Saturday, August 1, 2015

Message To YA Writers: Schools Have Changed In The Last 20 Years.

I've written about this before: YA writers need to know what kids are like and what schools are like -- NOW, in the post-2000 world.  But the problem has not gone away.  YA authors who went to school in the 1990s seem to think that nothing has changed.  Hello, people!!  Schools are not stuck in a time warp!
When I went to school, we had mimeographed worksheets, filmstrips, and honest-to-gosh FILMS -- with projectors!  If you 90s-kids-turned-authors read about that in a YA book now, you'd freak out.  You'd call me old and out-of-date.
Then why do I keep finding stuff like this in your books?

Evil Librarian by Michelle Knudson is not a bad book.  (It's way too much like Maureen Johnson's Devilish to be truly original, but it's funny in its own right.)  But Knudson clearly hasn't been in a school since the turn of the century.
How do I know?  Well, her characters sluff (skip class) repeatedly -- and the parents never know.
Perhaps there are still small, rural schools that have teachers take roll by hand, but for at least 15 years (longer in some cases), most schools have used a computerized attendance program of some sort.  This means that parents can know within minutes (on their phones, iPads, or other computers) whether or not their kid showed up to class.  And just in case that's not enough, most schools have automated phone calling that notifies parents at the end of the day if their kid missed one or more classes.  Unless you have a clever student doing some hacking, there's no way a parent could go for weeks not knowing that the child has unexcused absences.  What was possible in 1995 is not possible in 2015.

Then there's Cherie Priest in I Am Princess X.  Her time warp crime?  She has her protagonist taking a standardized test on a bubble sheet.
No.  Just no.
Again, this might be a possibility in a small town.  But this is happening in Seattle.  You know, a student of mine last year had just moved from Seattle.  Oddly enough, he'd seen computers before.  Isn't that amazing?  Yup, Cherie, Seattle schools have computers in them.
Yes, folks, in the 1990s, we gave kids standardized tests on bubble sheets and scan-tron sheets.  These have now gone the way of filmstrips and cassette tapes.  Most of my students have never seen a bubble sheet in their lives.
Standardized tests are given in computer labs or on classroom sets of chromebooks or laptops or with clickers.  Our school still has a scan-tron grader gathering dust in a corner of the teacher workroom --- just in case there's an emergency and some teacher has to use it for something.  However, it might not even work anymore, and it's only a matter of time before it gets scrapped.

Writers, just because you once went to school does not mean you can write about it without doing some research.  Most YA has at least some of its action in a school.  Isn't it time you got up-to-date on what actually might be happening in one?
We don't have chalkboards anymore, you know.

1 comment:

  1. Yes the times they are changing, always have. Even the whiteboards are disappearing. Although, not that long ago while judging speech at a local high school I found myself in a room with a chalkboard. Of course, I used it. These days, text books are out, iPads are issued.