Professional Book Review: Lift Us Up, Don’t Push Us Out!

Image: red heart with justice scales, held by two black handsThis week, August 3rd – 7th, I’m participating in the Racial Justice Challenge. Perhaps you are participating too. Each day, for five days, I’ll receive an email with several tasks designed to learn, listen, share, and take action regarding race, racism, and antiracism. Along with other participants, I will explore how to be antiracist (versus “not racist”), move beyond a single story, examine issues of race in the media, and design a personalized racial justice plan.

I will be participating with a preK-12 educator lens and with an eye for how school librarians can be instrumental in antiracist activism. I look forward to reporting my learning in next week’s blog post.

As part of my preparation, I read essays from Lift Us Up, Don’t Push Us Out! Voices from the Front Lines of the Educational Justice Movement by Mark R. Warren (2018). I was unaware of the book when it was published and am so grateful to the contributors for sharing their experiences in striving for and achieving social justice in schools. You can also access an interview related to #LiftUsUpDontPushUsOut.

The book is divided into four sections. While all of the essays are worth reading, I’m sharing my response to four focused on race and ethnicity.

Part One: Building the Power for Change: Parent, Youth, and Community Organizers
“Speaking Up and Walking Out: Boston Students Fight for Education Justice” was written by Carlos Rojas and Glorya Wornum. Each author tells their first-person story about why and how they became involved with Youth on Board (YoB). Glorya shares how, beginning in 8th-grade, she experienced discrimination and suspensions as a Black student who asked too many questions and looked for family among angry peers. She found “positive energy among angry people” (21) through YoB. She learned how to express strong emotions in a productive way, ask questions respectfully, and lead change. Carlos shares how his life changed when he could say aloud: “I’m undocumented and unafraid.”

Both of these young people were leaders on the “Code of Conduct Advisory Committee” that help change punitive disciplinary practices to restorative justice interventions in their school, their district, and later via legislation that impacts students throughout Massachusetts. They were also involved in creating an app to help students, educators, and parents know their rights and responsibilities. They helped organize student walkouts when the Boston mayor threatened to cut school budgets that resulted in funds being restored.

Carlos and Glorya’s message: Put young people’s experiences, voices, and solutions at the center of educational social justice. While reading their essay, I made strong connections with the young activist life of Representative John Lewis. When educators make a space for student organizing, students can experience agency and advocacy that can carry them and our society forward throughout their lives.

Part Two – Broadening the Movement: Building Alliances for Systemic Change
Last month, I participated in a webinar with Diane Ravitch and Jitu Brown. (It was through that webinar that I learned of this book.) Jitu contributes an essay called “#FightforDyett: Fighting Back Against School Closings and the Journey for Justice.” He tells how school closures in Black and Brown neighborhoods increase class sizes, undermine community cohesion, and price people out of homes with the resulting gentrification. He shares how their advocacy coalition proved in court that closing schools attended by students of color is an act of racial discrimination when small schools in White neighborhoods are allowed to remain intact.

In his essay, Jitu shares how students and multiracial community organizations came together to fight the closure of Dyett High School on Chicago’s southside, a predominantly Black neighborhood. He tells how the community, led by two high school students, engaged in civil disobedience and captured the attention of the national media after the mayor announced the school would reopen as a charter school. This was unacceptable to the community; they presented their vision for a technology and arts curricular focus for their school. As the result of a hunger strike, the community succeeded in keeping the school open and are still working to see their vision come to full fruition.

Jitu’s story and work connect strongly to the challenges we face where I live in Arizona. The proliferation of charter schools has negatively impacted Tucson Unified School District (TUSD), our largest local district. Like CPS and TUSD, large urban school districts struggle to serve all students in their immediate neighborhoods when students are recruited to taxpayer-funded charters thereby reducing enrollment and funding in district public schools. Similar to the situation at Dyett, predominantly Latinx families in the Wakefield Middle School service area organized and have succeeded in reopening and revitalizing a school that was shuttered for under enrollment.

Jitu’s Message: Multiracial coalitions must be rooted in the self-determination of people of colore in order to build powerful movements that win for Black people as well as others impacted by injustice.

Part Three – Educators for Justice Movement Building in Schools, School Systems, and Universities
Sally Lee and Elana “E.M.” Eisen-Markowitz contributed the “Teachers Unite! Organizing School Communities for Transformative Justice” essay in this section. Sally is a founding organizer of New York City Public Schools’ Teachers Unite, a teachers’ organization with a “mission to organize democratic school chapters under the principles of equity, voice, diversity, and action, with an eye toward changing society and building a center for radical teacher organizing” (94).

In 2008, TU co-published Teachers Talk: School Culture, Safety, and Human Rights along with the National Economic and Social Rights Initiative. TU also was involved in creating a documentary film and toolkit called Growing Fairness focused on restorative justice and resisting the racist criminalization of students, in particular.

In the essay, Sally and E.M. discuss the critical importance of a “relational approach” to organizing. This quote jumped off the page at me: “in a functioning democracy, we must slowly build consensus among diverse individuals around core values in order to transform culture” (95). This work must be done locally at each school site where all school stakeholders can lead educational justice guided by the principles of democracy and equity.

Sally and E.M.’s message: “I have seen and felt how schools can be sites of trauma and oppression as well as meaningful growth and change” (97). Let’s join them in working together to advocate and enact growth and change.

Part Four – Intersectional Organizing: Linking Social Movements to Educational Justice
In “The Same Struggle: Immigrant Rights and Educational Justice,” activist researcher and educator José Calderón begins his piece by sharing how, as a new college graduate, he joined the farmworkers movement after hearing César Chávez speak. After returning to his hometown in Colorado, José shares how he supported parents of English language learner immigrant students in marching for and succeeding in instituting bilingual education in the county. He came to understand the connection between immigrant rights and educational justice.

