Random Musings: On why I am withdrawing from blog tours

Have you noticed that blog tours are becoming ever more ubiquitous? Of course I get why they are a thing. While the organiser will be paid, most book bloggers review for free. By tying them into a blog tour the publisher can rely on a book being promoted across social media at a time of their choosing. Review copies sent out do not get lost amidst the ever growing piles of books to be read by reviewers. From the publisher’s point of view harnessing book bloggers, who already have an audience interested in finding their next good read, makes perfect sense.

Recently however I have cut back on my commitment to tours. Much as I remain eager to work with publishers on promoting good books, I have encountered issues that have, at times, been stressful. In this post I share some of my experiences and attempt to explain my reasons for choosing to limit my involvement in blog tours, for the time being at least.

The initial contact from a publisher’s designated organiser is an invitation to take part. Due to busy schedules these invitations are typically sent out many weeks in advance, often before the book is available to read even as an ARC. Decisions must be made based on a brief synopsis designed to sell the book.

If I agree to participate I will sometimes request author content for my stop on the tour. I will email my interview questions or ideas for a guest post within a few days of accepting the invitation, to allow time for responses to be put together. Very occasionally I agree to host content that I will receive blind. This has only been an issue for me when what was provided turned out not to be original, making me feel I may as well have hosted a link to wherever it first appeared – this is not what I want on my blog.

A good blog tour organiser will ensure a copy of the book is sent out well in advance – several weeks before the tour starts. As I require a hard copy, problems with print runs can delay this. So long as I am kept updated I will always do my best to accommodate. I have never yet missed my stop on a blog tour but am obviously happier when not reading under pressure.

As books also get lost in the post, more often than seems reasonable but this is a thing, I will chase if I don’t receive my review copy, a situation that is frustrating for everyone involved. Were I not committed to a tour non-delivery of a promised book would be an irritation but not a concern.

As the tour date approaches I look to the organiser to email a digital copy (.jpg) of the book cover, author photo and blog tour flyer. Ideally the latter will include the hashtag they wish to use. It takes time and effort to prepare any blog post and this increases if covers and author pictures must be searched for on the web where image quality and usage can be problematic.

I generally have my blog posts prepared and scheduled at least a week in advance. Receipt of any author content is required to allow for this. If I am listed on a tour flyer and have nothing to post it reflects badly on my blog. I have had to chase for content many times but have only been entirely let down once.

I have numerous examples of reviews, interviews and guest posts on my blog and assume the organiser is happy with my format and writing style or they would not have invited me to participate. I will always post honestly – integrity matters to me. I wouldn’t have accepted the book had I not expected to enjoy reading it. Nevertheless, some books disappoint and I will not pretend otherwise.

While the blog tour is running I will try to share other participant’s posts. I never share a post I have not read and lose interest if there is too much repetition across the tour. How much I share also depends on the time I have available to seek out and read. For the long blog tours – some last for weeks – I will likely only manage to share a fraction of the stops.

There have been tours where my participating post, even when positive, has been ignored by author, publisher and organiser. My fellow book bloggers are always generous in sharing content but I expect some interest from those who benefit more directly.

Some have suggested that negative reviews have no place on a blog tour and bloggers should withdraw rather than post anything but praise. Late withdrawal strikes me as reneging on an agreement. Such action would also dilute the worth of the tour. Why would a reader click on multiple posts about a book that are known to have been filtered in this way?

Whilst my enthusiasm for tours has been subdued recently the main reason I have cut back on participation is the limit it places on my flexibility to choose the books I read. By filling my schedule with agreed dates I commit myself to particular titles, most of which I have not yet received at the point of commitment.

For publishers reading this post it is worth remembering that, whether or not I am taking part in a tour for a book, if I am sent a review copy I will do my best to read it in a timely manner and then share whatever publicity it receives from multiple sources. Once I have posted my own review I will share other’s thoughts on the title, whatever they may be. I blog about books to make readers aware that they exist, to share the book love.

