Think back to your favorite childhood book. What do you remember most? The colorful illustrations, the bouncy rhymes, or the thinly-veiled social commentary? If you think the last one is a bit of a stretch, take a class from Ryan Kerr.
Kerr, associate professor I of English and English instructional coordinator, loves to talk about children’s literature. “The literature and messaging that shapes us as children carries through to influence our entire lives—our relationships, our politics, our very understanding of ourselves,” says Kerr.
Whether it’s fairy tales or the Harry Potter series, Kerr says we should take a second look at these stories. Kerr challenges his students to think more critically about the values taught the stories we share (and don’t share) with children because it forms their earliest outlook on the world.
Read on to discover more about this self-proclaimed ‘unabashed nerd’:
In your words, what do you do at ECC? What do you want others to know about your job? Or what would help others understand your job?
I am primarily a professor of English composition, so my main work is helping students learn to refine their control of written language. I also teach a Children’s Literature class. Since that is a less-well-known class, I would say this about the course. My goal is to get students to deeply analyze the books, movies, culture, and other texts we as adults impose on children to understand both how our literature for children shapes childhood and how our attitudes about childhood shape literature for children.
What is your greatest accomplishment since you’ve been at ECC?
Most of my accomplishments have been as part of a team, so I will share a moment that really showed me I had accomplished something in the classroom. At graduation this past December, I completed my regular circuit around the reception to congratulate former students. One set of sisters, both former students, were so excited to see me and called over their parents, saying, “Mom and Dad, this is Ryan!” I strongly encourage other faculty to attend graduation: both for the students, but also as a way to remind us why we teach.
Name a job or role at ECC that you would like to try for one day and explain why.
I’d like to run the archives in the library. I’ve been in the archives once, and it was fascinating. The library does great work.
If you could instantly be an expert in one thing, what would you choose?
Speaking Spanish—Duolingo is not cutting it for me (or, rather, I’m not cutting it for Duolingo).
What do you enjoy doing outside of work (i.e., hobbies/interests)?
I’m an unabashed English major nerd married to an unabashed English major nerd and raising unabashed nerds, so I enjoy reading/watching and endlessly dissecting Star Wars, Harry Potter, and other such media with my family. (Editors note: 'Lumos' is a spell from Harry Potter that creates light, hence the article title)
If you could live in a TV show, which show would it be and why?
Mystery Science Theater 3000 since that is basically how I watch movies now.
Where is the best place you’ve traveled? Or where would you like to visit?
I’d love to make it to England. My wife and I are hoping to live long enough to visit in 2066 for the 1000th anniversary of the Battle of Hastings (again, English majors).
You have to wear a t-shirt with just one word on it for an entire year. What would that word be, and why?
Act. People are often frozen into inaction in the face of injustice. The only way to change inequities in our society is to continually act upon our convictions and work to make sure our actions are, in fact, in line with our ideals.
Share a fact about you that might surprise people to learn.
Since childhood, I have struggled with reading. I read incredibly slowly as a child and young adult, and even now, I read more slowly than I would like. I tell students this: if I could get degrees in English of all things, they too have it in them to persevere through long and difficult readings. I want to give them the support to grow. I believe in students’ abilities to succeed in English because I was never a natural at literacy, but hard work can pay off.
What job have you held (besides ECC) that was the most fun, interesting, or difficult? Explain why.
I helped coach a high school speech team while I was in college. That was fun and really served as a foundation for my life as an educator.
Name someone you admire and explain why.
Robin DiAngelo. She is the author of White Fragility, an essential book that challenges people to acknowledge their own privileges and prejudice. I admire her as a white anti-racist because she works so hard to help uproot a social system that personally benefits her. I try to emulate her and continue my own journey toward challenging the problems of our culture by first acknowledging and grappling with my own privileged position in it.
What was your most valuable life lesson?
The only way to personal growth and self-actualization is through never-ending reflection: reflection on the impact (more so than the intention) of our actions, reflection on our position relative to others, and reflection on what we are doing to contribute to the betterment of the world around us, through whatever big or small influence we have.
Complete this sentence: “I enjoy working at ECC because … “
Of my fervent belief that the work of public educators can be transformational for our students and society, and we need to work to fulfill that potential continually.