Call for Papers: MLA, Jan 6-9, 2022, Washington, DC

Children’s Literature Pedagogies in an Age of Misinformation

CFP for non-guaranteed session sponsored by the MLA Forum on Children’s and Young Adult Literature. To be held at the 2022 MLA in Washington, DC

What is the role of children’s literature in the production of knowledge? What role should it play? This question has informed the production of children’s texts in the U.S. and Britain from at least the eighteenth century. Didactic children’s texts explicitly grappled with the power to shape reality for child readers–to teach lessons and to establish the truth of religious norms, gender roles, and social hierarchies. They also betrayed anxieties that children would confuse imagination with reality if they read about talking animals, magic, and fairy tales. Versions of such worries emerge today in debates over whether a work is appropriate for children, or represents historical experience accurately, or depicts a culture authentically. Indeed, our contemporary “post truth” moment has amplified concerns about the functions of children’s literature and culture. This panel invites proposals addressing how books can help young readers separate truths from lies, evaluate relative veracity, and cultivate reality-based (as opposed to conspiracy-fueled) critical thinking about the world in which they live. 

Our “post truth” era makes such work both necessary and increasingly fraught. As Bruno Latour observed in 2018, we lack “a common world” in which truth and the authority of science are part of a shared reality. In The Child to Come, Rebekah Sheldon explains how “somatic capitalism” creates conditions in which a shared culture of stable and unified meanings are no longer necessary for mechanisms of power to operate effectively. This is one way to understand today’s widespread climate denial, anti-vaccination movements, and growing populations of people who believe that the earth is flat or doubt that Covid-19 is real. Similarly, rampant political misinformation fueled  “pizzagate” and the violent insurrection at the Capitol on January 6, 2021. While political and profit-motivated misinformation emerge in any historical time period, present-day social manipulation technologies operate with an incredible speed and sophistication that is especially dangerous. 

In this panel, we invite participants to consider the didactic concerns in children’s literature as instructive, betraying a keen awareness of the ways that truth and knowledge are not stable and must be reproduced. We invite consideration of the ways in which powerful systems damage our capacity to distinguish truth from falsehood and skepticism from conspiracy theory. In so doing, we invite inquiries into the ways we assess the truths, knowledges, and norms that are found in children’s texts. 

This non-guaranteed session sponsored by the Children’s and Young Adult Literature Forum seeks papers that explore the pedagogical potential and pitfalls of children’s literature in today’s climate. How can literature teach young people to survive in an age of misinformation?  Which books for children and young adults demonstrate the values of evidence-based reasoning, carefully tested knowledge, and the kinds of critical thinking that can help them resist the appeals of lies, propaganda, and conspiracy theories? Papers that approach these questions from the perspective of Indigenous, critical race, queer, trans, feminist, ecocritical, historical, activist, and/or literary methods are particularly welcome.

Send 1-page abstract and 2-page CV by March 15, 2021 to Brie Owen and Philip Nel

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