Do other bloggers enjoy taking part in blog tours? I love talking about books but, for now, desire greater freedom to read titles of my choosing, in an order that suits me. I am, after all, more likely to react positively to a book if it is the one I feel like reading at a given time.

Not a Million Dollar Blog

This post was written to share my experiences of blogging as part of the blog tour for Natasha Courtenay-Smith’s latest book, ‘The Million Dollar Blog’. I review the book here.

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The photo I attached to my first ever blog post.

When I started blogging I was writing posts for myself. This is probably just as well as few other people read them. As I learned to navigate my way around the blogosphere I came across others who produced similar content – thoughts on their lives, their children, their everyday experiences interacting with the world face to face. Some of these bloggers hoped to make money from their writing. Perhaps they harboured dreams of creating a million dollar blog. I had no such ambitions. That said, I did watch my stats with interest. Each new follower, each like or comment left beneath a post, gave me a warm, fuzzy glow. My words were being well received even if my readership remained small.

I started to post book reviews and realised that this was the niche I felt most comfortable in. With that realisation, my priorities changed. Now the numbers mattered more. If I was to ask publishers to send me books to review then I needed to attain a certain reach. I became more active on social media, mainly Twitter, and developed daily habits that enabled me to promote my work. I contacted a wide range of people within the book industry and noted those who were willing to offer support.

I am now at a stage where I could ask for more books than it would be possible to read. I can be choosey about the titles I accept which offers two main advantages:

  • I only ask for books I expect to enjoy, so reading remains a pleasure;
  • the reviews I write are likely to be positive which is ever so much better for me, author and publisher.

I refuse to accept ebooks, most self published works and certain genres. This is not due to snobbery. I firmly believe that every reader should be reading whatever type of book they enjoy. As my personal experience of reading these books has not been positive I avoid them. There is no pleasure in writing a negative review, even if it may be useful to other readers. I review every book I read and will always be honest in sharing my thoughts.

Much of my time on social media is now spent promoting books, although I retain a personal edge. Feeds that are little more than advertising are not interesting. I only follow those who appear real and are willing to interact.

I will share my views, and those of others, on books I have read. I am grateful to everyone who shares my posts and aim to reciprocate when they review books I have been sent. I value my place in the friendly, welcoming and generous community of book bloggers, but feel I can only offer backing for books I know personally.

As in any group of people, there is a hierarchy among book bloggers. The cool kids will be woo’d, especially by the big publishers. The mystical definition of cool is hard to define, but everyone knows who they are. Several of these people have gone on to find paid work as a result of the exposure provided by their blogs. Their trajectory is a pleasure to follow.

And I too have stepped outside the blogosphere. I have started attending more book events – readings, launches and, this year, my first literary festival. As well as being enjoyable in themselves, they give me additional material to write about, thereby keeping the content on my blog more varied and interesting.

I do need to remember though that just because an author has been lovely to me on Twitter it doesn’t mean they know who I am. That said, when I introduce myself to them at a book event and they recognise my name, I feel that I have arrived.

The Million Dollar Blog is a guide for those who wish to monetise their blog. I have no such aspirations. I write because I love books and have learned, through creating my own fiction – a useful exercise but not one I plan to pursue – how skilled the authors whose words enrich my life are. I want to support them, and those who publish their work. Blogging is how I choose to do this. By not asking for payment, other than a copy of their book, I feel able to retain my impartiality. My readers know that what I write is how I feel.

Of course, I still want my words to be read. There are many people publishing advice on line about how to attract readers; I wonder what their readership is.

New followers, days when my stats spike, these continue to give me those warm fuzzy feels. Perhaps if the slow but steady growth I enjoy stalled I would wonder why but I have no higher expectations. I suspect that book blogging is not the ideal route for those who aspire to create a million dollar blog. How lovely it would be if I were mistaken.

