Empowered Citizenship

From my reading of the news, activism among young people is on the rise. The tragedy of school shootings has activated young people, educators, families, and citizens in powerful ways. School librarians and other educators can apply what we have learned from our own advocacy efforts and activist experiences to help youth exercise empowered citizenship.

Last fall, I read You’re More Powerful than You Think: A Citizen’s Guide to Making Change Happen by Eric Liu. The author is the founder and CEO of Citizens University, an organization based in Seattle, Washington that promotes effective citizenship. Liu says he wrote this book for underdogs and challengers. “It’s for people who want to be change agents, not defenders of the status-quo” (Liu 2017, 11).

It takes courage to act on what you believe in, especially when there are powerful institutions and traditional structures in place that your beliefs will disrupt. The ideas in this book are important for anyone—younger or older—who is working to make positive change happen in society.

These are a few of my takeaways from this book and some ways that school librarians across the country are advocating for school libraries staffed by professional librarians and effective school library programs that can serve the needs of empowered students, educators, and families.

“Movements that truly change a society will cohere only when intuitive and uncoordinated activity becomes intentional and well-coordinated” (Liu 2017, 113). The call to intentional, well-coordinated action is a foundation of any successful change process. This can be said of effective instructional planning and professional learning as well as of social movements and advocacy efforts.

In his book, Eric Liu notes three opportunities for people to demonstrate they are more powerful than they (or others) think they are. Reading more about these three strategies is well worth the time.

1. Power creates monopolies, and is winner-take-all. You must change the game.
2. Power creates a story of why it’s legitimate. You much change the story.
3. Power is assumed to be finite and zero-sum. You must change the equation (71).

One way the Lilead Fellows have been thinking about their school library services action plans and advocacy activities is by crafting 27-9-3 messages (27 words, spoken in 9 seconds, with three points – see 01/01/18 blog post). John Chrastka from EveryLibrary.org and collaboration among the Fellows have been instrumental in honing messages to make them more effective for their intended audience(s). These messages are about changing the “game” and the “story.” They are about building relationships in order to share power for the benefit of students.

“To be sure, the citizen’s view of power is not selfless. It is often quite selfish. But whereas self-help and self-advancement focus on the individual, often in isolation, citizen power is about identity and action in the collective: how we make change happen together” (Liu 2017, 11).

These are two examples of how school librarians are working to maintain and improve effective school library services.

News from Washington State – Contributed by Dr. Christie Kaaland, Core Faculty, Antioch University
In response to a teacher shortage, the state’s educational standards board made a rapid unilateral decision to eliminate all coursework requirements to becoming a teacher librarian (along with 25 other content areas) in Washington state. Teacher librarian advocates rose to the cause and aggressively contacted standards board members.  The board was flooded with emails, phone calls, and on-site testimonials resulting in an overturn of this reduced standards’ decision by the board.  This advocacy work happened swiftly, professionally, and timely and resulted in retaining the coursework requirements for all of the 26 content-area certification standards.

News from Michigan – Contributed by Kathy Lester, School Librarian/Technology Integrationist and MAME Past President
On February 8, 2018, the Michigan Department of Education (MDE) published a memo that was sent out to all school districts. In essence, it said that if the person in the school library is doing x, y, z (a list of things from the Michigan certification preparation standards based on certification laws), districts need to have a certified school librarian in place or the district may be financially penalized by losing a small portion of their per pupil funding.

MDE’s intention was to work with districts to grow staff (by earning certification) and provide temporary permits.  However, because only 8% of Michigan schools have full-time certified librarians (and 18% have part-time certified librarians), there was a huge push back from superintendents (and legislators) especially from rural districts in Michigan’s upper peninsula.

As a result, MDE re-wrote the guidance without the Michigan Association of Media Educators’ (MAME) knowledge. Unfortunately, it basically says “anything goes” in school libraries including having paraprofessionals run the library. This “clarification” went out on February 15th.

MAME feels the sting of this setback in an advocacy effort they have been working on since 2013. Still, they are not giving up. They are reorganizing their efforts and rethinking their next moves. As Kathy notes, advocates must keep the five Ps in mind: – present, polite, prepared, positive and persistent.

School librarians can be leaders in modeling effective citizenship and collective action. We can be transparent in our activities and show students, our classroom teacher colleagues, and administrators that it takes organization and persistence. We must also show that the road to change will have its ups and downs but setbacks cannot stop us if we collaborate with a cadre of committed activists and remain true to our moral compass.

Our numbers and our ideals can be sources of power as we seek to ensure empowered learning and teaching through school libraries.

Side note: We can start with being active in our national association and vote! Ballots are available and voting starts today through April 4th. Please consider #Judi4AASL

Work Cited
Liu, Eric. 2017. You’re More Powerful than You Think: A Citizen’s Guide to Making Change. New York: Public Affairs.

Image Credit: Remixed by Judi Moreillon from Thurston, Baratunde. 2008. “I Am A Community Organizer.” Flickr.com. https://www.flickr.com/photos/baratunde/2837373493