, but connection can still be meaningful and powerful. The ability to share new ideas and perspectives is great, and there is a seemingly endless array of opportunities for online connection. I’ve also been able to think critically about popular culture and youth texts, which have always fascinated me in varying degrees. I now know more about Divergent and The Hunger Games than perhaps the average 14 year old does 😉

Thanks to those in my blogging group who perused 27andmaple from time to time to comment, and those who stopped by ‘just because’ to look around. It was great being able to connect with you, and to read your ideas on your own blogs! Additionally, the completion of this unit also marks the end of my MEd studies at QUT. It’s been a fantastic two years, and I have found my learning in the Literacy stream incredibly interesting and rewarding. Where to next? I’m not quite certain. I’m in the exciting predicament of having all sorts of opportunities on the horizon here in Canada. We shall see where the winds take me.

Robyn 🙂


Dystopian Worlds

“Tonight! The latest on the war against ISIS, then, to cheer you up, the latest on Ebola.”

A quote from one of my favourite comedy reporters Stephen Colbert of The Colbert Report during the opening of his show a few nights ago. Of course, most satire has the roots of its comedy in truth, and it is a unfortunate reality that the world in 2014 faces a number of uncertain perils and crises. In addition to wars and disease, controversy surrounds new Australian laws surrounding data retention and online surveillance, the girls taken by Boko Harem still have not been brought home, Hong Kong is still protesting for democracy and we are still searching for answers into the fate of both MH370 and MH17.

Dark times and grey skies in 2014. Source: Flickr Creative Commons (CC)

Dark times and grey skies in 2014. Source: Flickr Creative Commons (CC)

This is just scraping the surface. The world is not a happy place right now, and with media reportage saturating almost every outlet from television to radio to the web, it’s difficult to escape it. Normally, watching the 24 hour CBC news channel is how I start my day, but I remember feeling the actual visceral need this (North American) summer to switch off as the constant barrage of deeply troubling news was actually making me depressed. I probably wasn’t the only one.

Pop culture texts of 2014 are filled with stories of warring factions, environmental disasters, zombies and technologically supreme overloads, amongst other things. Moreover, while dystopian genres are certainly not new, is it true that we have seen a massive increase in works being published in recent years.

Entire sections in libraries are being devoted to dystopian novels. Source: Flickr Creative Commons (CC)

Entire sections in libraries are being devoted to dystopian novels. Source: Flickr Creative Commons (CC)

I was a teenager in Year 9 when 9/11 occurred, and it seems that modern events are progressing into an ever darker sphere and are being replicated and reimagined in fiction. Are we living a dystopian life? As Kennon (2005, p. 40) puts it:

“While utopia is the dream of the imagined ‘good place’, an ideal world that by its example urges us to improve ourselves, dystopia is the story of the ‘bad place’, an ominous nightmare scenario warning us of repressive futures that seem all too disturbingly possible and plausible.”

Indeed, at times these works of fiction can seem extraordinarily close to reality. Who knows, perhaps it won’t be too long before teens are volunteering as tribute in their districts (though I certainly hope not!) Dystopian fictions clearly appeal to our anxieties surrounding the world in which we live. A number of cultural concerns are explored within the pages of these texts regarding issues such as fear of the state, disconnection from historical and cultural knowledge, control of the body, and surveillance. You can see how the trends are mapped in this great infographic here:

Source: Good Reads.  http://www.goodreads.com/blog/show/351-the-dystopian-timeline-to-the-hunger-games-infographic

Source: Good Reads (2012). The Dystopian Timeline to the Hunger Games. Retrieved from: http://www.goodreads.com/blog/show/351-the-dystopian-timeline-to-the-hunger-games-infographic

So, in such a troubled world, why would young people want to read and engage with dystopian stories for pleasure? It’s an legitimate question to ask, and I think Scott Westerfield, author of the hugely successful Uglies series summarises it perfectly:

“Teenagers are at a stage of life where they must tangle with almost adult responsibilities — school, work, college applications — and yet they haven’t been granted many adult powers or respect. They’re encouraged to work, but generally at menial jobs, and when they show up to spend their money, they’re carefully watched, assumed to be shoplifters and loiterers. Schools are places where teens are subject to dress codes, have few free speech rights, and are constantly surveilled, where they rise and sit at the sound of a bell. Is it any wonder that dystopian novels speak to them?”

