Racial Literacy, Civil Rights, and Civic Education

Photograph of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and word art: courage, justice, nonviolence, transformation and moreWe honor the lasting legacy of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on the third Monday in January. This national holiday is particularly timely in 2021 when recent civil unrest has ripped the political and social fabric of our nation. We are now at a decision point for re-weaving the tear and moving forward together toward a more just future for all Americans.

Were he alive today, I believe Dr. King would demand that we take this opportunity to affect positive and enduring political and societal change. To that end, I join with many of our fellow citizens who call for a time of awakening and reckoning with a history of injustice in order to co-create a space for healing, envisioning, and taking action for justice.

“A democracy must be reborn anew every generation, and education is its midwife.” – John Dewey

And as John Dewey noted, education is necessary to ensure the future of a democracy. If I were in charge of the world, which I am clearly not, students would be in school today and adults would be gathered in library and community spaces to engage in civic and civil dialogue around issues of democracy and justice.

Last week, I spotlighted the upcoming Black Lives Matter at School Week of Action, February 1-5. This week, I want to share a few more resources that have awakened me in the past week.

Racial Literacy
The Ancona School is a progressive private school in New York City. Last week, the school hosted a conversation titled “Doing the Hard Work: Racial Literacy and Education, with Dr. Yolanda Sealey-Ruiz.” Dr. Sealey-Ruiz is a professor at Teachers College, Columbia University. She founded the Racial Literacy Project in 2016.

In the conversation, Dr. Sealey-Ruiz made a strong case for why racial literacy must be taught in schools. Educators can guide students in constructive conversations around race and racism and how it impacts people’s lives. Race is a social construction that can and must be understood before it can be addressed. Together, we can probe systems to dismantle systems of oppression, develop our understandings as active allies, and co-create decolonizing spaces in our schools. This seems to me to be an action Dr. King would wholeheartedly support.

Civil Rights Movement: Primary Sources and Graphic Novels
The January/February 2021 issue of Knowledge Quest includes an article by Dr. Karen Gavigan: “Journey for Justice: Helping Teens Visualize the Civil Rights Movement through Primary Sources and Graphic Novels.” In the article, Dr. Gavigan makes connections between the primary sources offered by the Library of Congress and three graphic novels: The Life of Frederick Douglass: A Graphic Narrative of a Slave’s Journey from Bondage to Freedom by David F. Walker, Damon Smyth, and Marissa Louise (Ten Speed 2018), March: Book One by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin (Top Shelf Productions 2013), and Showtime at the Apollo by Ted Fox and James Otis Smith (Abrams ComicArts 2019).

Social studies and history curricula charge students with seeking information from primary source documents. These documents engage students in accessing historically situated perspectives on past (and current) events. When school librarians and classroom teachers curate resources for students to explore, they can help young people increase their comprehension of primary sources by inviting students to read graphic novels on the topics and themes related to their study. These student-friendly texts can help deepen students’ discussions, interpretations, and meaning-making regarding historical as well as current events.

The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks
Author Jeanne Theoharis is a political science professor at Brooklyn College of City University of New York. This past week, I read selections from her full-length adult edition of The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks (Beacon Press 2013). While reading, I was once again struck by the discrepancies between the way history happens and how events are shaped and retold, particularly in resources created for youth.

Similar to every school child in the U.S., I met Rosa Parks as the quiet seamstress with aching feet who in 1955 refused to give up her seat in the “colored section” so a White person could sit down. I remember my surprise as an adult learning that Mrs. Parks had a lifelong history of civil rights activism and had, in fact, dedicated sixty years to seeking freedom and justice for herself and others. That fact was never part of the narrative I learned in school.

When reading Dr. Theoharis’ book, I finally (!) made a connection to my own K-12 education. Mrs. Parks had moved from Montgomery to Detroit in 1961 and learned that Blacks experienced segregation and discrimination as virulent in the North as she had known in the South. In 1964, Mrs. Parks joined Detroit-area Congressional candidate John Conyer’s “Jobs, Justice, Peace” campaign. Mrs. Parks convinced Dr. King to come to Detroit to speak and endorse Conyer’s campaign. Conyer’s was elected and served in Congress from 1965 – 2017. (He was the longest serving Black representative and also one of thirteen co-founders of the Congressional Black Caucus.)

My family moved to the Detroit-area in 1964. I attended high school in a Detroit suburb at the same time Mrs. Parks was an activist working for freedom in the city. What struck me while reading about Rosa Parks’ work in Detroit is that I cannot remember a single high school history teacher (1965-1968) ever suggesting that my all-White classmates and I make the connection between the Rosa Parks we learned about in elementary school with the courageous woman who was dedicating her life, at that very time, to social justice work in our own city.

