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

Equity for All Learners

Last week, I spotlighted one of the top five critical topics from the International Literacy Association’s (ILA) “What’s Hot in Literacy” survey: access to high-quality diverse books and content. In my post “Librarians Curate During the Pandemic,” I provided some examples of how school and public librarians are selecting and annotating online resources to support student learning and teachers’ teaching during school closures.

Image: Equality or sameness compared with equity or fairnessAnother of the top five critical topics was “increasing equity and opportunity for all learners. This topic has most certainly been highlighted both in the U.S. and around the globe during the pandemic. According to U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee, nearly 12 million K-12 students nationwide lack broadband access in their homes in 2017 (cited in Common Sense Media 2019).

When librarians and classroom teachers are considering the necessity of providing online resources during this crisis, we must not forget that so many young people will lack the means to access those resources. See my March 16, 2020 post “Inequitable Access During School Closures.”

Equity in Classroom Book Collections
It is no surprise to librarians that equity is a top concern of teachers, higher education faculty, researchers, literacy consultants, and administrators. (As it was in 2018 “What’s Hot in Literacy” survey, equity is the top of five critical issues and respondents identify as deserving more attention and focus. When looking more closely at the issue of equity, the Literacy Today article quotes a respondent from Illinois: “educational inequalities are huge in all areas, such as teacher preparation, teacher opportunities for professional learning and development with their peers, adequate resources in terms of classroom libraries, and small class sizes. All of this greatly impacts literacy learning for students” (Bothum 2020, 24)

As a former school librarian and current librarian educator, I was saddened to read this particular comment. While I agree with this person’s assessment of the impact of these resources and activities on student learning, I am frustrated that school libraries and librarians are not mentioned. Classroom “libraries,” which are really “collections” not “libraries,” will never be able to achieve the robust diversity of resources afforded by a well-funded school library that serves the diverse academic and personal reading needs of readers at all instructional levels within a school.

Of course, classroom teachers must provide books and other reading materials in their classrooms. But investing in school library resources results in schoolwide equity. Classrooms will never be able to offer the range of reading resources that a school library can. A well-stocked library and library program facilitated by a state-certified school librarian also reflects a commitment by the school district and community to serving all students, educators, and families.

Access to School Libraries and Librarians
In the area of equity, forty-nine percent of the respondents say they want more support in addressing inequity in education and instruction. While all of the factors cited in the survey are important, I would humbly suggest that supporting fully-funded school library led by an effective state-certified school librarian should be a top priority in every school and district across the U.S. (and around the world). An open school library where students can check out, return, and check out more books and materials to read based on their needs and choices makes a difference in the quantity and quality of students reading.

Ninety-two percent of respondents agree that “educational equity for all students cannot be achieved without instructional equity” (Bothum 2020, 24). An effective professional school librarian who collaborates with classroom teachers to integrate vast array of library resources and coteaches the classroom curriculum can elevate literacy learning for every student in every classroom in a school.

Collaboration to Increase Equity
ILA Board of Directors member Rachael Gabriel notes that “structures aimed at collaborative problem-solving can be used as practice grounds for more equitable conversations because of their emphasis on protocol, participation, and the use of evidence.” When classroom teachers and school librarians share ideas, they further develop their understanding of how to best need the needs of all students. When they coplan, co-implement, and co-assess student learning outcomes, they gather evidence of the effectiveness of their teaching and can make modifications for improvement in their instruction.

Since sixty-one percent of ILA respondents identify collaboration as an area of concern, school administrators around the globe must step up to help provide educators with collaborative planning time with school librarians as well as with classroom teacher peers and specialists.

School Librarian Roles During the School Closures
The American Association of School Librarians (AASL) conducted a survey from Monday, March 30, 2020 to Monday, April 6, 2020. There were 843 respondents representing all fifty U.S. states. (AASL will conduct and report on similar surveys in the coming weeks.) The librarians who responded cited unequal access to technology tools suitable for online learning as a problem during school closures. Librarians reported that students:

  • have full access to technology and Internet for personal use in their home (laptop or desktop computer): 49%
  • have shared access to technology and Internet for use in their home (shared computer): 25%
  • have access through mobile device (tablet, phone): 22%
  • do not have reliable access: 12%
  • do not have any access: 10% (AASL 2020).

The survey captured the many ways school librarians are adapting to changes in instruction and are offering the same services and activities provided during regular school days, including:

  • Offering resource curation and technology tools for “classroom” instruction: 84.89%
  • Expanding online resources: 80.37%
  • Virtual assistance: 82.06%
  • Virtual meetings/collaborative events: 74.29% (AASL 2020).

Please read the entire AASL survey report.

Schools Without Librarians
What the AASL survey could not capture is the lack of equitable access to online learning in schools without state-certified school librarians. We can speculate about what is happening for students, educators, and families in schools where a state-certified school librarian is not on the faculty. To be sure, educators in some of those schools have technology coaches who are helping them transition to fully online learning, but are they collaborating with educators to provide the specific learning and teaching resources needed to student and educator success? In some districts, there may be a “library” or “technology” person at the district-level who is providing some of these services.