After earning his PhD., José joined with others in fighting English-only education as both a researcher and activist. He has also joined with various coalitions and conducted research related to voting rights, street violence, and advancing community schools. He makes a strong case for the positive outcomes of his work as an activist scholar.

José’s message: By following César Chávez’s principle of living one’s life in the service of others and forming mutually beneficial partnerships, we can look back on our lives and say that we have made meaningful contributions to improving the world.

Transforming School Culture
While I wish I had read these essays in 2018 when the book was published, I was inspired by reading them now in this time of civil unrest and conscientization with the potential of educational transformation. This reading also came to me as I work with seventeen contributors to finalize our book manuscript related to core values in school librarianship–absolutely perfect timing.

Thank you to all of the Lift Us Up, Don’t Push Us Out! contributors.

Work Cited
Warren, Mark R. 2018. Lift Us Up, Don’t Push Us Out! Voices from the Front Lines of the Educational Justice Movement. Boston: Beacon Press.

Image Credit
GDJ. “Heart Love Passion Peace Sign.” Pixabay.com, https://pixabay.com/vectors/heart-love-passion-peace-sign-2028061

School Librarians and Election 2020

Image by Doug Cushman: Vote: Make Your Voice Heard #VoteOrTheyWin - mouse speaking forcefully to a lionAs of yesterday, it is 100 days until our national election will be held. The 2020 election provides an opportunity for educators to co-plan and co-teach lessons related to voting in our democracy. As school librarians think about the kinds of inquiry projects, they will plan in collaboration with classroom teachers, I hope civic education will be high on their list of proposals.

Whether face to face or remotely working with civics, history, and social studies educators, secondary school librarians can help students make sense of another aspect of our collective lives this fall—electoral politics! Elementary school librarians can also reach out to classroom teachers who bring current events into the social studies curriculum. And all school librarians can collaborate in the area of English language arts as students write about and present their understandings related to gathering information for civic decision-making and voting in a participatory democracy.

“School Librarians Can Save Democracy”
Last week, I viewed the archive of Michelle Luhtala’s EdWeb webinar called “School Librarians Can Save Democracy.” I appreciate that archives of her more than 100 webinars are available from EdWeb.

If you don’t yet know her work, Michelle is the library department chair at New Canaan High School in New Canaan, Connecticut. I highly recommend Michelle’s webinars. This one in particular is perfectly timed as school librarians are considering how they can collaborate with classroom teachers when school resumes—whether face to face or virtually. (She is offering a follow-up webinar on this topic in September.)

These are my brief takeaways from Michelle’s presentation and resources, which are mostly geared to secondary and college-level students.

Problems:

  • There is a perception that democracy is in jeopardy.
  • Most young adults use social media to access news information.
  • Most people respond emotionally to the news.

Solutions:

  • Promote inquiry and teach young people to think critically.
  • Read with their/our brains not their/our feelings.
  • Cultivate news literacy.

This is Michelle’s News Literacy 2020 link with the supporting resources she provided.

Dear Arizona Voter Writing Contest
Michelle’s presentation and resources make a connection to a project the Teacher Librarian Division of the Arizona Library Association is promoting this fall. We field tested the “Dear Arizona Voter Writing Contest” (DAVWC) in Fall, 2018 and are rolling it out again this year. We are hoping that more school librarians from across the state will participate. And we invite you do to something similar in your community.

DAVWC offers a way for young people to learn more about voting and express their understandings of its importance. Students’ writing can be in any genre—essays, poetry, song lyrics, letters to the editor, opinion pieces—and can be presented in traditional written format or with multimedia tools and multimodal texts.

In the DAVWC Google folder, TLD has provided a selection of resources to teach students about voting that may be most appropriate in upper elementary through high school. Other documents include a sample cover letter to classroom teachers or administrators, fast facts about school libraries, an editable certificate of participation, and the names of current state-level legislators who serve on the Arizona Senate and House Education Committees.

The folder also includes an example with photographs from 2018 provided by Melody Holehan-Kopas. At the time, Melody was the teacher librarian at Norterra Canyon School. She collaborated with 7th-grade humanities classroom teacher Kate Eastburn to coteach this unit.

This is the link to the publicly accessible DAVWC Google folder.

With the passing of Representative John Lewis, civil rights leader and tireless champion for voting rights, this inquiry is particularly timely. Creating opportunities for students to think critically about our democracy is now more important than ever. The civil unrest and protests that continue as I write this blog post call us to help empowered future voters prepare to take action—to learn to speak truth to power through critical thinking and knowledge.

Protecting and exercising the right to vote is fundamental. The voting booth is one way to have our voices heard!

Image Credit
Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators’ member Doug Cushman provided this copyright-free image to SCBWI members in 2018. (I am one.)

School Librarian Advocacy in the Time of the Coronavirus

These are uncertain times for many school librarians across the U.S. This summer, some are fighting to keep their positions even though they went the extra mile to support students, classroom teachers, administrators, and parents during the COVID-19 spring school closures. Others are fighting to restore school librarian positions because some decision-makers have come to the understanding that the pandemic and equity/social justice require all hands on deck and that school librarians have an essential role to play in education whether learning and teaching are conducted face to face or remotely this fall.

Megaphone with School Librarian Advocacy Text

It is in this climate that advocacy for our profession is most especially welcome. And this past week, we had Virginia Spatz from CommunityUnderCovid.com (Community thru Covid) to thank for that.

