Racial Justice Challenge

Photograph of Protesters with SignsLast week, August 3rd – 7th, I participated in the Racial Justice Challenge (RJC). Perhaps you did too. I appreciate the Fogler Library folks at the University of Maine for designing, curating, and facilitating the RJC. It is not too late to participate in this work. The RJC links are live and will be accessible into the future.

Each day, for five days, I received an email with several tasks designed to “learn, listen, share, and take action regarding race, racism, and antiracism.” Along with other participants, I explored how to be antiracist (versus “not racist”), examined issues of race in the media, and designed a personalized racial justice plan. (See the Welcome page.) Some of the resources shared were new to me. I revisited others or used them as springboards to read/view other resources I had in my queue.

As a White middle-class cisgender female and a retired K-20 educator, I participated with a preK-12 educator lens and with an eye for how school librarians can be especially instrumental in antiracist activism. I am currently editing a professional book centered on core values in librarianship, including equity, diversity, and inclusion. The RJC helped me think more deeply about our work and our book.

There is no way to fully share my experience but this is a start.

Note: I am reading Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram X. Kendi and appreciate his decision to capitalize both Black and White in his writing. I am adopting that convention here.

Day One
I have long been an avid supporter/follower/reader/user of Teaching Tolerance resources. The RJC kicked off with an article by Cory Collins (2018) “What is White Privilege Really? Recognizing white privilege begins with truly understanding the term itself.”

(Thank you to the facilitators for this article because this gave me confidence from the first day this work would build on what I already knew from my work in K-12 and university-level teaching and research.)

In defining White privilege, Collins cites Francis E. Kendall author of Diversity in the Classroom and Understanding White Privilege: Creating Pathways to Authentic Relationships Across Race (2006): “having greater access to power and resources than people of color [in the same situation] do.” The fact that I have been privileged with the “power of normal” and the “power of the benefit of the doubt” were important reminders to me. These powers ensure systemic racism.

This concept connected for me with Dr. Kendi’s idea regarding the origins of racism in the U.S.: “racial discrimination led to racist ideas led to racist ideas led to ignorance/hate” (2016, 9).

White privilege also endows me as a White woman with the power to remain silent in the face of racial inequity. By definition, my privilege gives me the option to avoid the discomfort of confronting racism because I am “safe.”

In the NPR video: “Me and White Supremacy Helps You Do the Work of Dismantling Racism.” I was introduced to the work of Layla Saad, author of Me and White Supremacy: Combat Racism, Change the World, and Become a Good Ancestor (2020). Ms. Saad is an East African, Arab, British, Black, Muslim woman living in Qatar. She developed a 28-day process that she calls a “personal anti-racism tool” designed to teach those with White privilege how systemic racism works and how they can stop contributing to White supremacy in the world. I appreciate her message: Systems are made by people and can be changed by people. As with changing cultures and school cultures, in particular, there is power and greater opportunities for success in doing this work with a group of colleagues.

From the very first day of RJC, the comment board where participants shared their responses to the resources shared was, for me, one of the most informative aspects of Day 1 and every day thereafter. I appreciate how people anonymously shared their feelings, experiences, and thoughts with the group. Other people’s posts made me think harder about what I was reading.

Day Two
Day Two began with viewing Dr. Ibram X. Kendi’s June 17, 2020 TED Talk: “The difference between being “not racist” and antiracist” (51 minutes). I had previously viewed this video and the one in which he is interviewed by Dr. Brené Brown. My take-aways again were reminders of definitions I believe are central to this work:

Racist = a fixed category – central to who someone is – evil/KKK/White supremacist

Not-racist = racist (denial)

Antiracist = acknowledgment of racial inequities and taking action to eliminate them – cannot be neutral, must admit privilege, be self-critical, and view racism as the problem

Again, the comment board posts were very powerful.

I glanced at the “100 Things White People Can Do to Fight Racism” article written by Corrine Shutack. While I agree with all of these actions, many of them related to political activism, there was part of me that wished these things were framed as what ALL people can and should do. Similar to advocacy in the world of librarianship, it often starts and must be sustained by “insiders” as well as the advocates we enlist to support change.

Day Three
I have shared and discussed the “single story” perspective in my university-level teaching. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s message in “The Danger of a Single Story” is supported today by #OwnVoices and #WeNeedDiverseBooks. Identifying and promoting the diversity of life experiences raises questions in my courses and in my life as an author, which are too numerous to explain here. Bottom line: I always benefit from hearing other people’s responses to this work (see the comment board).

I appreciate the menu of choices the facilitators curated for Day 3. For me, the most useful was the link to “The Best Latinx Books According to Latinx Writers.”

Where I live in Arizona, Latinx and American Indian peoples are the majority minority groups. I am always searching for ways to further educate myself about their cultures and concerns as well as their literature. From the list, I have several books in queue on my nightstand, including In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado (2019) and My Time Among the Whites: Notes from an Unfinished Education by Jennine Capó Crucet (2019). I look forward to reading these and other suggestions from the list.

