Opening Our Educational Practices for Intellectual Freedom

Chapter 4: Intellectual Freedom by Suzanne Sannwald
and Dan McDowell|
Blog post by Suzanne

Although I was a co-author for the chapter on Intellectual Freedom for Core Values in School Librarianship, I am quite self-admittedly far from being an expert on intellectual freedom. My approach with writing was instead from the perspective of an ordinary school librarian, and the chapter that unfolded shared information that anyone can find by doing some research on the topic.

At the same time, the framing of the chapter was very personal. My hope was to share the thought journey that I went through in making sense of this very theoretical sounding concept and seeing how it affects my very concrete daily practices.

“Intellectual freedom, including access and choices, privacy
and confidentiality, is the right of every library stakeholder” (Sannwald and McDowell 2021, 55).

As often happens when you learn about something, you start to see the term or idea show up all over the place, and that has definitely been the case for me since I co-wrote the chapter on intellectual freedom. For instance, as I shared in a previous post, I cannot hear discussions about challenges to curriculum related Critical Race Theory (CRT) without thinking about how this threatens the intellectual freedom of students. The fact that educators may through intimidation and/or legislation be discouraged from sharing marginalized voices and factual experiences is clear and present censorship.

I have also been thinking about the way misinformation with COVID-19 has also endangered intellectual freedom since intellectual freedom is not just a matter of what information is allowed or not allowed to be shared. Intellectual freedom is also about our capacity to be mentally free, to be able to think critically.

When thinking about building students’ “capacity to be mentally free, I now see how every instructional choice is really tied to intellectual freedom. Suzanne SannwaldWith the pandemic, another trend that I tracked was the increased use of digital resources as students engaged in online-based distance learning. I work in a district that has been working for years now as a #GoOpen Ambassador District implementing Open Educational Resources (OER), but I feel like movement and motivation in this direction was certainly accelerated during the pandemic.

This past summer, my ideas around OER were deepened when I had the fortunate opportunity to talk with Susan D. Ballard, Dr. Pamela C. Harland. and Dr. Gerard L. Hanley for School Library Connection. Although I had originally sought them out based on their involvement and expertise with OER, my favorite takeaway was learning about OEP: Open Educational Practices/Pedagogy. I realized that OER may, of course, have benefits when it comes to ensuring equitable access to learning resources.

However, if it is always teachers and librarians doing all of the curation with OER, then is there really that fundamental a shift in the learning experience for students?

With OEP, the idea is that we don’t just look for ways to open up resource access. We go further by looking at ways to open up learning so that students share ownership in constructing their own learning. This, again, made me think again about intellectual freedom and fostering student capacity to be mentally free. It ties to the idea that we, as school librarians, must go beyond simply opposing censorship and securing access to resources for students. We, in collaboration with all educators, must open learning experiences to students so that they are enabled and encouraged to think and engage critically.

Only by creating these opportunities for participatory practice may we truly ensure students’ intellectual freedom.

Reflection Question
“What practices are you already doing to support the intellectual freedom of students and staff members in your school community, including ones that you may not have previously identified as relating to intellectual freedom?” (70).

To learn and reflect more about how intellectual freedom can drive your professional practice, make sure to check out Chapter 4 in Core Values in School Librarianship: Responding with Commitment and Courage.

Work Cited

Sannwald, Suzanne, and Dan McDowell. 2021. “Intellectual Freedom.” In Core Values in School Librarianship: Responding with Commitment and Courage, ed. Judi Moreillon, 55-72. Santa Barbara, CA: Libraries Unlimited.

About the Blogger
Suzanne Sannwald, MLIS, (she/her) has worked as a high school teacher librarian since 2014. She builds upon her previous education-related roles from middle school to higher education levels, serving as a certificated classroom teacher, classified library technician, district library supervisor, and student affairs technology manager. Suzanne earned both an MA in Teaching and Learning with Technology and an MLIS. She was a 2015-16 ALA Spectrum Scholar, 2016 California School Library Association Leadership for Diversity Scholar, 2017 school site Golden Apple Teacher of the Year, 2018-19 AASL Induction Program member, San José State University iSchool lecturer starting Fall 2020, and School Library Connection contributor. Suzanne has published articles and presented on topics including user experience, information literacy, collaboration, advocacy, and affirming students’ reading and larger lives. Connect with her on Twitter @suzannesannwald.