Do check out the other stops on this tour, detailed below.

blog-tour     milliondollarblog

‘The Million Dollar Blog’ will be published by Piatkus on 29th September 2016

 

Book publicists and bloggers

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My relationship with book publicists presents a bit of a conundrum. For an awkward, anxious, introvert like me their infectious enthusiasm can sometimes make them appear like my next best friend. Of course, they are not. They are looking at how best to promote their books and do their job. As a book blogger I can play a small part in this, but I will not necessarily be at the top of their list for ARCs. Sure, they want review quotes they can use in promotions, but ideally they want these quotes to come from widely recognised sources. What they look for from me is that I talk about their books on social media and elsewhere, post reviews on public sites, spread the word along with others to generate a buzz. If I like a book then I am happy to comply.

So, where is the conundrum? Most of the books I receive have been sent at my request. I approach many publicists accepting that my request may be ignored, particularly by the bigger houses. This is fine, they are busy people and need to get their books in front of those with the most influence. Naturally I am cheered by those who respond positively to my requests. Who doesn’t wish to feel valued?

Recently though I have found myself in a troubling place. Publicists promise me books which do not arrive. Requests placed via Bookbridgr go unfulfilled. I know that there are a limited number of review copies available so assume that my potential contribution is not regarded highly enough. This makes me sad. I see the buzz around the book and feel that I have not been invited to the party.

Over the summer I had some amazing books to read for which I am very grateful. These came from a number of sources, but I noted that books from the smaller publishing houses reminded me in particular of why I am such an avid reader. The variety of subject matter and quality of prose were unfailingly exceptional. With the big push towards Christmas approaching, and my feelings of dejection growing, I decided that I would see how I got on reading only books from these smaller presses.

As with any rules I set myself when reading, I will break them if it suits. Thus, when I had the opportunity to attend an event where Hilary Mantel was to speak I diverged from my plans to read Wolf Hall and Bring Up The Bodies. These were such great works I am glad I did. I would not wish to rule out any source.

Otherwise though, I have given this month to books from Orenda, Urbane, Salt, Galley Beggars and Arcadia. Had I been more organised I would have made requests to Cutting Edge, Cargo and Influx whose books I enjoyed so much earlier in the year. I decided that, as part of this series, I would also read a self published book or two. In the past I have accepted a few of these with mixed success. Whilst I do not doubt that there are many high quality, self published books out there, the pool is so much bigger and it can be hard to find those I will enjoy. We will see what I think of the two that I have added to my pile.

The quality of the books read to date has encouraged me to seek out other small publishers and I have been promised more titles which I hope will arrive in due course. I am still likely to request certain books from the bigger houses. ‘A Little Life’ came from Picador and was an incredible read. I would not have wished to miss ‘Purity’ which came from 4th Estate, the same press as the Mantel books.

Being sent any book to review is a privilege, especially when I am sent an advance copy and may join in the publication buzz. If I put the time and effort into reading and reviewing though, it is good to have my efforts appreciated.

What are other book bloggers recent experiences? Would anyone else care to share their thoughts?

 

 

Authors and Book Bloggers

On Friday the author and blogger, Matt Haig, tweeted

There then followed a twitter storm that lasted several days.

Some agreed with the points he subsequently made, some disagreed. There was much vehemence and a fair few hurt feelings on show. From what Matt said he also received some disturbing private messages. We all know that social media can turn nasty.

I followed the debate with interest and felt personally affronted by two strands:

  1. There was a suggestion that some book bloggers simply wish to receive free books.
  2. There was a suggestion that bloggers promote books without discernment.

I put a lot of time and effort into reading and then writing honest reviews. I do it because I love books and I want to talk about them, to share my opinions with like minded others. When I enjoy a book I want to support that author in whatever way I can.

From the discussion there was a suggestion of disparagement.