Ms. Spatz conducted an interview with Elizabeth Davis, President of the Washington, D.C. Teachers Union and Kathy Carroll, President of the American Association of School Librarians. These three leaders discussed the role of school librarians on “Wednesday Act Radio.”

This is the link to the entire broadcast and this is the link to the piece with the exchange between Elizabeth Davis and Kathy Carroll (with thanks to K.C. Boyd and Debra Kachel for sharing this information on ALA Connect.)

Take-Aways
I listened to the latter and these were a few of my take-aways:

Ms. Davis gave a huge shout-out to D.C. school librarians for stepping up to the plate to help the Washington Teachers Union make the case for restoring and maintaining school librarian positions. All school librarians should have steadfast advocates like Ms. Davis. See background information below.

Ms. Davis also noted that when every D.C. school faculty includes a librarian, they must be allowed to focus on professional work; they must not be asked to do odd jobs like custodial work or “duties as assigned.”

The D.C. school librarians were proactive in aligning their work with district priorities and with standards. By advocating for school libraries and their positions, they were had a seat at the table and were able to garner advocates among the union leaders.

AASL President Kathy Carroll is an articulate and effective spokesperson for AASL’s support for professional school librarians. (AASL has supported this effort by the D.C. librarians.)

Ms. Carroll also noted the many ways school librarians supported remote learning during the spring 2020 school closures. She emphasized how the work of school librarians helps educators, administrators, and families reach their goals for youth.

Both Kathy and Elizabeth noted that listeners must vote for decision-makers who support equity in public education and library services, and school librarians for all, in particular.

The Best for Last – Gratitude and the ASK
Ms. Carroll was genuinely appreciative of Ms. Spatz for conducting the interview and for Ms. Davis’s understanding of the critical need for D.C. school librarians and her exemplary advocacy on their behalf. Kathy’s sincere gratitude was a positive way to conclude the conversation…

But Ms. Davis squeezed in the last word. She did what all advocacy campaigns must do. She made the “ask.”

She gave listeners the phone number of the Washington, D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson. She asked that everyone phone Mr. Mendelson and ask him for the necessary funds to adequately address the needs of D.C. students and schools, including providing funding for school librarians.

Chairman Mendelson’s number is: 202.724.8032

I made that call this morning. What about you?

Image Credit

Tumisu. “Megaphone Loud Scream,” Pixabay.com. https://pixabay.com/illustrations/megaphone-loud-scream-loudspeaker-911858/

Background information: EveryLibrary.org through SaveSchoolLibrarians.org worked with the D.C. school librarians to advocate by collecting signatures on an online petition. This effort was part of the political pressure placed on D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser who increased the 2020-21 public education budget 3% or $70M, creating an opportunity for the Washington Teachers Union to seek restoring and maintaining school librarian positions as part of their negotiations. Read the Washington Post article.

Compassion and Wisdom for Activists

Black Hands Holding a Heart Containing the Scales of JusticeIn lieu of my blog post today, I am asking School Librarian Leadership.com readers/subscribers and members of the Maximizing School Librarian Leadership Facebook group to read President Barack Obama’s support for activists/activism and strategies for moving forward from here toward social justice.

How to Make this Moment the Turning Point for Real Change”

Thank you, President Obama, and for everyone who is working toward peace and justice.

Sincerely,
Judi

Late addition to this post: Karen Jensen @TLT16 posted a collection of powerful resources on SLJ’s Teen Librarian Toolbox today: “Because Black Lives Matter, a Collection of Anti-Racist Reading Lists.”

Image Credit:

GJD. “Heart Love Passion Peace Sign.” Pixabay.com, https://pixabay.com/vectors/heart-love-passion-peace-sign-2028061

100% Online K12 Learning

"We Miss You" Photograph of the Marquee at Collier Elementary School, Tucson, Arizona

Educators and education decision-makers are currently engaged in an unplanned experiment in online learning. The inequity of access to broadband and technology devices that many educators and students have experienced since the Internet came to school has been exposed and finally, one would hope, cannot be denied. Educators and students have struggled for years with the push for the “flipped classroom,” a hybrid of face-to-face and online learning, when far too many young people have not had the ability to access online resources outside of their school buildings.

But those of us on the “inside” know that broadband and devices are far from the only inequities that undermine student learning in 2020.

Like many of us who have been in the teaching profession for decades, I have been wondering and feeling concerned about how school closures are affecting student learning today and will affect learning and teaching in the future. Last week, Nancy E. Bailey posted “Reimagining Teacher Appreciation in 2020: Pushback on the Takeover of America’s School.”

Her article prompted me to post a link to her article on five Facebook Groups commonly followed by school librarians. In addition to the link, I posed this question: “Would 100% of your students (and families) thrive with 100% online K-12 learning?” This question netted 72 comments in two days. One response questioned the political nature of Nancy’s blog post and 71 replied “no” or commented about the specific ways that their students are not being served today and will not be served by 100% online learning in the future.

Learning from Home
In addition to access to individual (or equitably shared) technology devices and high-speed Internet, there are many other socioeconomic and family-specific factors that can support or hinder a student’s ability to succeed online. Here are a few:

  • Food security;
  • Healthcare access;
  • Adults’ work schedules or how losing one or more jobs has affected the family;
  • Older (responsible) siblings and adults available to support students during the times they are expected to be online;
  • Functioning relationships among all family members;
  • Older siblings’ or adults’ ability to support student learning in terms of background knowledge, language competence, and cognitive abilities;
  • Older siblings’ or adults’ ability to provide support for children with special needs;
  • Older siblings’ or adults’ willingness to maintain the routines needed for a supportive learning environment.

