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.

News Literacy and Democracy

Photograph of Woman Holding Her Head while looking at her laptop It seems fitting on the day before the U.S. national election day to review what we know or don’t yet know about teaching news literacy and how that instruction is related to democracy.

Last week during Media Literacy Week, I participated in the University of Maine Fogler Library’s week-long “Friend, Enemy, or Frenemy? News Literacy Challenge.” (It is not too late to participate in this activity. The Challenge links are live and will be accessible into the future.)

Below is a summary of each day’s information and activities and my takeaways.

Day 1: Does News Matter?
On the opening day, participants were asked to identify a news article that piques their interest and categorize it in one or more of these three functions: inform about daily life, report on one or more topical trends, and/or socialize readers/viewers in some way. Reading the range of articles on the comment board was a good exercise in itself. There were a number of COVID-19 articles and a few related to the Supreme Court confirmation.

From my own perspective on 10/26/20 and even though I am currently in northern California and have been under threats of wildfires, I was surprised to note that people found anything besides these two trending topics compelling and competing for their attention!

Day 2: Fact or Fiction
On Day Two, we were given four “news” stories to “guess” if they were real or fake without doing any research or background digging. This reminded me of guessing on a standardized test. I thought these examples were interesting because they could uncover participants’ biases as reflected in news headlines alone.

We were given sources to review including the Stanford History Education Group’s research: “Educating for Misunderstanding: How Approaches to Teaching Digital Literacy Make Students Susceptible to Scammers, Rogues, Bad Actors, and Hate Mongers.”

Coincidentally, I also received this link from the School Library SmartBrief that day. It totally aligned with the Day 2 activity: “Can Your Students Tell the Difference Between Fact and Fiction?” by Kimberly Rues (EdSurge Columnist).

Day 3: Deconstructing the News
How news stories are constructed is determined and influenced by individual people, organizations, and the cultures in which they are produced. The challenge noted how people (reporters), organizations (policies and priorities in terms of audience/revenue streams), and culture (including format, norms, and values) frame the news.

Challenge: “Find and link to a news story that demonstrates how people, organizations, or culture construct the news. Explain the connections you’re making. How might this affect what gets told and what’s left out of a story?”

Has Hunger Swelled? (In the U.S. During the Pandemic). This American Enterprise Institute (AEI) brief article summarizes research that suggests reports of “food hardship” during the pandemic are based on exaggerated data. (Thanks to John Chrastka at EveryLibrary who encouraged Lilead Project Fellows and Mentors to regularly read outside their bubbles, I have been receiving and reading the AEI digest for several years now.)

The AEI has a reputation for being pro-business and suspicious of reporting that shows the growing wealth gap. The .pdf file that includes AEI’s research is intended to add credibility to their perspective. Their conclusion: “We believe the share of households with insufficient food over a month is closer to 5 or 6 percent than 12 percent. Six percent is higher than at any point in 20 years.”

As a former educator who continues to see how our local school district scrambles to feed kids during school closures and as a contributor to local food banks, my own experience makes me question the validity of AEI’s “research” and “reporting.” The fact that they even use the word “believe” suggests that reliable data is really not available. As a result, I “believe” AEI would prefer to underreport food insecurity at this time when congressional decision-makers are considering pandemic relief funds.

Day 4: Deconstructing Bias
For this day’s activity, we were asked to compare two headlines and articles—one from CBS News, the other from the Washington Examiner. My practice in determining which reading news articles I will take the time to read involves reading both the headlines AND the first sentence (or two) in the article. If there is a disconnect between the two, I am inclined to not read on (unless it is so outrageous and I am in a “mood” to confirm my bias). In this case, the Washington Examiner reporter lost my readership for a sensationalized headline that misrepresented his own topic sentence.

On day 4, we were given two videos to watch: “Why Do Our Brains Love Fake News?” a video that describes cognitive bias.