It is obviously true that writing a book takes a great deal more effort than reading it and then writing a review, but that was not the main point of this discussion.

What really grabbed my attention was the original topic, that authors do not value reviews if they are always positive, that they want to see some negative reviews of their work.

This has not been my experience so I weighed in.

I started to follow this twitter storm because personally I provide my honest opinion of a book and sometimes that is negative. Negative reviews are much harder to constructively create than positive and that effort then gets ignored. Publicists and authors are not going to promote an opinion of their book that is less than enthusiastic.

Another author came back to me with this:

 

I rarely hate a book (such a strong word) but I did empathise with the hurt. I have been there, facing up to criticism of my carefully crafted words. It does not feel good.

It is understandable that authors want the fruits of their extensive labours to be well received. To try to argue that authors want to see negative reviews though? Hmm.

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One of the books that I read recently did not impress me. The plot was compelling but a good book requires more: a captivating writing style, comprehensible structure, convincing character development, readability, realism. I gave my opinion and the review sank to the bottom of my blog.

The author subsequently released a sequel and, curious to know how the plot continued, I requested a copy for review. I was refused. Rather than ignore me the author was kind enough to explain that, as I had not appeared to enjoy the first book, she felt that I was unlikely to enjoy the second. She also provided some constructive criticism of my reviewing style which I have since taken on board.

This author saw no point in submitting a book for review if the review was likely to be negative. To me this made sense. Negative reviews are not going to be used by publicists so why provide a free book?

Another thread in the Matt Haig twitter storm discussed the fact that book bloggers only want to read books that they will enjoy.

Before reading a book a reviewer cannot know exactly what it will be like. However, from the blurb there are certain types of book that I will never request (for me these include light romance or erotica). There are plenty who choose to read these genres but I do not. Life is short. Why spend time reading a book that is unlikely to appeal in order to write a review that is likely to be negative and will therefore be ignored?

Another thread bemoaned the book bloggers who endlessly promote books. Guys, this is why we do it! If I love a book then I will shout it from the rooftops, again and again. I only truly love a handful of the dozens of books that I read but as I tend to review a lot of books by less well known authors I want to play whatever small part I can in getting them noticed by a wider audience.

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Matt sounded a little down about many of the comments made in response to his tweets. He wrote this blog post to clarify his thoughts: A blog about blogging.

At the end of the day a book review is the opinion of one reader. Writers tend to be sensitive souls who want their creations to be loved. Not all books are good, and no book is going to be considered good by everyone.

Matt, I see what you were trying to say but there was too much in this discussion that I could not agree with. Authors may want to see more negative reviews, but not it would appear of their own books.

A well written review, positive or negative, can be useful and that is why they are read. As Joanne Harris tweeted:

This is now a Liebster Blog!

Big thanks to Mel over at Featured Fiction | Prompted Writing Contests for nominating me for the Liebster Award.

the-liebster-award

In keeping with tradition, here are the rules:

1. Thank the blogger who nominated you.

2. Answer the 11 questions given to you.

3. Nominate 11 other blogs with less than 500 followers.

4. Post 11 questions for your nominees to answer.

5. Tag your nominees & post a comment on their blog to let them know you nominated them.

Mel set the following questions for her nominees to answer:

Morning or Night: Morning, but not too early please

Batman or Superman: Batman 

Pen or Keyboard: Keyboard, although I always carry a notebook and pen for ideas

Pancakes or Waffles: Pancakes if I’m making, Waffles if I’m eating

Twitter or Facebook: Twitter

Harry Potter or Lord of The Rings: Lord of the Rings

Tea or Coffee: Tea when I wake up, Coffee thereafter

Talking or Texting: Texting

Hot or cold: Hot

Books or Movies: Books

Cats or Dogs: Dogs because they are so loyal, but I am too afraid of them to own one.