The reality is, whether we like it or not, teenagers’ lives are imbued with many of the overarching themes, motifs and undercurrents that are classic dystopian tropes. They are questioning the world around them, and yet are forced to conform to a very particular status quo whilst the ‘adults’ sort out the problems (but do we really?) To see how Katniss Everdeen grows triumphant in The Hunger Games or how Tris embraces her individuality in a world of strict conformity in Divergent can be a powerful and mobilising force. Importantly, it also gives the reader a sense of hope in a world where sometimes it is difficult to find. It is clear that these kinds of dystopian works do not have to be purely morbid doom and gloom. You can see this in the infographic above which describes how the most recent trends in YA dystopia also have romance themes. When romance flourishes, so does hope, love, and a want for a better future.

Hmmm… that’s certainly something the world can use right now: hope, love and a better future. Perhaps it is through the darkness of YA dystopian fiction that we are able to truly see the light and how goodness can shine through. These kinds of novels are excellent vehicles to explore the sobering realities of the world today, and can position young people to consider how they might construct a better tomorrow.

That’s powerful pop culture.


Abubakar, A. (2014, September 20). Boko Haram engaged in talks over kidnapped girls. Retrieved from: http://www.cnn.com/2014/09/20/world/africa/nigeria-boko-haram-kidnapped-girls/

Colbert, S. [StephenAtHome] (n.d.) Tweets [Twitter page], Retrieved 10 October, 2014, from: https://twitter.com/StephenAtHome

Denyer, S. & Deane, D. (2014, October 10). Hong Kong pro-democracy protesters return to the streets. Retrieved from: http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/hong-kongs-protesters-urge-supporters-to-return-to-the-streets/2014/10/10/1ac0e539-7cac-4b56-ab34-6199d98bf4de_story.html

Good Reads. (2012). The Dystopian Timeline to the Hunger Games. Retrieved from: http://www.goodreads.com/blog/show/351-the-dystopian-timeline-to-the-hunger-games-infographic

Grubb, B. (2014, September 24). New laws could give ASIO a warrant for the entire internet, jail journalists and whistleblowers. Retrieved from: http://www.smh.com.au/digital-life/consumer-security/new-laws-could-give-asio-a-warrant-for-the-entire-internet-jail-journalists-and-whistleblowers-20140923-10kzjz.html

Kennon, P. (2005). ‘Belonging’ in Young Adult Dystopian Literature: New Communities Created by Children. Papers: Explorations into Children’s Literature, 15(2), pp. 40-49.

Tan, V. (2014, October 8). Freelance photographer holds exhibition on MH370 and MH17 tragedies. Retrieved from: http://www.thestar.com.my/News/Community/2014/10/08/Stories-of-loss-and-love-Freelance-photographer-holds-exhibition-on-MH370-and-MH17-tragedies/

The Comedy Channel. (2014). The Colbert Report. Retrieved from: http://www.thecomedychannel.com.au/shows/the-colbert-report.html

Westerfield, S. (2012, December 27). Breaking down the system: the dark side of young adult fiction. Retrieved from: http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2010/12/26/the-dark-side-of-young-adult-fiction/breaking-down-the-system

New Times, New Literacies & Participatory Cultures

Ideas of what it means to be literate have changed significantly in recent decades. Traditionally, literacy has been rather narrowly defined as simply functional reading and writing that privileges written language. However, our notions of literacy today have thankfully moved beyond simplistic ideas of merely comprehending the written word on a page. Literacy is considered a social practice that requires the acknowledgement of numerous types of literacies (Luke & Freebody, 1999).