Anxiety as an Impetus to Act Courageously for Intellectual Freedom

Chapter 4: Intellectual Freedom by Suzanne Sannwald
and Dan McDowell|
Blog post by Suzanne

I’ve had a lot of anxiety entering the 2021-22 school year. I’ve felt concerned about COVID-19 with all of its variants, as well as with the uncertainty of being fully back on campus with students and staff who may or may not be vaccinated and may or may not be required to wear masks or follow other safety protocols.

I have also anticipated possible challenges we educators may face in opposition to what is perceived as related to “Critical Race Theory” (CRT). But, all of this has inspired me to reflect even more deeply on the importance of intellectual freedom as a core value of school librarianship that we must embrace always, and especially now.

Regarding attempts to legislate and control what historical and social curriculum can or cannot be taught, we are seeing how censorship is alive and well. And, we are having the opportunity to truly wrestle with the complexities of intellectual freedom when we consider how the same constituents who aim to censor teaching that is considered CRT-aligned have also asserted their own rights to freedom of speech in the face of what they have deemed to be “cancel culture.”

How is intellectual freedom defended only when considered convenient? "As school librarians, we must think carefully about how we may consistently uphold intellectual freedom with integrity as we serve community members who hold polarized points of view." Suzanne SannwaldHow do we create spaces and opportunities for our communities to share their voices when some voices infringe on the experienced safety of others in our communities?

After all, if someone does not feel safe, are they able to truly experience and enact their own intellectual freedom?

With regard to the misinformation that has been rampant with COVID-19, we have also been reminded that intellectual freedom is not just a matter of what information is allowed or not allowed to be shared. Intellectual freedom is also about our capacity to be mentally free, to be able to think critically.

How can we help our students develop this capacity to think critically, especially when they (and their families) may hold contrary (at least to you) beliefs about what mental freedom looks like?

Just as I remind our students whenever they are working on research related to controversial issues, if these issues were easy to solve, then they wouldn’t be issues any longer and there wouldn’t be controversy.

So, I’m not claiming to have easy answers – or any answers at all for that matter – to the questions I have posed above. I share them so you may serve as my witnesses to this very real current struggle and so that you might join in conversation about what our work looks like as we act in the service of intellectual freedom.

Regardless of whether or not you or I end up experiencing a formal book or curriculum challenge during this next year, intellectual freedom is always at stake. This is a realization that became clear to me when researching and co-writing the chapter on Intellectual Freedom for Core Values in School Librarianship: Responding with Commitment and Courage.

In the many day-to-day decisions that we make for our school library programs, whether regarding cataloging and circulation or curriculum and instruction, we are either intentionally or unintentionally advancing intellectual freedom… or not.

Having acknowledged my anxiety about this school year, I choose to sit with the anxious feelings and embrace them as my impetus for intentionality. I can’t guarantee that every decision I make will be correct, but I do hope that overall, my mindful efforts will have a net positive impact when it comes to honoring the intellectual freedom of those I serve.

Reflection Question
What intention are you acting from? What impact will you have?

To learn and reflect more about core values that drive your professional practice, make sure to check out Core Values in School Librarianship: Responding with Commitment and Courage (Libraries Unlimited 2021).

Work Cited

Sannwald, Suzanne, and Dan McDowell. 2021. “Intellectual Freedom.” In Core Values in School Librarianship: Responding with Commitment and Courage, ed. Judi Moreillon, 55-72. Santa Barbara, CA: Libraries Unlimited.