Of course, all of these factors were at play when students were coming into school buildings to learn, but they are and will continued to be heightened factors if learning becomes an 100% online endeavor.

Note: Please take a minute or two to read the mother’s response to Nancy’s post, number one in queue.

What Schools Provide
Schools provide a safety net for many children and teens. The pandemic should have made all U.S. adults aware of the social services our district public schools provide far beyond their academic mission and specific curriculum standards-based outcomes. Many schools provide students breakfast, lunch, and supper as well as meals over the summer. Proper nutrition reduces absenteeism and makes a difference in students’ ability to concentrate and learn. No hungry child should be expected to learn on an empty stomach.

Schools provide healthcare services, especially for families who lack sufficient medical coverage. School nurses not only apply band-aids but diagnose common childhood illnesses and refer children and families to free or low-cost providers. Educators, including counselors, notice when youth show signs of emotional stress or emotional or physical abuse. They provide support, referrals, or enact their reporting responsibilities as each child’s needs warrant.

The most effective schools expand and enrich student learning. In addition to classroom learning, those schools provide well-stocked libraries staffed by state-certified school librarians. Librarians connect students with literature that meets their individual reading as well as their academic needs. Librarians integrate the resources of the library into the classroom curriculum; they are literacy teaching partners with classroom teachers. Effective elementary schools also provide music, art, and physical education—each taught by educators with expertise in their subject area as well as child development. Secondary schools provide dance, drama, choir, orchestra, band, and more.

Learning Is Social
When students and educators are together in a classroom, library, or lab, or on the athletic field face to face and in real time, they learn with and from one another in ways that are not quantifiable on standardized tests. Social Emotional Learning (or SEL) has been a focus in many schools and districts for more than a decade. SEL is “the process through which children and adults understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions” (CASEL). For some, parents may be providing support for developing SEL in students’ homes; for others, the school environment may be better suited to this responsibility.

Schools educate the whole child. Students develop their interests and spark their passions in clubs, on sports teams, and by participating in service projects facilitated by educators and coaches. These activities provide hands-on experience in collaborating with others, working toward goals as team players, and expanding their view of post-K12 graduation possibilities. These activities prepare youth for succeeding in the workplace, building strong families, and growing their communities; they prepare young people for life.

In the most effective learning environments, students learn with classmates from diverse backgrounds and with different abilities; they have the opportunity to build understanding and empathy for others. Educators have the opportunity to model and teach respectful, civil discourse through planned discussions and spontaneous conversations that engage students in deeper learning. Turning and facing a classmate or an educator during a conversation is not the same as seeing that person’s face in a thumbnail on a computer screen. In schools, students prepare to be informed and active citizens in our democracy as well as more successful workers and future parents.

While it is unclear whether or not our schools will reopen this summer and in fall 2020, it is important for educators to clearly articulate what K-12 students would miss if they were required to conduct their schooling fully online. It is critical that educational decision-makers involve students, educators, and families in determining how schooling will be conducted in the future.

 

Work Cited

Collaborative for Academic, Social, Emotional Learning (CASEL). “What Is SEL?” https://casel.org/what-is-sel/

Image Credit: Photograph by Judi Moreillon

Social Justice in the Library

Do you believe that everyone deserves equal economic, political and social rights and opportunities? Do you believe in equitable access to these opportunities—meaning that everyone is supported in getting what they need to succeed?

Image: Hands holding a heart with the scales of justiceFor me, access to high-quality literacy learning is a social justice issue. If you believe that access to high-quality literacy learning is an essential right of all children in the U.S. and around the globe, how will you take action for this human right?

Social justice must manifest in the everyday lives of all people. Finding a workable definition for social justice is not an easy task. Many definitions focus on “fairness” and “equalization” but they fail to suggest how (universal) equity can be achieved.

Social Justice in the Library
What does social justice look like in the library? In addition to a diverse collection of resources that is available and barrier-free for all library users, what are the criteria with which we can assess the evolution of our library programs toward social justice? In the time of the COVID-19 pandemic, access to paper print and technology resources for learning through school and public libraries and the work of librarians are two of many areas of inequity and injustice in U.S. society that have been exposed during the current health and socioeconomic crisis. (See @MediaJustice and the #Right2Connect campaign and get involved.)

What are other ways that social injustice in manifest in our schools and libraries? Are we meeting the needs of all English language learners and their families? Are we providing the necessary technology and support to students with special needs? Is our community serving incarcerated and homeless youth? Have school closures finally made voters in our states aware that a large percentage of young people in the U.S. today rely on their school for daily meals? Are many of these injustices based on race and socioeconomic status?

If social justice is to be achieved for children, it is up to adults to ensure that preK-12 students advocate for and enact these rights for youth.

Educating Ourselves
Librarians must first educate ourselves. Project READY is an Institute of Museum and Library Services funded initiative of the University of South Carolina, Wake County Public Schools, and North Carolina Central University. “The primary focus of the Project READY curriculum is on improving relationships with, services to, and resources for youth of color and Native youth.”

As noted in the Project READY glossary: “Social and institutional power is unequally distributed globally and nationally, and may be conferred by one’s gender, race, sexuality, wealth, education, or other means.” If social and institutional power were equally distributed, then social justice would be achieved.

The website offers a “series of free, online professional development modules for school and public youth services librarians, library administrators, and others interested in improving their knowledge about race and racism, racial equity, and culturally sustaining pedagogy” (Project READY).

I believe today during school closures is the opportune time to access the information and resources on this site. Why not invite other librarians or classroom teacher and administrator colleagues to join you in this professional learning opportunity?