To pass on this award, I nominate the following:

(note: I realise that not all of these awesome but somewhat specialist blogs will wish to take part as their readers do not want or expect posts such as this one. I nominate them because I think that my readers should pop across and check them out. Liebster means beloved, and I am trying to share the love, and point people at blogs they may not otherwise have found.)

TheLitCritGuy | Literature, Criticism & Theory – For Everyone, Everywhere.

Outmanned | When fart jokes and belching contests just aren’t enough.

Kerrie Ann Salsac | Writing for Life.

Momma Roars | TIME TO LET IT OUT.

stirlingwriter | putting thoughts on the page.

watchful creature | Fiction Writing/Advice/Chat.

Ericka Clay | AUTHOR.

Taking Words for a Stroll | Original poems for the young at heart.

fairmount | Bless your waters, bless your doubts..

gillybirds | What came first- the chickens or the blog?.

Jane Fae | A fine WordPress.com site.

For those who wish to take part, please answer the following:

  1. What is the last book that you read?
  2. Recommend a favourite book
  3. What is the last film that you watched?
  4. Recommend a favourite film
  5. Share a quote that inspires you
  6. How would you spend an ideal Sunday morning?
  7. When relaxing alone do you prefer music or silence?
  8. Have you ever learnt to play a musical instrument?
  9. If you could magically change one thing about yourself, what would you do?
  10. Where do you write?
  11. Do you have a hero and, if so, who?

Thank you for reading. Now I must go add another trophy to my sidebar…

Another award

Thank you to Gretchen over at Drifting Through My Open Mind for nominating me for the Sisterhood of the World Bloggers Award.

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These awards are a way of showing a little extra love towards other bloggers whose posts we particularly enjoy. 

In choosing to accept the award I need to tell you a few random things about myself, so here goes.

  1. In my youth I learned to play the piano, cornet, oboe and guitar, although the only instrument I took to any standard was the oboe.
  2. I worked as a volunteer on a kibbutz one summer when I was a student.
  3. I attended a U2 concert at a leisure centre in Belfast when I was 18 years old and the band were still relatively unknown. This concert included their first performance of ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’ in Northern Ireland.
  4. My teenage daughter has had one of her short stories published in a book, something that I can only dream about.
  5. Over the past three years I have lost 40 pounds in weight and put 25 pounds back on. My wardrobe contains very few smart clothes that actually fit.
  6. I have yet to read a book by Margaret Atwood that I have not enjoyed.
  7. I can perform a raggedy three ball juggle but have yet to learn how to ride the unicycle we have in our shed.

I am now supposed to nominate half a dozen or so of the blogs that I enjoy reading for this award. In my opinion, these are all worth checking out.

From Casinos To Castles

Tales from the Motherland

Stay at Home Trauma

Rattle and Pen

Banjos and Bordeaux

Glimpses of Grace

I can now display the award badge on my sidebar, a little reminder that one of my readers was kind enough to send me this virtual hug.

A year of blogging

Today is my blogging anniversary, a year to the day since I pressed publish on my first post. I am still very much a small time blogger. I have never been Freshly Pressed, never had a post published outside of WordPress. I have built up a following of just over 200 people and am grateful to each and every one of my readers for taking the time to peruse what I write. I am particularly grateful to those who like or comment on my posts, but just knowing that I am being read gives me a warm, fuzzy feeling. The positive and personal interaction that I have discovered in the blogging community has been a welcome surprise.

This will be the 266th post that I have published on neverimitate. I have also published 13 short stories on my fiction blog Dreams and Demons, which I created just over a month ago and has a mere 20 followers to date. I tend to pick up more readers for my short stories on ReadWave (zeudytigre) and Wattpad (zeudytigre), which makes me think that keeping my fiction separate to my personal blog was the right thing to do.

When I started blogging I put a link to each post on my personal Facebook page. I have since set up a separate page, Zeudytigre, that anyone interested in reading my posts can like and thereby get the links on their timeline. Although I also put links to posts on my Twitter feed (followthehens) I find self promotion tough. I want to be read but feel awkward putting myself out there.