About the Blogger
Suzanne Sannwald, MLIS, (she/her) has worked as a high school teacher librarian since 2014. She builds upon her previous education-related roles from middle school to higher education levels, serving as a certificated classroom teacher, classified library technician, district library supervisor, and student affairs technology manager. Suzanne earned both an MA in Teaching and Learning with Technology and an MLIS. She was a 2015-16 ALA Spectrum Scholar, 2016 California School Library Association Leadership for Diversity Scholar, 2017 school site Golden Apple Teacher of the Year, 2018-19 AASL Induction Program member, San José State University iSchool lecturer starting Fall 2020, and School Library Connection contributor. Suzanne has published articles and presented on topics including user experience, information literacy, collaboration, advocacy, and affirming students’ reading and larger lives. Connect with her on Twitter @suzannesannwald.

 

Professional Book Review: Intellectual Freedom Issues in School Libraries

Book Cover: Intellectual Freedom Issues in School LibrariesWhen school librarians consider our unique set of core values, we must include intellectual freedom along with equity, diversity, and inclusion. Intellectual freedom is a bedrock of our practice. It impacts our work in so many overt and covert ways as we serve the literacy and learning needs of our students, colleagues, administrators, families, and communities.

Intellectual Freedom Issues in School Libraries (Libraries Unlimited 2021) edited by April M. Dawkins is a collection of 57 previously published articles that address this topic in variety of contexts. Readers may be surprised by the many ways the contributors frame our work as school library professionals in terms of intellectual freedom.

In our forthcoming book, the co-authors of the intellectual freedom chapter defined intellectual freedom in this way. It “is the right of every individual to both seek and receive information from all points of view without restriction. Rooted in U.S. law, intellectual freedom is further supported through library professional standards and guidance, and involves protecting the rights of access, choice, privacy, and confidentiality” (Moreillon 2021, in press).

From 2012 through 2015, I was privileged to contribute to a column for School Library Monthly. Four of the articles in Dawkins’ book are from those columns: “Leadership: Filtering and Social Media,” “Policy Challenge: Closed for Conducting Inventory,” “Policy Challenge: Consequences of Restricting Borrowing,” and “Policy Challenge: Leveling the Library Collection.” My fifth contribution, “Progressive Collection Development = A Foundation for Differentiated Instruction,” which was originally published in 2017 in School Library Connection, is the last article in the book.

Although each of these articles speak to the commitment it takes to remain true to the core value of intellectual freedom, the most recent “Progressive Collection Development…” has an important place in today’s conversations about racial and social justice.

“Collaborating librarians cannot overestimate the importance of their work as literacy stewards who provide the resource foundation for DI [differentiated instruction]. With their knowledge of literature, librarians can support teachers’ teaching and help motivate students to engage in deep and meaningful learning. Providing multiple sources that serve as mirrors and windows can make DI a reality.

Diverse resources are an essential first step in opening doors for all students to succeed” (Dawkins 2021, 197).

Other contributors to the book are school librarianship’s long-time staunch intellectual freedom leader Helen R. Adams, April M. Dawkins, Elizabeth Burns, Chad Heck, Maria Cahill, Lucy Santos Green, Michelle Maniaci Folk, and more.

Contributing to this book was important to me because the First Amendment applied to the rights of library users was my initial pathway into developing a passion for librarianship. Ensuring that K-12 students had those rights has always been part of my mission as a school librarian and school librarian educator. Intellectual freedom can position our values and work in sharp contrast to outdated school policies and practices. It can cause us to consider and reconsider the distinctions between selection and censorship. And in the case of book or resource challenges, intellectual freedom can require that we show courage to stand up for the rights of youth, authors, and illustrators.

I know readers of Dawkins’ book will want to add Chapter 4: Intellectual Freedom by Suzanne Sannwald, high school teacher librarian, and Dan McDowell, Director of Learning and Innovation, Grossmont Union High School District, San Diego County, California, to their essential readings on intellectual freedom (Moreillon 2021, in press).

In their chapter, Suzanne and Dan explore intellectual freedom from access to print and digital resources to students’ opportunities to exercise agency. The co-authors make a strong case that intellectual freedom is a mindset for students and for educators. It includes seeking and receiving information, securing privacy and confidentiality, and fostering democracy. Suzanne and Dan note that when school librarians collaborate with other educators to design pedagogy, they can make a shared commitment and practice of honoring students’ rights to lead their own learning.

And isn’t that the ultimate goal of intellectual freedom?