Educating Students for Social Justice
With this knowledge and a commitment to continuing to learn and reflect on our practice, we can collaborate with our classroom teacher and specialist colleagues, and public librarian children’s and teen librarians to teach K-12 students the principles of social justice. Two resources may be of particular interest in that endeavor.

Teaching Social Justice
TeachingTolerance.org offers social justice standards to support a K-12 anti-bias education. Educators and administrators can use the Teaching Tolerance curriculum guide “to make schools more just, equitable, and safe.” The standards are divided into grade bands and are organized around four domains: identity, diversity, justice, and action. The curriculum includes school-based scenarios to help students explore anti-bias attitudes and behaviors.

These are examples of standards under each of the domains.

Identify: Students will develop positive social identities based on their membership in multiple groups in society.

Diversity: Students will examine diversity in social, cultural, political and historical contexts rather than in ways that are superficial or oversimplified.

Justice: Students will recognize stereotypes and relate to people as individuals rather than representatives of groups.

Action: Students will express empathy when people are excluded or mistreated because of their identities and concern when they themselves experience bias” (Teaching Tolerance 2016).

A recent EBSCO blog post offers additional resources and connections including a link to a January/February 2020 Knowledge Quest article “School Librarians & Social Justice Education” by Marianne Fitzgerald, Donna Mignardi, Jennifer Sturge, and Sandy Walker. In their article, these coauthors share how they are implementing the Teaching Tolerance Social Justice Standards alongside the American Association of School Librarians’ National Standards for Learners, School Librarians, and School Libraries (2018).

Librarian Activism
As we prepare to return to our schools and libraries this spring, summer, or next fall, let’s consider how we are supporting students, other educators, and administrators in enacting principles of social justice. Let’s make a commitment to be leaders who act on our belief that high-quality literacy learning is an essential right of all children and take action to address this human right for their benefit and for our shared future.

Works Cited

EBSCO. 2020. “Social Justice Education Ideas and Resources for School Libraries,” https://www.ebsco.com/blog/article/social-justice-education-ideas-and-resources-for-school-libraries

Fitzgerald, Marianne, Donna Mignardi, Jennifer Sturge, and Sandy Walker. 2020. “School Librarians & Social Justice Education.” Knowledge Quest 48 (3), https://knowledgequest.aasl.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/KNOW_48_3_OE_SocialJustice.pdf

Teaching Tolerance. 2016. “Teaching Social Justice: The Teaching Tolerance Antibias Framework.” https://www.tolerance.org/sites/default/files/2017-06/TT_Social_Justice_Standards_0.pdf

Image Credit:

GJD. “Heart Love Passion Peace Sign.” Pixabay.com, https://pixabay.com/vectors/heart-love-passion-peace-sign-2028061

Inequitable Access During School Closures

“The future is already here — it’s just not very evenly distributed.”

Credited to William Gibson (circa 1990-92).

When so many K-12 students and educators are not participating in face-to-face learning in schools due to the CDC’s social distancing recommendations, it seems like an opportune time to, once again, reflect and wrestle with equity… or rather with inequity of opportunity… The technology gap that has plagued schools since the 1990s is tragically still alive and well. School districts are scrambling at this time to provide remote learning opportunities; at the same time, educators know that access to online learning will be inequitable.

Charge to Provide Equitable Digital Access
Digital equity for school librarians means that all of the students. educators, and families we serve have free access to digital resources and technology devices. Access is necessary if they are to reach their capacity for learning. Digital equity is also necessary for civic and cultural participation, employment, lifelong learning, and access to essential services.

One of the American Association of School Librarians’ common beliefs is “information technologies must be appropriately integrated and equitably available” (AASL 2018, 11.) Similarly, Future Ready Librarians® are building-level innovators who believe in “equitable learning opportunities for all students” (Future Ready Schools). And yet…

There are students who do not have access to computers or tablets in their homes. While cell phones may be adequate for consuming information or posting to social media, they are inadequate tools for writing and producing new knowledge. There are schools that lack enough devices to loan them out in order to ensure that every student has one to use. When public libraries are closed or overcrowded, students who use them will not have access.

Online Resources
School and public librarians, state libraries and advocacy groups have been using distribution lists and social media to share online resources that may be helpful to some students, families, and educators during closures. Here is a brief list of some of the ones I’ve seen (with a national rather than state-level focus).

Amazing Educational Resources, a crowd-sourced list created by people who’ve responded using a Google form.

Paige Bentley-Flannery, Community Librarian, Deschutes Public Library, created a webpage “Children Authors Read Aloud and Other Facetime Events.”

(As a side note, it is a violation of copyright for individuals to record and distribute read-alouds of copyrighted works. No, you will likely not be sued by the creator(s) or the publishers if you do so, but that’s not the point. The point is to model respect for the rights of the copyright holder.)

Every Library’s webpage with an alphabetical list of links to state libraries’ online resources.

Unplugged Ideas
According to a Twitter thread started by Jennifer LaGarde, some school librarians had the opportunity to encourage students to check out books from their libraries before schools were closed to reduce the spread of the virus. Others reported they had little or no warning or were already on spring break when their school closing was enacted. Some are hoping they will be allowed to open their libraries for a brief check-out window.

School librarians who are able to communicate with students’ and families’ smart phones via social media have the opportunity to suggest activities that do not require laptops or tablets. School librarian Ashely Cooksey posted some outstanding “unplugged” ideas for students and families.

(I suggested some additional activities under her post to the Maximizing School Librarians Facebook Group.)

After the Crisis
Access to paper print reading materials during this crisis should be guaranteed, and we have learned it is not. The barriers to accessing digital information may be even more pronounced during school closures.