Over the course of the year my blog has been viewed just short of 10,000 times. The most views I have ever had in a day is 222, normally this figure is a lot lower. My husband laughs at my stats. I point out that whilst it would obviously be pleasing if they were higher, they are not why I write.

My readers have come from 73 different countries and have found me via 63 different referrers, mainly search engines and links on other blogs. The most popular tags and categories have been Home and Family, no surprises there.

The biggest surprise has been how much I have enjoyed this exercise. I have written far more than I expected to and am deriving a great deal of pleasure from the creative process. Although I still tend to write whatever comes into my head on a given day, I have learned that some topics are covered much more succinctly by others. There are some very talented writers out there and I have enjoyed following their trajectory as their skills are recognised and their work published more widely.

From my own little corner of WordPress though, I will continue to write about whatever comes to mind, to join in the Blog Hops and Prompts, and to try to grow as a writer, even if I am still uncomfortable calling myself that.

My main message for today, on my first blogoversary, is thank you for reading.

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“And what, you ask, does writing teach us? First and foremost, it reminds us that we are alive and that it is a gift and a privilege, not a right.”
—Ray Bradbury 

I’m a Versatile Blogger!

Well now. I woke up this morning to discover that I have been nominated for a bloggy award.

versatile-blogger-award-trophy

Thank you so much to Swivel Freely for bestowing this honour on me. It is always lovely when people read my posts and totally delightful when they feed back to say that they have enjoyed what I write. I am feeling quite chuffed about this. I also get to display a little award button on my sidebar, can you see that? Click on the image to find out what this is all about.

Now I get to nominate fifteen blogs or bloggers that I think are excellent. Hold on tight and check these out:

1. Black. Bunched. Mass. Mom.

2. Homesick and Heatstruck.

3. The Waiting.

4. Are You Finished Yet?.

5. Not Taken, Not Available 

6. I Am Begging My Mother Not To Read This Blog 

7. Taking Words for a Stroll.

8. Momma Roars 

9. Janet’s Notebook

10. Perfection Pending 

11. The Green Study.

12. Gillybirds

13. Suzanne Askham’s Blog.

14. E.J.Kay’s blog 

15. Vernacularisms

Phew. If I haven’t linked you in up there, please don’t feel sad. There are just so many awesome bloggers to follow that I found it hard to narrow it down to fifteen.

And finally, I get to do my acceptance speech. Actually, I get to tell you seven things about me.

1. I collect teddy bears and always travel with a small bear my husband bought me early in our marriage. You can check out his Facebook page at Edward Gainsborough – Teddy Bear.

2. I have worked: on a checkout at a petrol station; as a waitress in a posh restaurant; as a cleaner at an art gallery; as a computer programmer, designer and tester.

3. I passed my driving test on my first attempt.

4. I suffer from vertigo.

5. My husband and I still live in the same house we moved into when we got married twenty-one years ago.

6. I am a practising Christian but no longer go to church.

7. I have travelled around Europe, Africa, the Middle East and Australia but have yet to visit America.

So now you know. Have an awesome day 🙂

When others speak my mind

One of the aspects of blog writing that I really enjoy is the exposure it gives me to other blog writers. Sometimes I read a post and feel as satisfied as I do after eating a good meal. To find some vague thoughts that I may have been pondering expressed clearly and succinctly is a delight.

I put together my last series of posts while thinking about Easter; what it meant to me and why. This took me a few days, but didn’t mean that I stopped thinking about other issues. It was good, therefore, to find some of these being discussed by bloggers that I follow. If you think that the topics on this list sound interesting then grab yourself a cup of your favourite beverage and read on.