Works Cited

Dawkins, April. Ed. 2021. Intellectual Freedom Issues in School Libraries. Santa Barbara, CA: Libraries Unlimited.

Moreillon, Judi. Ed. 2021. Core Values in School Librarianship: Responding with Commitment and Courage. Santa Barbara, CA: Libraries Unlimited.

 

 

Banned Books Week and The Freedom to Read

Censorship is a deadend. Find your freedom to read.This week, classroom teachers, librarians, and libraries across the country are honoring the American Library Association Office of Intellectual Freedom’s annual Banned (and Challenged) Books Week, September 27 – October 3, 2020.

The observance began yesterday with the publication of the Top 100 Most Banned and Challenged Books: 2010 – 2019. This list is compiled and published every decade and once again testifies to the fact that books written expressly for youth dominate the list.

The top seven books on the list were written expressly for children and young adults. Perennial “favorites” on this list, including Captain Underpants, Hunger Games, and Speak, are some of the books that young people repeatedly request, read, enjoy, share, and eagerly discuss. Those are the books that should be in the hands of our youth. (See last year’s 9/24/19 post about Speak!)

Each year, the OIF publishes the ten most frequently challenged books from the previous year. The 2019 list should cause all school librarians to pause and reflect on their own commitment to students’ intellectual freedom and right to read. Nine of the ten books were written expressly for children and young adults. Of those nine, four are nonfiction titles focused on sexuality, gender identity, or LGBTQIA+ experiences. Let me repeat. Four of the nine are informational titles: biographies or narrative nonfiction.

Why would be deny students access to information presented in age-appropriate books?

Four Book Jackets for the Books Listed Below

Four Frequently Challenged Books – 2019

#2. Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out by Susan Kuklin – Narrative Nonfiction

#4. Sex is a Funny Word by Cory Silverberg, illustrated by Fiona Smyth – Expository Nonfiction

# 6. I Am Jazz by Jessica Herthel and Jazz Jennings, illustrated by Shelagh McNicholas – Biography

#10. And Tango Makes Three by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson illustrated by Henry Cole – Narrative Nonfiction

At this time in the lives of our K-12 students and in the life of our country, school librarians must raise our voices with and for young people’s access to ideas and information. For as long as I have been in the profession, school librarians have facilitated many different kinds of learning experiences centered on students’ right to read (See Banned Books Week Projects blog post 2016.)

Since 2011, school librarians have also been observing Banned Websites Awareness Day to hone a spotlight on over-restrictive filters that compromise students’ and educators’ access to information. It will be held on Wednesday, September 30, this year.

Last Thursday, I attended the ALA Connect Live: Intellectual Freedom webinar. Thank you to ALA President Julius C. Jefferson, Freedom to Read Foundation President Barbara Stripling and ALA Intellectual Freedom Committee Chair Martin L. Garnar for this program. (See information about ALA Connect Live! Programs.)

Here are some resources:

Check out the Banned Books Week Facebook page. There will be live events throughout this week.

For research related to banned books, read Banned Books: Defending Our Freedom to Read by Robert P. Doyle (2017).  ALA offers a link for members-only online access. You can also purchase the book for $15.00 from the ALA Store.

There are resources to support the popular “Dear Banned Author” program including printable and virtual postcards, author addresses, and tips for libraries in hosting virtual programs.

On Friday, October 2 at 6 p.m. CT, ALA is hosting a national watch party of “Scary Stories,” a documentary about the censorship history and impact of Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz. (I cannot count the replacement copies I purchased of Schwartz’s book during the ten years I served as an elementary librarian!) Libraries can learn how to stream the film for free, or host their own watch party.

Follow these Twitter hashtags: #BannedBooksWeek; #BannedBook; #BannedAuthor

Learn more about the webinar series hosted by Intellectual Freedom Round Table, the Graphics Novels & Comics Round Table and Image Comics.

I hope you will join me in proudly wearing your “I read banned books” button and continue reading, recommending, and discussing these books with youth.

Image Credit

American Library Association. http://www.ala.org/advocacy/bbooks/bannedbooksweek/ideasandresources/freedownloads