I look forward to reading the middle grade version of The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks co-authored by Brandy Colbert and Dr. Theoharis that is now available from Beacon Press (2021). The book is part of a ReVisioning History for Young People series.

Yes! to “ReVisioning” history!

Civic Education
In the past year, many educators across the U.S. have been considering and reconsidering how we teach civic education in our K-12 schools, colleges, and universities. It is clear that youth (and adults) need:

  • to hear an unambiguous message about the critical importance of voting in a participatory democracy and a clear understanding of the electoral process;
  • to know the provisions of the First Amendment and be able to make a distinction between free speech and hate speech;
  • to know how to engage in civil dialogue and learn to have respectful conversations about controversial topics;
  • to know and yes, experience peaceful protest and learn multiple ways to positively and nonviolently enact change in our classrooms, schools, and communities.

For the sake of our students and our nation and to honor of Dr. King, educators, let’s be the midwives who attend the birth – rebirth – of democracy in this generation and the next.

Image Credit
Hain, John. “Non-violence, peace, transformation.” Pixabay.com, https://pixabay.com/illustrations/non-violence-peace-transformation-1160132/

Black Lives Matter at School Week of Action February 1–5, 2021

Wage justice. Wage Peace. Black Lives Matter at School Week of Action: February 1-5, 2021Dear Colleagues,
Considering historical as well as events of the past year and most shockingly this past week, I believe it behooves all school librarians to collaborate with classroom educators to confront racial injustice. The Black Lives Matter at School Week is being held the first week of Black History Month, February 1-5, 2021. This is an opportune time to co-design curriculum for the unique students in your school.

Black Lives Matter at School
#BLMatSchool is a national coalition of “educators, students, parents, families, community members fighting for racial justice in school!” You can follow them on Twitter or access their website. You can contribute to the network by posting what you’re doing in your school/community to achieve racial justice.

Founded in 2016, #BLMatSchool has designated the first week of February as their week of action. On their website, educators, students, and supporters will find a “starter kit,” 13 principles, “The Demands,” and curriculum resources.

The 13 guiding principles are described on the site. “The Demands” are intended to ensure safety and equity in schools:

  1. End “zero tolerance” discipline, and implement restorative justice
  2. Hire more Black teachers
  3. Mandate Black history and ethnic studies in K-12 curriculum
  4. Fund counselors not cops

Allyship
Since our education and library professions are predominately White, Black educators, students, families, and administrators need White allies who will work alongside them to achieve these demands. As allies, we must have a mindset that doing this work is not for our Black colleagues and students but is an essential part of our own liberation from White privilege and racial injustice.

To learn more about allyship, please read the “How to Be an Ally” article on the Teaching Tolerance.org website.

The Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development has published another helpful set of resources for educators leading discussions with students about politics, civic engagement, and uncertainty.

These articles may be a place to begin your curriculum conversation with your instructional partners, grade-level or disciplinary teams, or at the whole-school level.

Curriculum Resources for Your Consideration from #BLMatSchool
Freedom Reads is a video series designed to help parents and teachers select children’s books through a multicultural, social justice lens at SocialJusticeBooks.org.

They have published lessons for online use from their Second Annual Teach Central America Week and the Civil Rights Teaching website.

The Zinn Education Project (with Rethinking Schools)  hosted an online teaching series on Teaching the Black Freedom Struggle.

Additional Resources
As librarians and educators, we know that responding to children’s and young adult literature can create a context for exploring deeply personal as well as universal themes. Skilled educators, who listen, ask thought-provoking questions, and display empathy can create the necessary open and safe spaces for these conversations. Combined with the participation of trustworthy peers, students can explore essential truths about our nation’s history and current culture and express their hopes and willingness to work for a just and peaceful future.

On my wiki, I have organized resources to support your curriculum development: https://tinyurl.com/jmBLMatSchool

  1. Virtual Book Discussions and Programming

2. Downloadable Book Head Heart Literature Circle Discussion Guide (adapted from Beers and Probst, 2017).

3. Links to Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Books and Resources

In addition, the American Library Association offers Black History Month Graphics, including bookmarks and posters with messages and quotes to frame your curriculum.

Hard Conversations
School librarians can be leaders when we create spaces for students and educators to engage in difficult conversations. I hope you and one or more of your colleagues will make time to design a thoughtful, respectful, and unifying curriculum to involve students in taking action during Black Lives Matter at School Week of Action. I also hope you will share your work on their website.

Wage justice. Wage peace.

Launching the New Year with Inquiry Learning

Welcome to School Librarian Leadership 2021!

