The Marxist Reading Group panel I attended was held on Saturday, March 23rd, where panelists Kim Emery and Rebekah Fitzsimmons presented their papers on “Performance Counts: Productivity and Faculty Work” and “Professional Disputes and Early Reader Picture Books” respectively. Although Kim presented contemplative points about work as labor and its means of measurement and rewards in hyper exploited conditions, I found her overall analysis of “work one” and “work two” difficult to follow. Therefore, my blog will focus on Rebekah’s presentation. Rebekah’s paper covered many points in the field of children’s literature, but I will only discuss a few of them and their connection with our class, while including my thoughts on them.
Like we discussed in class, Rebekah noted the control adults have in children’s literature. Adults write the books, buy the books, and librarians market certain ones through displays, thus directly affecting the types of books consumers and children submit to. Rebekah said that parents have a “patriotic duty” to get involved in children’s literature and that they should be more “savvy consumers” in the field. These points go along with what we discussed since the beginning of class when we talked about Deborah Stevenson’s article, “Classics and Canons.” Stevenson explains that children’s literature, as an academic, is controlled by adults; the content is written for adults who buy the books, so it is doubly removed. I thought it was interesting that she made this connection to class by mentioning one of the major pivotal points in children’s literature.
Rebekah also argues that education is linked to the middle class. I can agree with this point because there is an appeal to the middle class and people generally want to enter it. And once you are “in it,” you have more available access to money, leisure time, etcetera. With these privileges, one can afford to be educated. So, I see where she makes the connection with education and the middle class dream. Furthermore, this argument she makes in her paper made me think about the specific definition of the middle class. I wondered what really defines the middle class and how do people get into it if the cycle of poverty and illiteracy keeps shifting.
Another major point Rebekah made, which I found interesting, was that the consumer culture and childhood are related. The impurity of the money can relate to the purity of childhood. I never thought of the two fields connecting in this way. Primarily, I read the relation as the big companies exploiting the children for their own benefits and their own profit. However, they are, at the end of the day, helping the children and their families and, essentially the country, if you look at the big picture, by raising literacy rates. Also, Rebekah points out that the consumers are not buying the content of the picture books; they are buying the open access to them. I agree with all of these points; the consumer and administration relationship is undeniable related. In my opinion, it just seems like exploitation because small children are involved; in fact, the companies are simply using the child crowd to capitalize on their businesses. These points also made me think about how parents can be savvy consumers. How can they be savvy consumers? First of all, they will need money to consume; second, they will need the time to set aside to make savvy-consumer-decisions; and finally, they will need to be literate and educated on the product and business they are buying from. In order to have these qualities to be a savvy consumer, one needs to be of middle class, which brings me back to my previous question: how do people enter the middle class via education if the class lines are constantly being defined?
Obviously, the children literature field of study is a complex one. Economics, big companies, consumers, children, and parents are all significant factors in children’s literature. After attending Rebekah’s panel, I was able to reconsider the notion that children’s literature can be “figured out.” In other words, I came to the conclusion that there are no right or wrong answers in children’s literature; instead, everything is a debate and is complicated due to the number of factors to consider when making any sort of claim. The panel opened my eyes to another niche in children’s literature, one that involves the economy. I was able to understand, in class discussions, that parents are a significant force in children’s literature, however, I never considered the companies or the class of the parents in the equation. The new ideas that Rebekah pointed out about the middle class and the consumers’ relationship with the administration are important thoughts to use in future class discussions.