As we assess our service during this crisis, I believe it is critical for school librarians to stand up, give testimony, and advocate for equitable access for all K-12 students to paper print and electric information and devices not only during school hours during the regular school year… but 24/7 year-round.

Works Cited

American Association of School Librarians. 2018. National Standards for Learners, School Librarians, and School Libraries. Chicago: ALA. https://standards.aasl.org/

Future Ready Schools. 2018/2020. “Future Ready Librarians.” FutureReady.org. https://futureready.org/thenetwork/strands/future-ready-librarians/

Image Credit

Wokandapix. “Equity Fairness Equitable Letters.” Pixabay.com. https://pixabay.com/photos/equity-fairness-equitable-letters-2355700/

District-Level School Librarian Advocacy

This month I contributed an article focused on our effort to restore school librarian positions in Tucson Unified School District (TUSD) to School Library Connection (SLC). If you are an SLC subscriber, you can find “We Need You! Forming Effective Advocacy Coalitions” in the “Political Literacy 101” section of the site. (The article will be publicly available until the next SLC issue is published.) If you are not a subscriber, you can always access and read other articles on the “Community” page, which is the splash page for the magazine, and consider subscribing. (I hope you will.)

Too often school librarians find themselves alone in speaking up for their work. Creating the context and conditions for library stakeholders to speak for our essential role in today’s education is a top priority for school librarian leaders. (See Chapter 8: Leadership and Advocacy in Maximizing School Librarian Leadership).

When we collaborate with classroom teachers and support the initiatives of our principals, they can (and will!) become some of our staunchest allies. When families are aware of how we are contributing to their children’s literacy learning, they, too, will join the ranks of our advocates. When central office administrators, school board members, and community members speak up for our work, we have the advocates we need to realize our goals for school library programs.

The Context: Arizona
A series of poor decisions made by the Arizona Legislature for more than a decade have denied district public schools of the necessary funding to meet the needs of K-12 students and families. School districts lacking local bond and budget override support have been in the position of making difficult decisions in terms of allocating meager resources for staffing, infrastructure maintenance and improvements, learning materials, including library resources and technology tools, and more.

In addition, the continual expansion of publicly funded charter schools has siphoned off monies that would have gone to district public schools in the past. To add insult to injury (and labeled “choice”), open enrollment has allowed parents the option of leaving their neighborhood schools to attend schools in more affluent districts. The lack of funding and support for district public schools that accept all students within their boundaries and open enrollment students, too, is dire.

The Context: Tucson Unified School District
TUSD is a high-needs, urban school district. Seventy-two percent of TUSD students are from federally identified minority families. Seventy percent receive free or reduced lunch and many are eating three meals a day at school sites across the district; most schools have clothing closets. The Educational Enrichment Foundation, which was created to provide academic support for TUSD students and educators, has responded by meeting the physical needs of students with personal hygiene products and struggles to achieve its original academic mission.

I served as an elementary school librarian in TUSD from 1992-2001 and in a high school until 2003. That year, our district-level library supervisor’s position was eliminated, and my high school second librarian position was cut to half time. (About twenty other site-level librarian positions were reduced that year.)

At the time of these cuts, there were 96 state-certified school librarians serving 59,250 students, a ratio of 1 librarian to 617 students. Today, there are 13 state-certified school librarians serving (about) 44,000 students, a ratio of 1:3,385.

It is clear TUSD students, educators, and families suffer from a lack of equitable access to the literacy opportunities of a well-resourced school library led by an effective state-certified school librarian.

Central Administration Advocates
Like many urban school districts, TUSD superintendents have not remained in their positions for sufficient time to make structural improvements in the district. Since I left the district, I have been unable to connect with a superintendent who was open to considering rehiring librarians and supporting library services as a high priority in a cash-strapped district.

That was the case until 2017 when Superintendent Dr. Gabriel Trujillo was hired. Dr. Trujillo came to TUSD having had the experience of full-time, state-certified school librarians in the Phoenix Union High School District. I met with him in the summer of 2018 to convince him it was long past time to restore TUSD school librarian positions and revitalize its libraries.

Dr. Trujillo did not need convincing. Instead, I learned that he was seeking advocates to work with him to convince the school board of the necessity of effective school librarians and library programs to students’ success. “We found common ground in focusing this effort on the district’s Middle School Improvement Plans in the area of reading. (While there was no need to conduct market research to begin our project, it was critical that we established shared goals on which to build this effort)” (Moreillon 2020).

TUSD School Librarian Restoration Project and Community Advocates
I reached out into the community to form a small but mighty advocacy group. Beginning in the fall of 2018 to the present, we met with and continue to communicate with school board members; we speak at governing board meetings during the calls to the audience. Based on a recommendation from a school board member, we connected with the TUSD School Community Partnership Council. We made presentations at the Arizona Library Association conference.

Most recently, we worked with the human resources (HR) department to revise the school librarian’s job description. Five middle school positions will be advertised this spring (2020), and our advocacy group will support HR in attracting the most qualified candidates. We have offered to meet with principals of these and other schools that are considering restoring their school librarian positions.

We are encouraged by our supporters and the progress we have made. We have been surprised by some literacy organizations that informed us they do not “do advocacy.”

We believe as past ALA President Jim Neal wrote that “libraries constitute an ecology of educational, research, and community services. In this environment of inter­dependency, we, as a family of libraries, must embrace advocacy for school libraries as foundational to the success of our collective work for students who love to read, as we prepare them for college, career, and life” (Neal 2018). And so, we carry on this work.

This Visme infographic summarizes our communication strategy and is fleshed out in the SLC article. If you are in a similar situation in terms of eliminated school librarian positions, we hope you will use what we have learned to take up the call, identify advocates through points of shared purpose, and work together to restore state-certified school librarian positions in your communities.

