My eighth graders and I were preparing to begin a genre study of dystopian novels. To balance the darker tone of some of the novels, we kicked off the unit with Ray Bradbury’s “The Toynbee Convector.” In this story a time traveler, leaving his despairing world of war, pollution, and certain annihilation, returns from his voyage one hundred years in the future, bearing videos and artifacts showing that disaster has been averted and the future world is pristine and at peace. On the one hundredth anniversary of his trip, in a world where the foretold salvation has come true, the time traveler waits with a journalist for the appearance of his time traveling self. As the time for his appearance comes and goes, the time traveler confesses that his trip was a hoax; a hoax that gave the people of the world the confidence and optimism that they could prevail. And so they did.
In the current education climate, it is difficult not to despair. We are challenged with the debilitating effects of partisan politics; demoralizing teacher evaluations based on test scores published in newspapers; the misplaced metaphor of learning as a race; the effects of poverty, global competition, underfunding and overtesting; the diminished regard for the work we do; and escalating college costs that will bankrupt the future of many of our students. Dystopia, indeed.
My Toynbee Convector is the NCTE Annual Convention; it is my ride into the education world as it should be. My first glimpse into its magic was the San Diego Convention in 1995. I went by myself, not knowing anyone. But I was not solitary. Impossible to be solitary in a session with both Linda Rief and Nancie Atwell. The waiting crowd was so large we had to move herdlike, with good-humored camaraderie to a larger ballroom. At the ALAN breakfast I heard Chris Crutcher reading from a draft of Whale Talk and was so moved that I sat in a rose garden and, sobbing, finished Chinese Handcuffs, feeling a vicarious personal connection with Chris. I breathed the same air as Katherine Paterson and Sandra Cisneros. I was dazzled by the exhibits, star-struck by authors, raised up by passionate practice. In sessions I sat next to a statistically improbable number of other eighth grade teachers, strangers at the session’s beginning but changed forever by the stories we traded. I met kindred spirits and found my professional home.
True, our home is not a utopia. But neither is it constricted to “the real world.” In reading through the mountain of session proposals, I realized that NCTE members share a kind of double vision with Bradbury’s time traveler: we have the capacity to see things not only as they are but also as they could be. We aspire to change our world by embracing complexity, considering research, collaborating, working hard, and stretching toward an ideal. We all, both newcomers and long-comers, will be ignited by this fusion of vision and reality that enriches the convention program. I would like to thank all the convention reviewers and planners, the presenters, the speakers, the authors, the exhibiters, the sponsors, the members of the local committee, and the NCTE staff for connecting the best of our practice with the dreams of our profession, igniting our confidence and optimism as we return to our offices and classrooms. If this is your first Convention, and you came by yourself, find me. I’d love to share your inaugural voyage. And for you, as well as for all attendees, I am confident that what happens in Vegas will not stay in Vegas.
Program Chair, Sandy Hayes