Research into multiliteracies and multimodal approaches to the reading and creation of texts has reshaped the literacy landscape and has also served to shift the focus from literacy as the sole domain of subject English to other key learning areas as well. A good portion of this research actually came out of Gee’s (2003) seminal work What Video Games have to Teach us about Learning and Literacy and the work of the New London Group (1996).

Grab the controller: Gaming and new technologies changing notions of what it means to be literate.  Source: Flickr Creative Commons (CC)

Grab the controller: gaming and new technologies changing notions of what it means to be literate. Source: Flickr Creative Commons (CC)

Attention was brought to the fact that there is a multiplicity of and multifaceted integration of communication modes in use in society (eg. linguistic, visual, oral, sound and kinaesthetic) that require literate understanding and practice. Moreover, the act of becoming literate requires complex interaction between the learner’s background and language, and the context, purpose and discourse of texts explored (Luke & Freebody, 1999; Walsh, 2010).

A variety of new terminology has been developed over recent years which showcase how literacy has been changing and evolving, such as visual literacy, new literacies, digital literacies, multimodality and multiliteracies (Walsh, 2010). Whilst video games have been a fixture in many households since the 1980s, the complexity of gaming, new platforms and ways of interacting with fellow gamers are shifting and evolving in a manner than is becoming both integrated with our non-digital world, and simultaneously quite divorced from humdrum reality. Various applications, vines, videos and memes are requiring new and exciting ways and modes of creating and interacting with technology that simply did not exist a few short years ago. However, many of the skills and sophisticated literacy demands required to participate in these activities are not always acknowledged in schooling contexts (O’Sullivan, 2012). Indeed, there are a number of theorists (Buckingham, 2007; O’Sullivan, 2012; Leu et al, 2011) who argue that traditional pedagogies will be increasingly ineffective with students who are adapting more and more to engaging with popular culture. Theirs is a rallying cry towards technological immersion and strong engagement with popular technologies in pedagogical practice.

However, a differing approach that recently piqued my interest comes from Sugata Mitra. You can watch his TED Talk about his work here:

Mitra conducted a number of experiments all of which demonstrated the innate want of children to learn, and the malleability and ease of acquisition of many new literacies that are borne in technology. Essentially, Mitra placed several computers in walls of buildings in the middle of central India, and watched what happened. In a Rajasthan village, the children recorded their own music and then played it back to each other, enjoying themselves thoroughly. They did all of this in four hours after seeing the computer for the first time. In another South Indian village, boys assembled a video camera and were trying to take the photograph of a bumblebee. They downloaded it from a website, just 14 days after putting the computer in their village.

Children will learn to do what they want to learn to do… children can learn irrespective of where they are. – Sugata Mitra

Mitra posits that in his experiments he has discovered a self-organising system, which is where a structure appears without explicit intervention from the outside. Teachers were not involved in his experiments, it was left to the children alone to learn and discover. They learnt by doing, by experimenting, and importantly, by helping and teaching each other, and they were extremely successful in doing so. Similarly, consider the fact that one does not go to school to learn about how to use Minecraft or create a guild on World of Warcraft; it is figured out somewhat organically by the individual, and with help from peers familiar with the games.

This is not a new phenomenon, but it does link with notions of the “participatory culture,” which is emerging as the culture absorbs and responds to the explosion of new media technologies that make it possible for average consumers to archive, annotate, appropriate, and recirculate media content in powerful new ways (Jenkins et al, 2006). Additionally, participatory culture shifts the focus of literacy from one of individual expression and understanding to community involvement. The social practices underpinning participatory cultures are potent and very important for the development of multimodality and multiliteracies.

Perhaps there is no need for the teacher in role as the ‘sage on the stage’ anymore. The participatory culture and interaction with peers in real time and in digital communities is problematizing how the traditional classroom might operate, and perhaps even questioning its effectiveness. Is there a place for the traditional teacher when engaging students with new digital technologies? Should their role shift into more of a guide and facilitator, allowing students to navigate their own way to success? This is a question I don’t have an answer to just yet, but I think Mitra’s research is opening exciting new doors and possibilities for implementing new ways of teaching and learning that are more authentic, and more individually and community orientated. That is something I am excited about.