How to Talk to a Skeptic About Rape Culture | Rant Against the Random

Lexicon entry: animus | Butterfly Mind

Stop Telling Women to Smile | Make Me a Sammich

I am also reproducing here a speech that I reblogged on Tumblr (followthehens) because I think that it speaks for so many who question our attitude to the current education system. However my views on the world may be tarnished by the behaviour of others, while our young people speak with this voice I have hope for the future.

‘(Erica Goldson graduated as valedictorian of Coxsackie-Athens High School. Instead of using her graduation speech to celebrate the triumph of her victory, the school, and the teachers that made it happen, she channeled her inner Ivan Illich and de-constructed the logic of a valedictorian and the whole educational system.)

There is a story of a young, but earnest Zen student who approached his teacher, and asked the Master, “If I work very hard and diligently, how long will it take for me to find Zen? The Master thought about this, then replied, “Ten years . .” The student then said, “But what if I work very, very hard and really apply myself to learn fast — How long then?” Replied the Master, “Well, twenty years.” “But, if I really, really work at it, how long then?” asked the student. “Thirty years,” replied the Master. “But, I do not understand,” said the disappointed student. “At each time that I say I will work harder, you say it will take me longer. Why do you say that?” Replied the Master, “When you have one eye on the goal, you only have one eye on the path.”

This is the dilemma I’ve faced within the American education system. We are so focused on a goal, whether it be passing a test, or graduating as first in the class. However, in this way, we do not really learn. We do whatever it takes to achieve our original objective.

Some of you may be thinking, “Well, if you pass a test, or become valedictorian, didn’t you learn something? Well, yes, you learned something, but not all that you could have. Perhaps, you only learned how to memorize names, places, and dates to later on forget in order to clear your mind for the next test.

School is not all that it can be. Right now, it is a place for most people to determine that their goal is to get out as soon as possible.

I am now accomplishing that goal. I am graduating. I should look at this as a positive experience, especially being at the top of my class. However, in retrospect, I cannot say that I am any more intelligent than my peers. I can attest that I am only the best at doing what I am told and working the system. Yet, here I stand, and I am supposed to be proud that I have completed this period of indoctrination. I will leave in the fall to go on to the next phase expected of me, in order to receive a paper document that certifies that I am capable of work. But I contest that I am a human being, a thinker, an adventurer – not a worker. A worker is someone who is trapped within repetition – a slave of the system set up before him. But now, I have successfully shown that I was the best slave. I did what I was told to the extreme. While others sat in class and doodled to later become great artists, I sat in class to take notes and become a great test-taker. While others would come to class without their homework done because they were reading about an interest of theirs, I never missed an assignment. While others were creating music and writing lyrics, I decided to do extra credit, even though I never needed it. So, I wonder, why did I even want this position? Sure, I earned it, but what will come of it? When I leave educational institutionalism, will I be successful or forever lost? I have no clue about what I want to do with my life; I have no interests because I saw every subject of study as work, and I excelled at every subject just for the purpose of excelling, not learning. And quite frankly, now I’m scared.

John Taylor Gatto, a retired school teacher and activist critical of compulsory schooling, asserts, “We could encourage the best qualities of youthfulness – curiosity, adventure, resilience, the capacity for surprising insight simply by being more flexible about time, texts, and tests, by introducing kids into truly competent adults, and by giving each student what autonomy he or she needs in order to take a risk every now and then. But we don’t do that.” Between these cinderblock walls, we are all expected to be the same. We are trained to ace every standardized test, and those who deviate and see light through a different lens are worthless to the scheme of public education, and therefore viewed with contempt.

H. L. Mencken wrote in The American Mercury for April 1924 that the aim of public education is not “to fill the young of the species with knowledge and awaken their intelligence. … Nothing could be further from the truth. The aim … is simply to reduce as many individuals as possible to the same safe level, to breed and train a standardized citizenry, to put down dissent and originality. That is its aim in the United States.”