However, without a building-level school librarian these services will be hit and miss in terms of the actual needs of students, educators, and families at any given school site. Some of the educators in all of these schools are the very ones who, on the ILA “What’s Hot in Literacy” survey, noted they were looking for instructional equity for all K-12 students.

For example, when schools closed in Arizona, the state superintendent of instruction stated that 100,000 of the 1.1. million students in the state did not have the tools they needed to be successful in online learning. The Tucson Unified School District identified 18,000 families that lacked such tools. (There are around 40,000 students in the district; the number of families is unknown to me but there are only 13 state-certified school librarians serving 86 schools.)

The pandemic has spotlighted inequity in K-12 education. How can we achieve social justice in education if access to broadband, technology tools, library-based elearning resources, and the expertise of school librarians are not universally available to all of our students?

The short answer is we can’t – but what can we learn from this situation, and how can it motivate us to take action going forward?

Note: In this blog post when I refer to learners, they are educators and administrators as well as students. All members of a school community must be learners.

Works Cited

American Association of School Librarians. 2020. “Snapshot of School Librarian Roles during School Closures,” KnowledgeQuest.aasl.org, https://knowledgequest.aasl.org/snapshot-of-school-librarian-roles-during-school-closures/

Bothum, Kelly. 2020. “What’s Hot in 2020—And Beyond: ILA’s Biennial Report Highlights the Topics Most Critical to Shaping the Future of Literacy.” Literacy Today (January/February).

Common Sense Media. 2019. The Homework Gap: Teacher Perspectives on Closing the Digital Divide, https://www.commonsensemedia.org/sites/default/files/uploads/kids_action/homework-gap-report-2019.pdf

Image Credit:

OccupyAwareness. “equality equity2.0.” Creative Commons.org, https://ccsearch.creativecommons.org/photos/9ebc181e-48a4-42c6-ab27-c86854d1ee0a

Censorship versus Selection and Alternatives to American Dirt

If a book includes stereotypes, misrepresentations, and misinformation, the decision to not purchase it is selection. That decision is NOT censorship, self- or otherwise.

There has long been confusion and tension in librarianship over the distinction between censorship and selection. School librarians, according the 2016 Controversial Books Survey conducted by School Library Journal, are prone to self-censorship. Of the 573 U.S.–based school librarians who participated “9 out of 10 elementary and middle school librarians have not bought a book recently because of the potential for controversy.” If you haven’t already, please make time to read the SLJ survey data provided in three areas: weighing subject matter, age appropriateness, and general comments.

Although, to my knowledge, there is no similar survey of public library youth librarians, I would argue there are reasons this practice may be more prevalent in K-12 schools. Public libraries often have central purchasing. Youth librarians may recommend books but they are not directly “responsible” for the books on their library shelves. Their selection and censorship issues likely come at the point of selecting library resources to spotlight in displays and programming.

When there is a book challenge in a K-12 school, if librarians are lucky, the challenge will be made directly to them. Of course, a reconsideration policy must be in place. The librarian will explain the process to the patron, provide the forms, and follow up. Sometimes school library patrons, most often parents, go directly to higher-ups, including principals, school board members, and superintendents. In these cases, it is often the librarian’s role to explain the process to their supervisors and then facilitate the proper review of a complaint. In public libraries, even if the complaint goes directly to the youth librarian, challenges are most often handled by branch managers, the collection development department, or library administrators,

Budgets and Core Values
It is important to remember that the vast majority of school librarians do not have budgets that allow them to purchase every children’s or YA book published in any given year—not even close. There are far too many examples of school libraries with small budgets that will not allow them to purchase even one new title every year for every child they serve. (Consecutive years with zero budgets are not unheard of.) Most school librarians, therefore, must make careful selections in order to use their funds wisely to support the school’s curriculum and meet the independent reading needs of students.

That said, the prevalence of (self-)censorship in K-12 school libraries should be of concern to the profession since this practice flies in the face of our core values: intellectual freedom and the right to read (see ALA’s Access to Resources and Services in the School Library: An Interpretation of the Library Bill of Rights.)

Censorship versus Selection
“Censorship is the suppression of ideas and information that certain persons — individuals, groups, or government officials — find objectionable or dangerous” (ALA 2017). The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects the rights of individuals to speak, publish, read and view what they wish. Young people’s access to “objectionable” materials has long been contentious. School library resources are at the center of these controversies; some of which are ultimately settled in the courts (see my review of Reading Dangerously published by ALA’s Freedom to Read Foundation).

The difference between censorship and selection lies in the reasons behind a decision to purchase or not purchase a book or other resource. Most school librarians do not have access to advance review copies; they rely on book reviews. According to the SLJ survey, librarians read multiple reviews (as most often required by their selection policies) and use the age range and Lexile information as guidelines. Age “appropriateness” and connection to curriculum and community needs come into play.