Buckingham, D. (2007). Beyond technology. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.

Gee, J. (2003). What video games have to teach us about learning and literacy. New York: Palgrave McMillian.

Gee, J. (2003). What video games have to teach us about learning and literacy. Retrieved from: https://people.ok.ubc.ca/bowenhui/game/readings/Gee-learnfromgames.pdf

Jenkins, H. et al. (2006). Confronting the challenges of participatory culture: media education for the 21st century. MacArthur Foundation. Retrieved from: http://digitallearning.macfound.org/atf/cf/%7B7E45C7E0-A3E0-4B89-AC9C-E807E1B0AE4E%7D/JENKINS_WHITE_PAPER.PDF

Leu, D. J. et al. (2011). The New Literacies of Online Reading Comprehension: Expanding the Literacy and Learning Curriculum. Journal of Adolescent Literacy, 55(1), 5-13.

Luke, A. & Freebody, P. (1999). Further notes on the four resources model. Reading online, 3. Retrieved from: http://www.readingonline.org/research/lukefreebody.html.

O’Sullivan, K. (2012). Chapter 12: Books and Blogs: Promoting Reading Achievement in Digital Contexts. In Manuel, J. & Brindley, S. (Eds.). Teenagers and reading: literary practices, cultural contexts and contemporary reading practices (pp. 191-209). Kent Town, SA: Wakefield Press/AATE.

New London Group. (1996). A pedagogy of multiliteracies: Designing social futures. Harvard Educational Review, 66(1), 60-92.

TED Talks. (2014). Sugata Mitra: the child driven education. Retrieved from: http://www.ted.com/talks/sugata_mitra_the_child_driven_education#t-1000246

Walsh, M. (2010). Multimodal literacy: What does it mean for classroom practice? Australian Journal of Language & Literacy33(3), 211-229.

A Moment of Connection

Sometimes when completing university assignments its very easy to assume that hardly anyone is going to read them. So, imagine my surprise when I logged onto Twitter this afternoon, only to discover that Penguin Teachers have tweeted about my blog entry Sick Lit, Banned Books Week & The Fault in Our Stars. I was completely blown away, and I am immensely flattered. Thank you Penguin Teachers!



It’s such a great feeling to know that despite studying externally and living temporarily in a small town in regional Saskatchewan that I can still connect meaningfully to like-minded professionals all over the world. I know that this blog is going to continue after my MEd studies are complete, and I can’t wait to see where the road takes me. 

The Power of Pinterest



This week’s task requires us to create a Pinterest board featuring images, videos etc. about kids and young people today. As a fairly avid Pinterest user, this was not exactly a challenge for me per se, but it certainly opened my eyes into the sheer amount of information that is shared on the site, and the heterogeneity of the user base. You can find my board on ‘Kids these Days’ here, and if you wish, you can view all of my boards here. As of this moment, I have 21 boards and 1330 pins!

Source: pinterest.com

Source: pinterest.com

As a married teacher in my late 20s, the vast majority of my pins are recipes, and images of fashion and home decor. Sometimes I pin craft projects (that I am 95% certain I will never get to!) or interesting ideas that I can incorporate into my classroom. I will pin fitness posts, inspirational quotes, and images of places that some day I would love to travel to. When I was planning my wedding in 2012, Pinterest was the proverbial lifesaver, and the source of hours upon hours of inspiration surrounding the smallest details for invitations, flower arrangements and the use of mason jars. I actually used Pinterest far more than bridal magazines.