To illustrate this idea, doesn’t it perturb you to learn about the idea of “critical thinking.” Is there really such a thing as “uncritically thinking?” To think is to process information in order to form an opinion. But if we are not critical when processing this information, are we really thinking? Or are we mindlessly accepting other opinions as truth?

This was happening to me, and if it wasn’t for the rare occurrence of an avant-garde tenth grade English teacher, Donna Bryan, who allowed me to open my mind and ask questions before accepting textbook doctrine, I would have been doomed. I am now enlightened, but my mind still feels disabled. I must retrain myself and constantly remember how insane this ostensibly sane place really is.

And now here I am in a world guided by fear, a world suppressing the uniqueness that lies inside each of us, a world where we can either acquiesce to the inhuman nonsense of corporatism and materialism or insist on change. We are not enlivened by an educational system that clandestinely sets us up for jobs that could be automated, for work that need not be done, for enslavement without fervency for meaningful achievement. We have no choices in life when money is our motivational force. Our motivational force ought to be passion, but this is lost from the moment we step into a system that trains us, rather than inspires us.

We are more than robotic bookshelves, conditioned to blurt out facts we were taught in school. We are all very special, every human on this planet is so special, so aren’t we all deserving of something better, of using our minds for innovation, rather than memorization, for creativity, rather than futile activity, for rumination rather than stagnation? We are not here to get a degree, to then get a job, so we can consume industry-approved placation after placation. There is more, and more still.

The saddest part is that the majority of students don’t have the opportunity to reflect as I did. The majority of students are put through the same brainwashing techniques in order to create a complacent labor force working in the interests of large corporations and secretive government, and worst of all, they are completely unaware of it. I will never be able to turn back these 18 years. I can’t run away to another country with an education system meant to enlighten rather than condition. This part of my life is over, and I want to make sure that no other child will have his or her potential suppressed by powers meant to exploit and control. We are human beings. We are thinkers, dreamers, explorers, artists, writers, engineers. We are anything we want to be – but only if we have an educational system that supports us rather than holds us down. A tree can grow, but only if its roots are given a healthy foundation.

For those of you out there that must continue to sit in desks and yield to the authoritarian ideologies of instructors, do not be disheartened. You still have the opportunity to stand up, ask questions, be critical, and create your own perspective. Demand a setting that will provide you with intellectual capabilities that allow you to expand your mind instead of directing it. Demand that you be interested in class. Demand that the excuse, “You have to learn this for the test” is not good enough for you.Education is an excellent tool, if used properly, but focus more on learning rather than getting good grades.

For those of you that work within the system that I am condemning, I do not mean to insult; I intend to motivate. You have the power to change the incompetencies of this system. I know that you did not become a teacher or administrator to see your students bored. You cannot accept the authority of the governing bodies that tell you what to teach, how to teach it, and that you will be punished if you do not comply. Our potential is at stake.

For those of you that are now leaving this establishment, I say, do not forget what went on in these classrooms. Do not abandon those that come after you. We are the new future and we are not going to let tradition stand. We will break down the walls of corruption to let a garden of knowledge grow throughout America. Once educated properly, we will have the power to do anything, and best of all, we will only use that power for good, for we will be cultivated and wise. We will not accept anything at face value. We will ask questions, and we will demand truth.

So, here I stand. I am not standing here as valedictorian by myself. I was molded by my environment, by all of my peers who are sitting here watching me. I couldn’t have accomplished this without all of you. It was all of you who truly made me the person I am today. It was all of you who were my competition, yet my backbone. In that way, we are all valedictorians.

I am now supposed to say farewell to this institution, those who maintain it, and those who stand with me and behind me, but I hope this farewell is more of a “see you later” when we are all working together to rear a pedagogic movement. But first, let’s go get those pieces of paper that tell us that we’re smart enough to do so!’

For those who are interested, this post also gives food for thought: School shouldn’t be about equality | The Grumpy Giraffe.

Enjoy the rest of your holiday weekend. xx

English: So called "New Matura" from...