When writing Miss E., I intentionally put Bets into a setting where her sources of information about the world around her are very limited. She’s the new kid in a small town in 1967. Kids reading Miss E. today might need to be reminded that there was no internet, no smart phones, and no Google, but Bets’s other sources of information are pretty limited too.
She scans the front page headlines of the Santa Rosa Star that Mr. Johnson is always reading in his store, but that’s just one paper from the closest big town, and since Mr. Johnson seems to agree with everything in it, it’s likely a pretty one-sided view. An occasional letter arrives from her father, but those letters are filtered through her mother. And then there’s the TV news, which sticks to safe topics like troop movements and the President’s speeches.
So when Bets arrives in San Francisco, encounters a crowd of angry hippies, and gets tangled up in an anti-war protest, she’s seeing discontent for the first time. That one event is a turning point for her. She realizes that there are opinions about the war other than the ones she’s exposed to in her quiet little town, and once she discoverers that, it’s easier for her to look at the news sources she does have with a more critical eye.
She reads the newspaper beyond the front page headlines, finding opinion pieces and articles that were perhaps intentionally buried on the inside pages. She still watches the same evening news, but she now listens for what is not said, what’s left out of a story or glossed over. Most importantly, she uses her personal experience as a lens for viewing the events she sees on TV and reads about in the newspaper. Having experienced the protest first hand, she can judge for herself the accuracy of the reporting and notices things like the newspaper’s use of the word “riot” instead of “protest” and the lack of information on what the police did to manage the crowd.
In many ways, our problems with news and accuracy today are the opposite of what Bets had to deal with. We have a flood of news and media to choose from. We can pick from a long list of TV stations and newspapers, and there’s an endless supply of news and opinions online. But because we have so much to choose from, it’s easy to find news with a slant we agree with and stories that seem to justify what we already think or feel.
We certainly need to be careful about the places we get our news, choosing reliable sources that base their reporting on facts, research and investigation. We also need to be exposed to a variety of opinions and viewpoints - if we’re agreeing with everything we read the newspaper or see on TV, we probably need to diversify our news sources. Finally, like Bets, we need to use our personal experience as a lens for judging the news we do take in.
Click Here to open a preview copy of the chapter "Evening News" from Miss E. or download the file below to add to your eReader.
Read how Bets sorts through her emotions after experiencing the protest in San Francisco, while also trying to make sense of the news and how the war is covered on TV and in the newspaper.
The call to RESIST - in the 60's and today.
Vietnam War protester placing a carnation into the barrel of a rifle held by soldier.
"Flower Power" Bernie Boston 1967
Kent State Shootings
John Filo - 1970
One more thing - this is going to be a little bit like the director's cut on a DVD.
The chapter "Evening News" changed a lot after I gave an early version of the book to several beta-readers. Several responses included surprise at the jump Bets makes from experiencing the San Francisco protest to starting one of her own. And in the early version of Miss E., it really was a jump - too big a jump. I expanded Bets's thoughts as she sifted through the news on TV and in the paper, and I added the classroom scene where the conflict Bets has been feeling over the war begins to transform into a very strong opinion.
Bets does two very important things in that scene.
She questions. She doesn't accept the explanation the substitute teacher gives for Mr. Flynn's absence. She wants answers and she won't be ignored.
She takes a stand. Bets is in a room full of classmates to want to forget what happened in San Francisco, just want to believe what they're told, or feel that opposing the war is unpatriotic. Not easy to stand up against all that, but Bets does.
This week I was interviewed by Gretchen Hazlin and Corey Thornblad of BubbleUp Classroom. Gretchen is the Virginia State Librarian of the Year, and Corey is the Fairfax County Teacher of the year, so when it comes to education, they know what they're talking about. They've filled BubbleUp Classroom with great ideas for teaching and engaging students, and following their blog feels like following both of them through the school year - the excitement of the start of school, new plans and ideas to try, advice for keeping your energy up mid-year, and their own reflections on what worked and what didn't. They're amazing educators, so I was honored when they asked me for an interview.
Gretchen and Corey had some great questions for me about writing process, strategies for teaching writing, and my advice for kids who want to become writers. They're also doing a book giveaway this week, so hurry up and check out BubbleUp Classroom!