Works Cited

Moreillon, Judi. 2020. “We Need You! Forming Effective Advocacy Coalitions.” School Library Connection (February).

Neal, Jim. 2018. “Fight for School Libraries: Student Success Depends on Them.” American Libraries Magazine (March 1). https://americanlibrariesmagazine.org/2018/03/01/fight-for-school-libraries/

Gifts of Windows and Mirrors

“Humans don’t make our stories, it’s stories that make us human (paraphrasing Amiri Baraka). It’s not until we know the stories of each other that we embrace our humanity. When I know the stories of my people and my culture, that’s when I become human myself” (Hyland 2016).

I was fortunate to publish my first book written for children in 1997. After three years in the submission-rejection cycle, the contract for Sing Down the Rain seemed like a miraculous gift. Kiva publisher/owner Steve Hill mentored me through the publishing process, and I, in turn, mentored our illustrator Tohono O’odham artist Michael Chiago through the illustration process. I had the critical and additional blessing of being mentored by respected Tohono O’odham elder Danny Lopez who ensured cultural accuracy in my poem.

This collaboration resulted in a book that shares the saguaro fruit harvest and rainmaking ceremony of the Tohono O’odham (Desert People) in the context of the ecology of the Sonoran Desert, where I’ve now lived for thirty years. The book is dedicated to the children of the Tohono O’odham Nation for whom it provides a mirror of their cultural traditions and the beauty of our desert home. The book also offers a window into a culture that is little-known outside of the Southwest. All multicultural children’s literature has the potential to serve as mirrors and windows (Bishop 1990).

Sing Down the Rain was in print for fifteen years. During that time, O’odham students performed the choral reading of the poem on and off the reservation. Some of their audiences were family and tribal members; some of their audiences were non-O’odham people. Non-O’odham students also performed the poem in schools and communities. Michael and/or I attended these performances, signed books, and celebrated with choral readers and their families. When publisher Steve Hill retired, the book went out of print in 2012.

The Window: Walden School, Louisville, Kentucky
Last spring, I received an email from an art teacher in Louisville, Kentucky. The Walden School is an independent K-12 school. A first-grade student and his mom had selected Sing Down the Rain as a read-aloud to share with his class. The art teacher followed up the reading with a weaving art activity. She sent me photos of the reading and students’ artwork. As it happened, I was planning to be in Louisville in November to attend a conference. I asked if the Walden School would be interested in an author visit.

On November 12, I had the gift of sharing Sing Down the Rain and oral storytelling with K-4 Walden students. I met Ben and his mom and learned that he had repeatedly requested she read the book at bedtime; he described it as a lullaby. Sing Down the Rain offered Walden students who had never met an O’odham child a window into O’odham culture. They had the opportunity to “see” another culture and a desert environment through Michael’s illustrations and the words in my poem.


The Mirror: Ha:san Preparatory and Leadership School, Tucson, Arizona
Just a few weeks later, I had an email from two high school teachers who asked me to meet with their students who were preparing to perform Sing Down the Rain. The Ha:san Preparatory and Leadership School is a bicultural, community-based school that infuses elements of Tohono O’odham language, traditions, and Native history in the curriculum. I was able to share with the teachers that Regina Siquieros and Angie Saraficio published a version of the poem with O’odham words.

On December 12, one month after the visit to Walden School, I had the gift of sharing with Ha:san students how Sing Down the Rain came to be—the process of writing, publishing, and sharing the book. I shared how I worked with Tohono O’odham artist Michael Chiago to design the illustrations. I gave examples of how Danny Lopez helped me correct errors in my understanding of O’odham cultural traditions in order to portray the rainmaking ceremony as authentically as possible.

The students asked me questions, including why I wrote the book. I showed them the books that had been on our library shelves in 1991 when children were bused from the San Xavier District of their reservation to an elementary school where I served as the librarian—books written by anthropologists or books that perpetuated stereotypes of Native peoples. The poem I wrote and later the book we created was intended to offer all O’odham youth a positive reflection of their culture.

“Literature transforms human experience and reflects it back to us, and in that reflection, we can see our own lives and experiences as part of the larger human experience. Reading, then, becomes a means of self-affirmation, and readers often seek their mirrors in books” (Bishop 1990, ix).”

#OwnVoices
Sing Down the Rain was intended to be a seed. At the time it was published, I hoped that other books would be written and illustrated by Tohono O’odham and traditionally published. Then, these windows could help O’odham youth see their culture reflected in many books. And children living in other parts of the country and around world would learn about the O’odham and their culture.

When families, librarians, other educators, and publishers are considering the critical importance of mirrors and windows, I hope they will support the #ownvoices movement and infuse children’s worlds with the grand diversity of humanity—written and illustrated by people who have first-hand knowledge of the culture and experiences being described.

As the author of four books for children and families, I am grateful for the mysterious and miraculous ways my writing can touch the hearts and minds of others. At Ha:san, one student asked me why I didn’t write about his experience as an O’odham teen living in Tucson today. In all of my author visits with middle and high school students, I invite future published authors and illustrators to pursue writing and drawing—specifically for children. I hope this is the story this young man will write.

I have faith that more books will be published until one glorious day all voices are heard—and all people are seen as essential to our shared human experience.

Works Cited

Bishop, Rudine Sims. 1990. “Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Glass Doors.” Perspectives 1 (3): ix–xi.