On this blog, I share research and musings, news and views with the hopes of prompting critical thinking regarding coteaching and collaboration between school librarians, classroom teachers, specialists, school administrators, and others involved in deeper learning and effective teaching.

A Dialogue Centered on Inquiry Learning

Screenshot of Judi Moreillon and Barbara StriplingLast month, I had the pleasure of participating in an interview with long-time friend and colleague Barbara Stripling. In addition to writing for School Library Connection (SLC) magazine, Barb is engaged in collecting video interviews to share on the SLC website. Over our years in school librarianship, Barb’s path and mine have intersected many times. We have many beliefs, values, and recommended practices in school librarianship in common, but inquiry learning may be the thread that connects all of them.

Student Motivation and Inquiry: A Conversation
In my experience, inquiry is a pathway that leads directly to deeper learning. When students ask personally meaningful questions that are relevant to their own lives, they are motivated to learn and will be invested in their learning outcomes. When students practice agency, they grow as independent thinkers, active participants, and knowledge contributors who express curiosity, demonstrate persistence, and build the foundation for lifelong learning.

“In this video, educators Barbara Stripling and Judi Moreillon discuss ways to motivate students and help them engage in deeper inquiry. As Moreillon points out, it’s not easy: ‘Today, students, and all of us adults, we want things to be quick and easy, and inquiry is anything but quick and easy. It’s messy. It takes commitment. It takes work. So, motivating people of all ages to ask questions and pursue knowledge and facts can be challenging.’ Both Moreillon and Stripling have risen to this challenge, and share their insights here (in this video)” (2020).

The video will be freely available until January 31, 2021 and then will be accessible to SLC subscription holders. Barb and I invite you to view the video and share your questions and comments here on my blog.

Connecting Research and Practice
As both a practitioner and a researcher who writes for practicing school librarians as well as school librarianship educators and researchers, I am always looking to make connections between research and practice. Coincidentally and also in December, Edutopia published an article by Youki Terada and Stephen Merrill, in which they list and provide abstracts for the “10 Most Significant Education Studies in 2020.”

Although I recommend practicing school librarians review all ten of these studies, there was one on the list that directly supports making inquiry learning a top priority in our teaching: “Students Who Generate Good Questions Are Better Learners.” It’s number six on Terada and Merrill’s list.

Although this study was conducted at the university level, the results and recommendations can be applied from kindergarten through twelfth grade. Students who participated in the study scored an average of 14 percentage points higher on a test than students who studied their notes or reread classroom material. “Creating questions, the researchers found, not only encouraged students to think more deeply about the topic but also strengthened their ability to remember what they were studying” (Ebersbach, Feierabend, and Nazari 2020).

Having engaged graduate level students in inquiry learning, I have learned that far too many students get to higher education without ever having had the opportunity to engage in inquiry learning. They do not even know the term or what inquiry entails. Far too many have only had experiences of teacher-led research projects that involved them in answering the teacher’s or the textbook’s questions and writing a report that simply restated the “facts.” While many of these students have been “successful” as compliant learners, they have not developed a passion for discovery and have not experienced all of the joys and challenges of the learning journey.

In my humble opinion, these students have not been prepared for life. Students should have inquiry experiences beginning in the early grades that set an expectation for student-led learning (See Edutopia’s video: “Inquiry-Based Learning: From Teacher-Guided to Student-Driven” – Ralston Elementary School is creating a culture of inquiry to nourish 21st-century learners.)

Launching 2021 with Inquiry Learning
School librarians and other educators can reach their goal of developing lifelong learners through guiding students in the inquiry process until youth are able to design their own learning process and pursue a question independently. Through classroom-library collaboration for instruction, educators can ensure that all K-12 students experience the competence, autonomy, and relevance that inquiry learning affords (see 11/30/20 Inquiry Connections blog post).

Let’s position our school libraries as hubs for inquiry learning. Let’s build instructional partnerships with classroom educators and spread the inquiry model in every classroom at every grade level and in every discipline in our schools.

Now that’s one high-impact 2021 New Year’s Resolution!

Works Cited

Ebersbach, Mirjam, Maike Feierabend, and Katharina Barzagar B. Nazari. 2020. “Comparing the Effects of Generating Questions, Testing, and Restudying on Students’ Long-term Recall in University Learning.” Wiley Online Library. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/acp.3639

Stripling, Barbara K., and Judi Moreillon. 2020. “Student Motivation and Inquiry [19:18].” School Library Connection, December, https://schoollibraryconnection.com/Home/Display/2259724?topicCenterId=2252404

Terada, Youki, and Stephen Merrill. 2020. “The 10 Most Significant Education Studies of 2020.” Edutopia.org, December 4, https://www.edutopia.org/article/10-most-significant-education-studies-2020