In the case of “controversial” titles, the author’s treatment of sex and violence and word choice are often cited as reasons to tread carefully. Stereotypes are also mentioned. Some school librarians check out a controversial book from their public library and read it before purchasing. However, due to time constraints, it is likely that most decisions regarding whether or not to purchase these titles are based on book reviews, social media posts, and recommendations from colleagues.

Reliance on Book Reviews
Accuracy and authenticity come into play as well. Book reviewers’ cultural competence, their willingness to conduct research, their personal backgrounds and experiences, and more affect the quality of their reviews and their ability to determine accuracy and authenticity, in particular when reviewing books that are outside their cultural backgrounds. “Book reviewers are charged with documenting the merits as well as the flaws, if there are any, in the books they review. Reviewers who do not feel qualified to review particular books can seek further information from cultural insiders, the book review source, publisher, author or illustrator, or return the book unreviewed as appropriate” (Moreillon 2019, 7).

Choosing not to purchase or promote a book simply because it is controversial is (self-) censorship. However, if a book includes misinformation, stereotypes, and misrepresentations, the decision to not purchase or promote it is selection.

Reading American Dirt
I live in Tucson, Arizona, sixty miles from the U.S.-Mexican border. I have crossed the border at Nogales and Tijuana. I have traveled to Mexican resort towns on the Baja and western coast of the country and have visited cultural sites on the Yucatán Peninsula. I have some knowledge of Mexican culture and history, but I am assuredly a cultural outsider.

I borrowed American Dirt from the public library and read it as a personal challenge. I heard about the controversy in an NPR interview with author Luis Alberto Urrea and American Dirt author Jeanine Cummins. I had read a few blog posts and reviews—pro and con. I wanted to determine whether or not I could identify the stereotypes and misrepresentations in this book. I wondered if I, as a cultural outsider, could confidently review this book if it were under consideration for purchase for a high school library.

This is what I learned: I don’t have sufficient cultural knowledge to determine the accuracy and authenticity of American Dirt. I did not “see” all of the cultural stereotypes that insiders have recognized in the book. I did not make time to research aspects of the book that others have questioned. I did not catch all of the situations that echoed scenes found in previously published fiction and nonfiction books centered on the border and immigration.

As a reader, I didn’t find American Dirt well written. There were inconsistencies that appeared within paragraphs of each other (see pp. 266-267 regarding Beto’s life on el dompe in Tijuana.) There were long sentences and paragraphs in which the omniscient narrator’s voice seemed confused. The sprinkling of Spanish words and phrases didn’t authenticate the text for me.

As one reviewer noted, “Once one cuts through the noise and actually reads the book, what becomes clear is that the problem isn’t that Cummins wrote a story that wasn’t hers to tell, but that she told it poorly – in all the classic ways a story is badly told. Two-dimensional characters, tortured sentences, an attempt to cover the saga of a migrant without even addressing the wider context of migration or inequality” (Malik 2020).

That said, I have to admit that I was drawn into the story in terms of the will, determination, perseverance, humanity, and courage of Lydia, Luca, and their fellow migrants. I strongly disagree with one reviewer’s criticism that Lydia, a privileged woman, should NOT be surprised by the hardships and inhumane conditions of the poor, immigrants, and asylum seekers depicted in the story. I believe all of us who are privileged would lack this understanding. We may read, hear, and see images in the media about the struggles of those who are less privileged, but until we actually live in the conditions of their lives, we cannot know them.

Alternatives to American Dirt

Collage of Luis Alberto Urrea’s “Border” Books: Across the Wire: Life and Hard Times on the Mexican Border (Anchor, 1993), By the Lake of Sleeping Children: The Secret Life of the Mexican Border (Anchor, 1996), The Devil’s Highway: A True Story (Little Brown, 2004), Into the Beautiful North: A Novel (Little Brown, 2009),

 

I would not select American Dirt for a high school library based on the poor writing, inaccuracies, stereotypes, and a lack of authenticity, as pointed out by “insider” readers. “Authors and illustrators who create literature from outside their own culture must be vigilant as they write and illustrate books for children and teens (and adults, too, for that matter). In addition to research, consulting with cultural experts is a more effective way to ensure that their texts are culturally authentic, accurate, and free of stereotypes” (Moreillon 2019, 7).

I have not read that Jeanine Cummins shared her manuscript with one or more cultural insiders before submitting it to her editor, who is also a cultural outsider. It appears likely that her editor did not share the manuscript with anyone who could have helped Ms. Cummins improve her writing and make corrections in her representation of Mexican culture.

In her author’s note, Ms. Cummins wrote, “I wished someone slightly browner than me would write it” (382). As this author clearly knows, there are others much “browner” than she who have written novels and nonfiction about the border and immigration. (Ms. Cummins’ grandmother migrated from Puerto Rico to the U.S. in the 1940s.) Others have told this story, including Luis Alberto Urrea. In the NPR interview, Ms. Cummins talked about the impact Urrea’s work has had on her.