Hyland, Ezra. 2016. The African American Read in from NCTE: Podcast, https://www.blogtalkradio.com/edutalk/2016/01/27/the-african-american-read-in-from-ncte

Photographs of Author Visits Used with Permission

Reading Dangerously

At the June, 2019 American Library Association (ALA) Annual Conference in Washington, D.C., I attended the Freedom to Read Foundation’s (FTRF) 50th Anniversary Celebration. I wrote about the celebration on my blog on July 1, 2019. The FTRF is a non-profit legal and educational organization affiliated with ALA. Supporters helped crowdfund the event by purchasing tickets and the FTRF’s book. Reading Dangerously: The Freedom to Read Foundation Marks 50 Years (2019) in advance of the event. I jumped at the chance and am so happy I did.  This post is about the book and the work of the FTRF.

I can still remember my excitement during my very first class in my first course as a library science graduate student. The course was “Foundations” and the First Amendment and the Library Bill of Rights were the topics for the opening class session. I remember the satisfaction I felt knowing that activism would be part of my everyday work as a librarian. I also remember telling my husband and daughter that night at the dinner table how deeply pleased I was to learn that librarianship was political.

Reading Dangerously opens with an introduction by Neil Gaiman. As Gaiman writes, the First Amendment means that we will be called upon to “defend the indefensible. That means you are going to be defending the right of people to read, or to write, or to say, what you don’t say or like or want said” (v). But as he also notes that willingness to defend free speech means that your own speech commands defending, too. The next section of the book is a powerful statement by the FTRF’s founder Judith Krug: “We were trying to develop a total program in defense and support of the First Amendment, and that’s basically what we’ve done… The Freedom to Read Foundation is the last step…. When all else fails, then we can go to court.”

The Foundation has three primary activities:

  • The allocation and disbursement of grants to individuals and groups for the purpose of aiding them in litigation or otherwise furthering FTRF’s goals;
  • Direct participation in litigation dealing with freedom of speech and of the press.
  • Education about the importance of libraries and the First Amendment to our democratic institutions (https://www.ftrf.org/page/About).

And go to court they have… In collaboration with the American Civil Liberties Union and other organizations, the FTRF has supported plaintiffs and defendants across the U.S. as they seek legal remedies for upholding the First Amendment. The book includes a timeline and brief summaries of selected cases held over the past fifty years. With my lens as a librarian focused on young people’s rights, these are some of the highlights from that timeline. (Note: There are several interpretations of the Library Bill of Rights that relate to the rights of youth.)

Board of Education, Island Trees Union Free School District V. Pico (1978): In this case, a student challenged the school board for removing nine books from school libraries, including Soul on Ice and Black Boy. This case went all the way to the Supreme Court where the student prevailed. (*This one was on the test in the Foundations course!)

Selected other challenges to children’s and young adult literature included Sund V. City of Wichita Falls, Texas (2000) resulted in returning Heather Has Two Mommies and Daddy’s Roommate to library shelves. Counts V. Cedarville (2003) required the school board to return the Harry Potter books to school library shelves. The FTRF has provided many grants to librarians who are fighting censorship; fortunately, in most instances, books are returned to library shelves and cases do not end up in court.

Other cases that jumped off the page for me involved a grant to fund the legal defense “Pentagon Papers” authors Daniel Ellsberg and Anthony J. Russo, Jr. (1973). U.S. Department of Justice V. American Library Association (1997): ALA prevailed in a case that struck down the Communications Decency Act of 1996 that sought to limit First Amendment rights on the internet. The U.S. government and ALA went to court again (2001) regarding the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) that required public libraries to employ blocking software that both over-blocked and under-blocked websites deemed harmful to children. The ruling gave libraries leeway in finding less restrictive ways to protect children’s online safety.

But the cases closest to home made me especially proud to be part of this profession and a supporter of the FTRF. After a five-year battle, the FTRF and the Tucson Unified School District Mexican American Studies program prevailed (2018) over the Arizona Superintendent of Instruction and other state officials. This case successfully challenged an Arizona statute that “prohibited the use of class materials or books that encourage the overthrow of the government,” or “promote resentment toward a race, or class of people,” and are “designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group,” and “advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of people as individuals” (53-54). This academically focused program had successfully motivated at-risk students and kept them in school. Although the legal battle took its toll, the district’s (renamed) Ethnic Studies Program was able put the contested materials back on the shelves in classrooms and school libraries.

The FTRF supports Banned Books Week through grants to libraries and others who sponsor public events and discussions centered on intellectual freedom. The book includes excerpts from nine of the most frequently challenged books between 2013 and 2017; seven of which were written for children and young adults.

The final section of Reading Dangerously was contributed by James LaRue, Director of ALA’s Office of Intellectual Freedom. His chapter should be required reading for every librarian and library science student in the U.S. Many of the intellectual freedom challenges that have faced our patrons, our librarian colleagues, our communities, and our country in the last fifty years continue today. It is imperative that the FTRF and librarians across the country remain vigilant and true to our core values. As LaRue writes: “FTRF is now, and should continue to be, a principled and focused voice for the rights of all to explore the ideas within and around us” (179)—emphasis added.

Thank you, Freedom to Read Foundation. When we go about our daily practice of librarianship, we are true to our values and supported by the FTRF when we keep First Amendment rights and intellectual freedom foremost in our minds as we:

  • Competently select materials for libraries that offer multiple perspectives and worldviews;
  • Design displays and programs that meet the needs of all library stakeholders;
  • And educate our patrons through resources, programs, teaching, and the example we model as engaged global citizens who uphold democratic rights and responsibilities as we serve our communities.

Considering joining the FTRF today! https://www.ftrf.org/page/Membership

 

Work Cited

The Freedom to Read Foundation. 2019. Reading Dangerously, The Freedom to Read Foundation Marks 50 Years. Chicago: ALA.