How news feed algorithms supercharge confirmation bias” by Eli Pariser, executive director of MoveOn.org, which focuses on how online data collection shapes the “news” that we are fed in our online searches.

Day 5: Constructing the News
On the final day, we were given a scenario, a series of photographs, and an assignment to construct a headline for a specific news outlet. I was assigned the Wall Street Journal. I used the WSJ’s news bias rating from Allsides.com to justify my headline and photograph selection.

As they did with their August, 2020 Racial Justice Challenge, the News Literacy Challenge organizers at the Fogler Library asked participants to complete an anonymous online survey.

Connection between News Literacy and Democracy
I suspect that, like you, I am not alone in my concern for the present and future of an informed electorate. Participating in the News Literacy Challenge with educated adults was illuminating. Participants’ understanding of news bias was wide ranging and their comments were not always as informed as I would have hoped.

The Pew Center conducted a nonscientific canvass based on a non-random sample of the individual tech leaders who responded to their query: “Tech Experts Say Digital Disruption Will Hurt Democracy.”

As reported in the article, Christopher Mondini, vice president of business engagement for ICANN, summed it up for me: “The decline of independent journalism and critical thinking and research skills resulting from easy reliance on the internet make citizens more susceptible to manipulation and demagoguery.”

Bottom Line:  We need U.S. and global citizens who will make informed decisions when we vote, take action, and influence the course of our collective future. We, in K-12 and higher ed, have work to do.

Works Cited

Anderson, Janna, and Lee Rainie. 2020. “3. Concerns about Democracy in the Digital Age.” Pew Research Center, https://www.pewresearch.org/internet/2020/02/21/concerns-about-democracy-in-the-digital-age/

Berry, Alan, Judith Rosenbaum, and Jen Bonnet. 2020. Friend, Enemy, or Frenemy? News Literacy Challenge. University of Maine Fogler Library. https://libguides.library.umaine.edu/c.php?g=1062054&p=7722052

Image Credit:
Piacquadio, Andrea. Search: “News Literacy.” Pexels.com, https://www.pexels.com/photo/young-troubled-woman-using-laptop-at-home-3755755/

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.)

Memorial Day 2020

Image: American Flag with Peace Sign

Dear School Librarian Leadership Readers,

Rather than share a post focused on school librarianship on this Memorial Day 2020, I am asking you to read “The First Decoration Day,” an article written by American history professor Dr. David W. Blight that is accessible on the Zinn Education Project.

According to Blight’s research, the first large-scale public event to honor the 606,000 soldiers who died in the Civil War was held on May 1, 1865 in South Carolina, where the war had begun. In Charleston, 10,000 people, most of them former slaves, held a parade on a racetrack, owned by former slaveholders. The parade began with 3,000 thousand Black schoolchildren carrying arm loads of roses and singing “John Brown’s Body.” They were followed by several hundred Black women carrying baskets of flowers, wreaths and crosses. Then came Black men marching in cadence, followed by contingents of Union infantry and other Black and White citizens (Blight).

As Blight notes, “Pride of place as the first large scale ritual of Decoration Day, therefore, goes to African Americans in Charleston. By their labor, their words, their songs, and their solemn parade of flowers and marching feet on their former owners’ race course, they created for themselves, and for us, the Independence Day of the Second American Revolution.”

I have often thought of national holidays as essential learning and necessary teaching if we are to preserve our democracy. For me, this article is a poignant reminder that all of us living in the U.S. today should make a heartfelt effort to know our shared history.

Memorial Day is a time to rededicate ourselves to greater respect, empathy, and commitment to one another—working together for peace and understanding at home and around the globe.

Stay well and safe.
Judi

Work Cited

Blight, David W. 2011. “The First Decoration Day.” Zinn Education Project. https://www.zinnedproject.org/materials/the-first-decoration-day/

Image Credit:

Peterson, David. “American Flag Peace Sign.” Pexels.com, https://www.pexels.com/photo/administration-america-art-banner-345092/