The collage above shows four of Urrea’s titles that I would select for high school students rather than American Dirt. Three books are nonfiction; one is a novel. And I would further explore the writing of other Latinx writers who accurately and authentically portray present-day Mexican culture, including the “Real Dirt – Works by Latinx Authors” List recommended by Pima County Public Library.

I share this reviewer’s perspective. “If English-speaking readers assume that this novel (American Dirt) accurately depicts the realities of Mexico and migration, it will only further the cause of disinformation and prejudice. And in this day and age, we can’t afford any more of that” (Schmidt 2020).

Works Cited

American Library Association. 2017. “First Amendment and Censorship.” ALA.org. http://www.ala.org/advocacy/intfreedom/censorship

Malik, Nesrine. 2020. “American Dirt’s Problem is Bad Writing, Not Cultural Appropriation.” The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/feb/03/american-dirt-problem-bad-writing-cultural-appropriation-mexico

Moreillon, Judi. (2019). “Does Cultural Competence Matter? Book Reviewers as Mediators of Children’s Literature.” Children and Libraries 17 (1): 3-8.

Schmidt, David J. 2020. “A Poor Imitation: American Dirt and Misrepresentations of Mexico.” The Blue Nib Literary Magazine. https://thebluenib.com/a-poor-imitation-american-dirt-and-misrepresentations-of-mexico

School Library Journal. 2016. “Self-Censorship.” SLJ.com. https://www.slj.com/?page=features-self-censorship

Susan Kuklin Book Study and Author Visit

This spring graduate students in IS445: Information Books and Resources are engaged in the Guided Inquiry Design (GID) framework (Kuhlthau, Maniotes, and Caspari 2012) as they explore nonfiction and informational books and resources in the context of inquiry learning. This is our essential question for this inquiry: Is it important that students interact with global (multicultural and international) nonfiction and informational books and resources when they investigate prejudice and discrimination as it impacts the lives of young people today?

Immerse Phase of the GID
Immerse, the second phase of the GID, invites learners to explore resources to build their background knowledge, consider various perspectives on the inquiry question, and further their motivation to pursue the inquiry process. These are some possible Immerse Phase experiences: “reading a book, story, or article together; viewing a video; or visiting a museum” (Kuhlthau, Maniotes, and Caspari 2012, 3).

Last week in the Immerse Phase of the GID, students participated in a book study of Susan Kuklin’s work and participated in an author visit with her.

Preparation for Ms. Kuklin’s Visit
In addition to reading her books, students were asked to explore Ms. Kuklin’s website and read an interview with her found on the Worlds of Words website: Authors’ Corner.

Students participated in literature circles during the first hour of class. They used the BHH (Book Head Heart) strategy for literature circle discussions centered on the titles in the above collage (see my review of Beers and Probst’s book Disrupting Thinking on my blog).

After the class session in an email to me, graduate student Kristin Somers shared her experience of using this discussion strategy. “The BHH was helpful. As far as guides go, the questions posed using BHH method were incredibly personal. Our group had a great conversation because of how much information was shared and how intimate the information was. We’re closer as a result-for sure!”

Then Ms. Kuklin joined our online class for a one-hour conversation related to her work. Students came to the author visit with two prepared questions. They were asked to listen to their classmates’ questions and Ms. Kuklin’s responses in order to forward our conversation with her.

Students’ Questions for Ms. Kuklin
Although their questions may have changed during their literature circle discussions and there wasn’t time for everyone to ask their questions, these are three examples from three different literature circle groups that offer a window into students’ thinking and responses to Ms. Kuklin books.

“How has writing We Are Here to Stay: Voices of Undocumented Youth affected how you think about the idea of an ‘American’ identity?” (Abbigail McWilliams) Ms. Kuklin responded from the perspective of DACA youth who have gone to school in the U.S. and have friends and (some) family here. She noted they are American in every way but for papers. Then, Ms. Kuklin asked the same question of Abbigail. (I suspect this was a reflective moment in our conversation during which we all contemplated this question.)

“What were you hoping to learn from the teens (in Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out)? Had you known much about transgender studies prior to the book’s creation? (Lily Dawson) Lily and the class learned how Ms. Kuklin builds her background knowledge first, conducts research, and identifies interviewees. We also learned that each of her most recent books takes approximately five years to craft.

“I thought your use of children’s own words in Families and How My Family Lives in America, rather than description in the third person made these books stand out as unique and particularly compelling. What, if any, challenges did you face in obtaining and settling on the final text from the children?” (Nina Reiniger). Ms. Kuklin spends hours with the children and through her recordings of those sessions draws out their message. She uses the actual words of each child and checks in with them again that what she’s written is accurate before determining the final text. She also noted that the use of the first-person honors the voice and agency of the children in her picture books.

If you want to know more about the students’ responses to Ms. Kuklin’s books and our interaction with her, search Twitter for Susan’s handle @susankuklin and  this hashtag: #is445.