One question asked of participants this day was when were we first aware of our race. Again, as a White child born in 1950, I had a common experience: my world was White.

In 1999, I created a VoiceThread example for a children’s literature course I was teaching to answer “Where I’m From.” As is plain to see, I am from working class Whiteness. It wasn’t until I was around eight when we got our first TV that Black “characters” introduced me to a view of Blackness and delivered harmful stereotypes into our home. It wasn’t until I was fourteen when my nuclear family moved from St. Louis to Detroit that I became aware of the real life lived experiences of Black people.

Day Four
After reading and reflecting on the news stories and how images and print shape perceptions, I viewed “Indigenous People React to Indigenous Representation in Film and TV (Pocahontas, the Lone Ranger)” published October 14, 2019 (Indigenous Peoples’ Day). This video made it clear to me that the interviewees’ responses to various media portrayals of American Indians varied. They did not speak with a single voice and reinforced to me Louise Rosenblatt’s reader response theory that honors the experiences and background knowledge that readers/viewers bring to a text. Some of the differences I noted seemed to be generational. I was delighted to learn the video producer Lauren is of Tohono O’odham and Apache heritage. Few people across the U.S. know about the Tohono O’odham whose southeast Arizona reservation borders Tucson and extends into Mexico.

This video also prompted me to find out which U.S. states have replaced Columbus Day or adopted Indigenous Peoples’ Day. This is the list: Alaska, Hawaii (Discoverers’ Day), Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada (Aug 9), New Mexico, Oregon, South Dakota, Vermont, Wisconsin, and dozens of cities, including Tucson. Although I already knew my state is not among them, I’m grateful to the K-20 educators who discuss this holiday in Arizona classrooms and libraries.

The Morgan Freeman meme was offensive to me. The fact that people can take someone else’s image, good name, and work and reframe them to meet their own agenda stinks. Considering the work Freeman is doing on social media, I certainly hope Freeman’s reading of Representative John Lewis’s farewell message of activism and love gets more attention.

In terms of interacting with the resources provided, I took a bit of a detour on Day 4 to watch the Black Caucus of the American Library Association (BCALA) video: “Translation of Service: How Does My School Library Program Look Now?” This video prompted me to once again confront the fact that our profession is predominantly White and that the publicizing the work of our colleagues of color is instrumental in attracting more POC to the library and education professions.

I also read “So You’ve Messed Up: Recognising Failures In Your Anti-Racism & What To Do Next” by Orla Pentelow. My goal is to be a non-optical ally. Since I have the fear of making mistakes and can respond to criticism with defensiveness, these strategies are important for me to practice.

On this day, I decided to pick up where I left off reading Kendi’s book for my free choice independent reading.

Day Five
Some participants revealed who they were on the comment board with their final reflections. One person’s post led me to her blog where I learned her school librarian position had been cut and she was, I hope temporarily, stepping away from school librarianship. (She and I have been in touch.) This was particularly disturbing news in light of the BCALA video I viewed the previous day.

I started my Racial Justice Action Plan and found it challenging to complete. I will make the commitment to continue to work on it. As a retired educator (and elderly person according to the CDC), my sphere of influence at this point in time is greatly reduced. I am not currently teaching K-12 students or preservice school librarians. My antiracist acts will mostly involve my continued efforts toward self-education and my interactions with friends and family members, in the letters to the editor and op-eds I write for the Arizona Daily Star, and in my communication with my elected representatives in Phoenix and Washington, DC.

I am, however, editing and contributing to a professional book for school librarians focused on core values in our profession: equity, diversity, inclusion, and intellectual freedom. The resources, reflection, and questions that remain from this week with the RJC will influence my thinking as I complete my introduction and chapter for the book and provide feedback to the other contributors.

Thank you to Jen Bonnet and the Challenge Team at the UMaine Fogler Library for organizing and promoting this learning experience.

Work Cited

Kendi, Ibram X. 2016. Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America. New York: Nation Books.

Image Credit

Life Matters. Pexels.com. https://www.pexels.com/photo/crowd-of-protesters-holding-signs-4614165/

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

Book Jacket: Lift Up Up, Don't Push Us Out!This week, August 3rd – 7th, I’m participating in the Racial Justice Challenge. Perhaps you are participating too. Each day, for five days, I’ll receive an email with several tasks designed to learn, listen, share, and take action regarding race, racism, and antiracism. Along with other participants, I will explore how to be antiracist (versus “not racist”), move beyond a single story, examine issues of race in the media, and design a personalized racial justice plan.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Compassion and Wisdom for Activists

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

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

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

Sincerely,
Judi

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

Image Credit:

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

100% Online K12 Learning

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Work Cited

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

Image Credit: Photograph by Judi Moreillon

Social Justice in the Library

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

These are examples of standards under each of the domains.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Works Cited

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

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

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

Image Credit:

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

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. All multicultural children’s literature has the potential to serve as mirrors and windows (Bishop 1990).

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Works Cited

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

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

Photographs of Author Visits Used with Permission

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