Pinterest is a fantastic platform for bookmarking all the interesting things one comes across online, but it allows the user to actually discover and find even more content from the web on the site itself, which is what I discovered today. On first glance, the statistics paint very clear picture of the demographic:

  • 70 million users, 80% of whom are women
  • 10% of users have a household income less than US$30,000
  • 92% of all Pinterest pins are made by women
  • 94% of all Pinterest activity is from women
  • Pinterest users who are mothers share 3 times as often than the average user
  • 5% of internet using men in the United States have a Pinterest account
  • 27% of US Generation Y and Z use Pinterest at least monthly.

Yes, I am smack bang in the middle of the site’s target demographic. All I seem to need is a couple of kids and to make the move to Texas.

Source: pinterest.com

Source: pinterest.com

However, when you dig a little deeper, it is clear that that the site has fans that shift beyond the mould of the classic user. There are lively communities of users who share information beyond the latest canning recipes and pictures of ‘rustic’ American flag decorations. Teenagers and young people are a vibrant voice on the site. There are ‘Geek’ boards, ‘Music’ boards and those devoted exclusively to Harry Potter memes. There are users following and sharing content from YouTube, Tumblr, reddit and Instagram. I even found many Pinterest boards devoted to several teen YouTube celebrities. There were some fantastic infographics for fans of various series such as The Hunger Games, Doctor Who and Divergent, and of course, many retail products:

Source: pinterest.com

Source: pinterest.com

Much like on Facebook, users carefully curate their profiles and boards so that content can be easily searched for, and perhaps more importantly, so that the user can reveal certain aspects about themselves and position others to view them in particular ways.

Source: pinterest.com

Source: pinterest.com

Interestingly, Pinterest is also working on increasing its revenue in a big way and is redefining the way marketers are allocating their advertising budgets. It is changing the way consumers find content and products. Pinterest has “managed to balance facilitating product discovery and purchase capabilities with users’ desires to entertain and educate themselves without feeling like they are in a marketplace” (Greathouse, 2014). It will be interesting to see how the site evolves in the coming years and what this means for online shopping, social networking and engaging content creators in retail and entertainment.

Happy pinning!


Digital Marketing Ramblings (2014). By the Numbers: 120 Amazing Pinterest Statistics. Retrieved from: http://expandedramblings.com/index.php/pinterest-stats/2/#.VCh2-ildWR4

Greathouse, J. (2014). Pinterest goes commerce: pin, click, buy. Retrieved from:http://www.forbes.com/sites/johngreathouse/2014/09/28/pinterest-goes-commerce-pin-click-buy/

Pinterest.com (2014). Kids These Days. Retrieved from: http://www.pinterest.com/robishen/kids-these-days/

Sick-Lit, Banned Books Week & The Fault in Our Stars

Source: bannedbooksweek.org

Source: bannedbooksweek.org

In an age where most pearl-clutching conservative parents are terrified of what their children might come across online, its interesting that books can still generate controversy and calls for censorship. Indeed, this week September 21-27 is the annual celebration of Banned Books Week, which was launched over twenty years ago in the United States in response to the number of challenges to books in schools, bookshops and libraries. Astonishingly, more than 11,300 books have been challenged since 1982 according to the American Library Association. According to the Banned Books Week website, the top 10 most challenged titles of 2013 were:

  • Captain Underpants (series) by Dav Pilkey
  • The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
  • The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
  • Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James
  • The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
  • A Bad Boy Can Be Good for A Girl by Tanya Lee Stone
  • Looking for Alaska by John Green
  • The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
  • Bless Me Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya
  • Bone (series) by Jeff Smith

For this week’s free choice blog I have decided to narrow my scope and concentrate on one particular novel that has garnered considerable attention over the past few years: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green, who has actually made the top-ten with Looking for Alaska. In The Fault in Our Stars, ideas surrounding the reality of teenagers with cancer has proven it to be rather contentious in literary circles, and to some degree in popular culture more broadly. Moreover, the controversy surrounding ‘sick-lit’ (novels written for teenagers with overarching themes of death, fatal disease and psychological issues) has been in the spotlight of late, with Green’s novel often serving as the archetype of the genre. Is there a line in the sand that we need to draw, only providing texts to our students that we deem to be appropriate? Some critics seem to think so.