Author Visits
I firmly believe in the power of the transaction between the reader, the author, and the text. This theory by Louise Rosenblatt is known as the “reader-response theory.” Rather than making inferences, author visits provide readers with powerful ways to access the intentions and meanings authors themselves ascribe to their work. Having the voice of the author in the classroom or library is an incomparable gift.

In my experience, author/illustrator visits are the most successful when learners are familiar with the author or illustrator’s work through reading and discussing their responses to the work with their peers. This allows learners to build their background knowledge in order to deepen the questions they will bring to the author visit. Their minds will be prepped to engage with the guest and their takeaways from the experience will be more meaningful and long lasting.

Susan Kuklin’s Next Book
Ms. Kuklin’s next book In Search of Safety: Voice of Refugees will be released on May 12, 2020. In the book, she shares the experiences of five individuals—refugees from Afghanistan, Northern Iraq, Myanmar, South Sudan, and Burundi. Please read about this timely book on her website.

Thank you to Ms. Kuklin for generously sharing your craft, experiences, and heart with us. Thank you to IS445 students for sharing with each other, Ms. Kuklin, and with me.

Work Cited

Kuhlthau, Carol C., Leslie K. Maniotes, and Ann K. Caspari. 2012. Guided Inquiry Design: A Framework for Inquiry in Your School. Santa Barbara, CA: Libraries Unlimited.

Note: I have used students’ comments, questions, and Ms. Kuklin’s responses with permission.

 

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.

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

Students’ Rights to Literacy Instruction

The International Literacy Association (ILA) recently released a position statement titled: “Children’s Rights to Excellent Literacy Instruction.”

As you read, you will note that librarians and libraries are not mentioned in this document. Many of us who are school librarians and long-time members of ILA have struggled in the past to make sure school librarians and libraries were included in ILA’s position statements.

I am sorry to say that, this time, we dropped the ball…

Does this mean that the members of ILA who drafted and the board who approved this statement do not view school librarians and libraries as stakeholders in students’ literacy instruction?

I certainly hope not…

That said, there is a great deal for school librarians to consider in this document. The document is organized around four value statements. I have quoted a bit from each one and added my “School Librarians” comments.

Children Have the Right to Knowledgeable and Qualified Literacy Educators
In my worldview, school librarians would be included in the list of literacy educators mentioned in this section along with “principals, reading/literacy specialists, literacy coaches, and literacy coordinators.” The varied roles of literacy educators include designing “literacy learning environments, both face-to-face and virtual, that meet the needs of all students.” These educators are also charged with “dismantling” forces that marginalize any student.

School Librarians: Equity of access and opportunity are cornerstones of school librarianship.

Children Have the Right to Integrated Support Systems
In the position statement, integrated support systems depend upon the “successful alignment of a complex system of stakeholders working cooperatively to strengthen teaching and learning practices and knowledge-building framework.” Educators, who take a systems thinking approach, can help ensure that the “overlapping spheres of influence” support positive progress toward shared goals.

School Librarians: Coteaching and working alongside principals and teacher leaders, school librarians can be key contributors in cocreating a vital system of support for all stakeholders in the learning community.

Children Have the Right to Supportive Learning Environments and High-Quality Resources
For me, this section is ALL about school libraries and the work of school librarians. These are a few quotes. Supportive learning environments with high-quality resources are “accessible learning environments that provide opportunity for robust, literacy-rich experiences, interactivity, and exploration of thought.” Resources and practices within this environment must be audited “to ensure they are bias free, culturally responsive, and student centered.”

School Librarians: In both physical and virtual spaces, school librarians, who are stewards of the school library’s print and digital resources, align the collection and the literacy learning experiences that weave through the library program with the teaching and learning needs of all students, classroom teachers, specialists, families, and the community.

Children Have the Right to Policies That Ensure Equitable Literacy Instruction
From the position statement: “Policymakers should recognize the professionalism and autonomy of teachers to implement curriculum in well-resourced classrooms. Every child, everywhere, benefits from policies that safeguard not only their welfare but also their educational potential.”

School Librarians: School library policies that provide for open, equitable access to resources and protect students’ (and educators’) privacy and intellectual freedom ensure safe learning spaces that support all stakeholders in reaching their capacity.

ILA’s position statement ends on this call to action: “Excellent literacy instruction builds a strong foundation for learning and, in turn, equips children to develop their potential, growing into adults who participate fully in their communities and society, enjoying the fullness that continuous learning brings to their lives.

It is our collective responsibility to advocate for, ensure, and protect these rights for every child, everywhere.”

School Librarians: In our daily practice, I hope that all school librarians are advocating for students’ rights to excellent literacy instruction. When school librarians can articulate the intersection of library resources, reading development, information literacy, and inquiry learning, their work as instructional partners alongside their colleagues can contribute to equitable, effective literacy instruction.

As reading researcher Dr. Nell Duke writes: “Learning to read without books is like learning to swim without water” (2019, 11). I hope everyone involved in education and educational policymakers remember critical importance of access to reading materials in students’ reading development.  I want our ILA colleagues to know exemplary school librarians serve as partners alongside other educators to collectively close the gaps between access and opportunity for all of our students.

Work Cited

Duke, Nell. 2019. “Learning to Read by Third Grade: How Policy Makers Can Foster Early Literacy.” National Association of State School Boards of Education. http://www.nasbe.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/Duke_May-2019-Standard.pdf

Image Credit:
Created at Tagxedo.com

Childism: Confronting Prejudice Against Children

In the month of August, I am blogging on WOW Currents. You can access today’s post “Guided Inquiry Design: Open and Immerse Phases.”

Each of the four August School Librarian Leadership posts are focused on professional books related to the posts on WOW Currents.

There is at least one common value that educators share that leads us to our career choice. We care deeply about the lives, learning, and well-being of other people’s children. Unfortunately, in my opinion, that is not the case for far too many educational policymakers and adults living in the United States today.

In the first online class session for IS445: Information Books and Resources for Youth, I read aloud For Every Child: The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in Words and Pictures by Caroline Castle, illustrated by various notable children’s picture book illustrators (2000). This book beautifully and powerfully conveys the articles of the Convention. After reading, I cited information about the number of signers on the UN Convention and the fact that the United States has not signed. IS445 graduate students were surprised. I invited them to dig deeper to find out why. For me, the answer to that question is “childism.”

WOW Book Study
In our first or second meeting, a colleague in our Worlds of Words professional book study made connections to “childism.” (Our book study focused on Suzanne Choo’s book Reading the World, the Globe, and the Cosmos: Approaches to Teaching Literature for the Twenty-first Century.) “Childism” was a term with which I was previously unfamiliar. Our colleague recommended reading a book by Elisabeth Young-Bruehl: Childism: Confronting Prejudice Against Children (2012).

“Childism” can be defined as prejudice against children and teens based on their age and vulnerability. Elisabeth Young-Bruehl goes even further. She states that childism is “prejudice against children on the ground of a belief that they are property [of their parents and society] and can (or even should) be controlled, enslaved, or removed to serve adult needs” (37). Young-Bruehl describes how adults are failing our collective responsibility to young people by not to recognizing “childism” along with racism, sexism, ageism, and other prejudices.

“Childism could help identify as related issues child imprisonment, child exploitation and abuse, substandard schooling, high infant mortality rates, fetal alcohol syndrome, the reckless prescription of antipsychotic drugs to children, child pornography, and all other behaviors or policies not in the best interest of children” (7). (The author also makes a connection between childism and the fiscally irresponsible behavior of the U.S. Congress that mortgages our children’s futures with astronomical indebtedness.)

Young-Bruehl believes that when adults take time and learn to see the world from the perspective of a child, we can help make the world a safer, saner, happier place for all our children–our future. In her psychotherapy practice, Young-Bruehl listens to adults who retell their childhood experiences. From their experiences, she has heard shocking evidence to support statistics that show the U.S. has the highest rates of child abuse among first-world nations. The U.S. also incarcerates more children than any other country in the world; many of these children are themselves victims of abuse and neglect. Reading this book influenced the inquiry question that I used to model the Guided Inquiry Design Framework (Kuhlthau, Maniotes, and Caspari 2012) for our class.

Inquiry Question
Hearing authors Susan Kuklin and Andrea Warren speak at the Tucson Festival of Books (TFOB) in March, 2019, further ignited my passion for this topic. Kuklin’s book We Are Here to Stay: Voices of Undocumented Young Adults (2019) and Warren’s book Enemy Child: The Story of Norman Mineta, a Boy Imprisoned in a Japanese American Internment Camp During World War II (2019) pushed me to think even more critically about this question.

Before reading Childism or attending the TFOB, I had a compelling interest in current issues surrounding prejudice and discrimination, specifically against immigrants and refugees. I live in Tucson, Arizona, sixty miles from the U.S./Mexico border. People crossing the southern border seeking work and a better life for themselves and their families has long been an everyday, politically charged issue in our community. This issue is currently heightened by the city’s humanitarian decision to provide safe havens for asylum-seekers.

All three combined (Childism, young adult literature, and our Tucson community’s activism) resulted in this overarching (essential) question for an Explore pathfinder of nonfiction books and information resources:

Is it important that students interact with global nonfiction and informational books and resources when they investigate prejudice and discrimination as it impacts the lives of young people today?

Childism
Reading Childism convinced me this was the inquiry question I wanted us to pursue as an example for the class. As noted by author Elisabeth Young-Bruehl, a “prejudice” is a “belief system” rather than a “knowledge system.” It is based on stereotypes that are applied generally to all members of a population. Many adults (some education policymakers included) use a child’s natural dependency as a reason to deny them rights, to undermine their agency and capacity for choice and voice as well as critical thinking.