The Fault in Our Stars stands out amongst commercially successful Young Adult novels, reaching the number one position on many bestseller lists since publication in 2012, and with a well-received film adaptation released in June 2014. The book has also been placed on a number of Best of the Year lists such as USA Today, The Wall Street Journal and Entertainment Weekly problematising what constitutes appropriate material for adults, teens and children and who might be the implied audience, despite the fact that the protagonist is a teenager. The novel brings us into Hazel’s world, that of a sixteen year old girl living with terminal cancer. Perpetually weak and short of breath, Hazel spends what she knows could be her last days shifting between home, school and Christian cancer support groups. It is here that she meets the charming Augustus, who himself is sporting a prosthetic leg due to osteosarcoma. The book is a compelling and confronting read that shows raw humanity, love and loss in such a beautiful and holistic manner that it stays with the reader long after the last page has been read.

The blunt realities of children living (and dying) from cancer are described quite plainly throughout the book. There is little room for sentimentality, with many moments of anger, embarrassment, grief and descriptions of horrible medical procedures. Hazel is smart, sarcastic and crafted with complexity and edge. She poignantly reveals how she and her fellow cancer sufferers and their loved ones cope with their difficult circumstances. Green does not give his readers rainbows, unicorns and promises of neat fairytale endings. Instead he shows teens managing the fear, anger and desperation that terminal illness creates, but also how they accept and cope with what fate has heaved at them. He puts forth a new kind of ideology and narrative didacticism that challenges a lot of the “positive thinking” and “cancer as a gift for a new awakening” rhetoric espoused by many authors, support groups and organizations (Ehrenreich, 2010). Green’s message is that Hazel, Augustus and the others at the support group are simply the unlucky ones. They are ordinary teenagers who may very well die young. Yet it is for this very reason that some reviewers are so vehemently opposed to young people reading The Fault in Our Stars.

In the popular UK tabloid The Daily Mail, Carey’s (2013) criticism of The Fault in Our Stars does not hold back, opening with the statement that “as plots go, it’s mawkish at best, exploitative at worst.” She goes on to argue that beyond the fact that the book features a terminally ill protagonist, it is “liberally peppered with sex and swearing” and “aimed at children as young as 12” which she decrees as morally reprehensible. Children’s book expert Amanda Craig is quoted within the article:

“when you write for children, you have a moral and social responsibility… I think there is a cavalier attitude towards this in the publishing industry, especially as children as young as 11 are likely to be reading these books”.

Other newspaper critics go even further with their scaremongering and claim that the danger of Green’s supposed romanticizing of cancer may encourage “wallowing in depression and may actually encourage vulnerable children to harm themselves” (Smith, 2013). Gurdon (2011) argues that parents must consider their child’s “happiness, moral development and tenderness of heart” and that “pathologies that went undescribed in print 40 years ago… are now spelled out in stomach-clenching detail.”

Thankfully, other responses to The Fault in Our Stars have been considerably more measured and laudatory. Grossman’s (2012, p. 54) review in TIME is filled with nothing but praise for the novel, calling it “damn near genius.” He asserts that subject of children’s cancer is a most often a “mass of sentimental rhetoric” but that Green’s novel offers “a powerful shot of the real stuff.” He proclaims the novel as one for all people that should be swiftly placed into the Young Adult canon. Similarly, Clifford’s (2013) review for Penguin Teachers’ Academy focuses primarily on the artful construction of the novel, how “brilliantly well these smart and truly tangible characters react and cope with that an infinite universe has dealt them and how we can identify ourselves as the bumbling, well-meaning idiots who live somewhere outside Cancervania.” I certainly hope that these are the reviewers that are helping to inform teachers and parents selection of books for their students!