Young-Bruehl refers to prejudices as “fantasies” that can operate at a conscious or unconscious level that lead to actions that harm others. This means to me that adults as well as children can and should be educated to recognize childism as a prejudice to be uncovered and addressed. Since our IS445 course focused on books and resources for youth, I set out to help graduate students see the world of ideas and information from a young person’s perspective—to see youth as agents in their own learning who should have the authority to make choices, express their voices, and apply critical thinking to issues that affect their lives and the lives of their global peers.

In Childism, the author shares information from The Irreducible Needs of Children: What Every Child Must Have in Order to Grow, Learn, and Flourish (2000), a book written by T. Berry Brazelton and Stanley I. Greenspan, physicians who are staunch advocates for children. Young-Bruehl shares the seven needs and notes that the seventh puts the other six in context: “Throughout the world future generations of children and families will be much more interrelated. In order to protect the future of one child, we must protect it for all” (cited in Young-Bruehl 2012, 279).

If you read only the introduction, first chapter “Anatomy of a Prejudice,” and the last “Education and the End of Childism,” you may, like me, begin to notice the consequences of childism in many aspects of education policy and other areas of U.S. society. This book made an enormous impact on my thinking and on my planning for IS445: Information Books and Resources for Youth.

Like Young-Bruehl, I believe that all children have the right to a healthy childhood and the right to be educated responsible world citizens. Do you?

Side note: If you are interested in reading about why the U.S. is the only country that has not ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, please read information published on the ACLU website on the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Convention.

Work Cited
Young-Bruehl, Elisabeth. 2012. Childism: Confronting Prejudice Against Children. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Building Connections for Learning in the Neighborhood

In my blog post last week, I recommended that people see Emilio Estevez’s film The Public when it is available in their community. This week I MUST follow up that recommendation with another. Won’t You Be My Neighbor?—a film about the life, work, and empowered positive impact of the amazing Fred Rogers—is a touching, sweet, emotional, and illuminating film about a man who made an incredible difference in the lives of countless young children and their families.

I have always remarked that one attribute that separates educators from (many) other adults is that we care about other people’s children. School librarians whose “kids” are all the young people in their schools must have expansive hearts to accommodate the personal and academic needs of all the youth we serve.

Effective and caring school librarians create a climate of welcoming acceptance in the library that extends out into the school and into the surrounding community. We achieve that through library programs that affirm diversity, insist upon equity, and strive to help all learners (students, educators, and parents) achieve their capacity to think, create, share, and grow.

This film made so many connections for me with our work in school libraries. These are just a few of them.

In the themed episodes for Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, Fred addressed children’s feelings about war, divorce, race, and other timely topics. He did not talk down to children. He did not shield them from the realities of their lives because he respected their intelligence. Fred Rogers was a courageous educator and friend to children. Today’s educators should be as courageous in helping learners express their feelings and deal with real-world problems and issues.

Our daughter watched Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood is the 1980s. I distinctly remember the pace of Mr. Rogers’ show compared with other children’s programming at the time. It was slower, in many ways more thoughtful, and allowed viewers thinking and feeling time. With today’s focus on academic, social, and emotional learning in many schools and districts (see CASEL), there is much for educators to consider in terms of a slower pace. We can carve out the necessary time students need to integrate their learning into their lives by making time for reflection and time for sharing with others.

The Guided Inquiry Design Framework (Kuhlthau, Maniotes, and Caspari 2012) that includes sufficient time for students to immerse themselves in questions of their own making acknowledges the emotional aspects of learning. As Carol Kuhlthau (2013) found in her research on the information search process, inquirers pass through various emotions as they pursue learning. If Fred Rogers had known about inquiry learning, I believe he would have agreed that such a process is respectful of learners’ emotions as well as their intellect.

One of the most powerful scenes in the film is when Fred Rogers testified at a Senate hearing regarding funding for the Public Broadcasting System. At the hearing, Senator John O. Pastore promised to read Fred’s prepared statement but asked him to talk extemporaneously in his oral testimony. Mr. Rogers began his response by telling the senator that he trusted him to keep his word and read the statement, which Fred has so carefully prepared. Then, he sang him a song about children feeling fearful and developing trust—a song sung from Fred’s heart that went straight to Senator Pastore’s heart. At the end of the song, the senator simply said, “You got the $20 million.”

This is a vivid reminder that when we are advocating for school library programs that help all learners succeed, our knowledge and data do matter. But it’s our stories that touch the heart; they are most often the aspect of our advocacy work that helps people make difficult decisions. Changing people’s minds through their hearts works.

These are some of the quotes from the film that made powerful connections for me and may serve as words of wisdom for today’s educators.

“’Won’t you be my neighbor?’ Well, I suppose it’s an invitation. It’s an invitation for somebody to be close to you” (Fred Rogers).

“Love is at the root of everything – all learning, all parenting, all relationships. Love or the lack of it. And what we see and hear on the screen is part of who we become” (Fred Rogers).

“Someone smiled you into smiling; sang you into singing; read you into reading” (Fred Rogers paraphrase from the film to the best of my memory).

I believe that educators can care students into caring about their own well-being, the health of our/their country, and the future of our planet. When we care for our “neighbors,” we model the empathy that is essential for living, working, and succeeding in a global society.

Thank you, Mr. Rogers, film director Marvin Neville, the film’s producers, and others who brought Fred Rogers’ knowledge, perspective, and heart to the screen. I also believe we become what we see and hear on the screen. I want Won’t You Be My Neighbor to be part of my becoming.

References
Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning. “CASEL: Educating Hearts. Inspiring Minds.” www.casel.org.

Kuhlthau, Carol Collier. 2013. “Inquiry Inspires Original Research.” School Library Monthly 30 (2): 5-8.

Kuhlthau, Carol C., Leslie K. Maniotes, and Ann K. Caspari. 2012. Guided Inquiry Design: A Framework for Inquiry in Your School. Santa Barbara, CA: Libraries Unlimited.

Image Credit: Sign distributed by Peace Centers across the U.S.

Question to the Internet Movie Database: What does it take to earn a ten?

 

Libraries and Neutrality

The June, 2018, American Libraries magazine is one of the most thought-provoking issues ever. I believe the summary and links from Jim Neal’s Midwinter President’s Program on librarianship and neutrality should be required reading for every library science graduate student and used as a discussion starter in classrooms and libraries everywhere. From serving the literacy needs of patrons in prison and those of Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program families, to using visual data to activate middle school readers, to addressing Melvil Dewey’s legacy, this issue is a treasure trove of information, knowledge, and wisdom. It’s also a rich source of topics for this blog.

ALA President Jim Neal’s session at Midwinter in Denver featured a debate with two speakers in favor of neutrality (James LaRue and Em Claire Knowles) and two speakers against neutrality (Chris Bourg and R. David Lankes). A panel of four speakers responded to the debate: Emily Drabinski, Emily Knox, Kathleen de la Peña McCook, and Kelvin Watson. The full program video is available online to Midwinter attendees at bit.ly/mw18-pres.

These are some of my takeaways beginning with the pro-neutrality debaters. James LaRue offered three dimensions for neutrality: service, access, and collections. In his view, neutrality is “enshrined in (library) values” and can be summarized as “everyone gets a seat at the table” (34). Em Claire Knowles noted that libraries/librarians have social goals but believes “an active, engaged, continually reaffirmed neutrality is just the first rung on the ladder to advocacy and social justice” (35).

On the other side of the debate, Chris Bourg noted that “neutrality, by definition, is not taking sides” (34). Operating from that definition, he notes “decisions like how much funding a library gets, who should have access to a library, and even where a library is located are not neutral decisions” (34). R. David Lankes further unpacks the “myth of neutrality” (35) and gives this example: “a poor child needs a different level of service to meet our mission than college-educated adults in terms of literacy” (36).

Emily Knox’s comment reproduced in the image above rings true for me (37).  Libraries, and school libraries in particular, cannot collect every book published for youth. In our decision-making, our goal is to provide access to all sides of issues. But with limited budgets and the charge to provide resources aligned with school curricula, school librarians must pick and choose. We do so in the displays we create, the literacy programs we offer, and the ways we collaborate with classroom teachers and specialists and involve students and families in the library program. As the article in this issue by school librarian Kelsey Cohen demonstrates (see next week’s blog post), the library cannot be neutral and simply serve the students who are eager to read.

To be honest, the decisions we make reflect our shared librarianship values, the values of our communities, and our own personal values as well. In the types of outreach and the target audiences for our outreach activities, whether in school, public, or academic libraries, librarians who adhere to our value of “access” seek to be fair rather than equal. A neutral library would simply exist and serve the patrons who come. The library/librarian that assesses the community and determines how to best help people achieve their goals will, of necessity, do more for some than for others.

As Kelvin Watson noted: “We can’t be neutral on social and political issues that impact our customers because, to be frank, those social and political issues impact us as well” (38). In schools, our English language learners and their classroom teachers may need more literacy support than our gifted and talented students and their classroom teachers. Youth living in poverty may need access to literacy and technology resources more than our affluent students who have access in their homes. Inviting an author from an underrepresented group to provide a literacy event may speak in more personally meaningful and impactful ways to some of our students and families than to others. In my opinion, the ways school librarians address academic, social. and political inequities is not a neutral stance.

Since I was unable to attend Midwinter, I especially appreciate the excerpts available in American Libraries magazine and the links to some of the presenters’ full remarks. As noted above, I believe this article can spark a lively and critical conversation in libraries across the country and around the world. I hope you will make time to seek out, read, and discuss the issue of neutrality in librarianship in your professional learning networks.

Work Cited

American Libraries 49 (6). June, 2018.

Image credits:
Quote from Emily J. M. Knox

Youngson, Nick. “Decision-making Highway Sign.” http://www.creative-commons-images.com/highway-signs/d/decision-making.html