Naturally, what may be appropriate for one student may not be for another, but the preachy moralism purported by The Daily Mail and other critics wanting to shelter children from the harsh realities of cancer is frankly anachronistic in 2014. Simply censoring due to some sensitive issues can miss the major theme, the total purpose and the effect of the work as a unified text, which in the case of a work as rich as The Fault in Our Stars would be terrible, especially since it has received so much praise. Doeke & Hayes (1999, p. 39) argue that the “dirty realism” seen in such novels allows the reader to reflect on their values, attitudes, beliefs, and our sense of who we are and where we fit into the scheme of things. I truly believe that it is essential that all young people are able to access material that speaks to some aspect of their experiences, and that reflects the diversity of society and humanity in general.

It wasn’t so long ago that classic The Catcher in the Rye was removed from schools, burned and desecrated because it was “unacceptable,” “obscene,” “blasphemous,” “negative,” “foul,” and “filthy.” The first ban of Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn called it “trash and suitable only for the slums.” Don’t let The Daily Mail get you down, and don’t allow the cries of those supposedly concerned for the ‘welfare’ of our children to drown out the voices of those who want to read. How wonderful that in 2014 a myriad of popular texts dealing with all kinds of issues are readily available. We NEED to keep it this way. Here’s to Banned Books Week, and reading anything and everything that authors are so kind enough to give us!


Banned Books Week. (2014). Retrieved from: http://www.bannedbooksweek.org/

Carey, T. (2013, January 3). The ‘sick-lit’ books aimed at children: It’s a disturbing phenomenon. Tales of teenage cancer, suicide, self harm…. The Daily Mail. Retrieved from: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2256356/The-sick-lit-books-aimed-children-Its-disturbing-phenomenon-Tales-teenage-cancer-self-harm-suicide-.html

Clifford, R. (2013, January 18). Teacher Review of The Fault in Our Stars – John Green. Penguin Teachers’ Academy. Retrieved from: http://penguineducation.wordpress.com/2013/01/18/teacher-review-of-the-fault-in-our-stars-john-green/

Doeke, B. & Hayes, T. (1999). Good Dreams/Bad Dreams: Text Selection and Censorship in Australia. English in Education, 33(3), 31-42.

Ehrenreich, B. (2010, January 2). Smile! You’ve Got Cancer. The Guardian. Retrieved from: http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2010/jan/02/cancer-positive-thinking-barbara-ehrenreich

Green, J. (2012). The Fault in Our Stars. Penguin: New York, NY.

Grossman, L. (2012). The Topic of Cancer. Time. 179 (5), 54.

Gurdon, M. C. (2011, June 4). Darkness too visible: Contemporary fiction for teens is rife with explicit abuse, violence and depravity. Why is this considered a good idea? The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from: http://online.wsj.com/

Smith, R. (2013, February 14). Sick-lit: a symptom of publishing’s decline? The Globe & Mail, p. L.6

It’s Okay to Switch Off: Embracing Low Tech

Phone? Check. Computer? Check.  Source: Flickr Creative Commons

Phone? Check. Computer? Check.
Source: Flickr Creative Commons (CC)

Yesterday I read a fascinating and surprising article by Nick Bilton in the Sydney Morning Herald surrounding the fact that Apple co-founder and chairman Steve Jobs, and many other technology CEOs and venture capitalists are in fact ‘low tech’ parents. They strictly limit their children’s screen time, often banning all gadgets on school nights and allocating only brief amounts of tech-time on weekends.

 “So, your kids must love the iPad?” I asked Jobs, trying to change the subject. The company’s first tablet was just hitting the shelves.

“They haven’t used it,” he told me. “We limit how much technology our kids use at home.”

My household, though small and only consisting of my husband and myself, is saturated with technology. We both have iPhones and MacBook laptops. I have an iPad, and my husband has a Wii. We have Netflix and a huge hard drive which stores digitally downloaded shows and movies that connects right to our TV via a Raspberry Pi that my husband programmed. We can set shows to record on our cable PVR with an app on our phones. My husband loves to code and builds apps. While I never bring my computer into the bedroom, I do have a terrible habit of reading on my iPhone before going to sleep. I suppose I always assumed that our future children would grow up immersed in a similar environment, but perhaps now I’m not so sure.

In his article, Bilton recalls an interview with Chris Anderson, the former editor of Wired and now chief executive of 3D Robotics, a drone-maker, who has instituted time limits and parental controls on every device in his home:

“My kids accuse me and my wife of being fascists and overly concerned about tech, and they say that none of their friends have the same rules,” he said of his five children, age 6-17. “That’s because we have seen the dangers of technology firsthand. I’ve seen it in myself, I don’t want to see that happen to my kids.”

The dangers he is referring to include exposure to harmful content like pornography or graphic images on news sites, as well as cyberbullying from other kids. Incidentally, one of my favourite poets Shane Koyczan released his new poem Troll on YouTube just a few days ago. It’s one of the most poignant explorations of the pain caused by online bullies that I’ve come across.

Another concern is the addictive nature of prolonged technology engagement, something many adults and teens struggle with. This is also becoming a business in itself with the advent of summer camps and spas to combat technology addiction. Indeed, Koyczan illustrates how difficult this can be in his poem and video above. Buckingham (2007, p. 75) argues “childhood is now permeated, even in some respects defined, by modern media – by television, video, computer games, the internet, mobile phones and popular music, and by the enormous range of media commodities that make up contemporary consumer culture.” With mobile phones and online email and messaging services, peer-to-peer interactions are less and less likely to occur face-to-face real time contexts. There also seems to be a divide between those who bemoan the media’s destruction of childhood innocence, and those who advocate immersion in technology as a force for liberation for young people.

Buckingham (2007, p. 75) posits that the optimistic view of young people, the dotcom generation, being somehow liberated and empowered through their experience of these new technologies is perhaps little more than a form of wishful thinking. Of course much of modern technology opens doors to new possibilities that were unimaginable decades ago. The concern now is our level of immersion in this digital world. From my professional context as a high school Drama teacher, I find it so intriguing (and simultaneously tragic) that technological engagement is often completely saturating my students’ days. Particularly at the the end of a term when assignments are due, I have no doubt that the average Yr 9 student would spend at least 5+ hours staring at a screen, forget the fact that technology goes beyond the academic and that students also use it for pleasure.

How much screen time do we expect from them? Does it have to be this way? Are we just preparing them for their future of being an office drone in a cubicle? Are we inviting bullying, threats and anxiety into our children’s worlds by allowing them ubiquitous engagement with social media?  Are we setting students up for technology addiction and allowing the screen to take over? I think we really need to consider fostering a sense of balance at both at home and at school. Perhaps this is why I’m so vehemently opposed to incorporating too much technology into my subject (Drama) and the Arts in general. We need to allow students to talk, share, play, touch, explore, use their bodies and create outside of a computer screen.

Technology is important, and we cannot ignore the exponential growth and development of new applications, platforms and devices that our children will be engaging with. We need to support the development of digital literacies and teach and inform our students how to be mindful users and consumers of technology and media. The beckoning of technology is loud. While we need to answer that call, we also need to take time to stop, pause and reflect. We all need to experience the full range of capabilities and wonders of what it means to be human. Part of this is simply being and richly considering the world around us in a way that is not mediated by technology.

There’s more to life than an iPhone. I think Steve Jobs would agree with that.


Bilton, N. (2014). Steve Jobs was a Low Tech Parent. Retrieved from: http://www.smh.com.au/digital-life/computers/steve-jobs-was-a-lowtech-parent-20140913-10fld2.html

Buckingham, D. (2007). Beyond Technology. Cambridge UK: Polity Press.

Koyczan, S. (2014). Troll. Retrieved from:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=670if6Etx0o

Kohli, S. (2014). This Summer Camp Helps Adults Overcome Tech Addiction. Retrieved from: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/09/04/this-summer-camp-helps-adults-get-over-their-tech-addiction_n_5762230.html

Media Watch (2014). A Front Page Too Far? Retrieved from: http://www.abc.net.au/mediawatch/transcripts/s4074234.htm