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.

 

Core Values in School Librarianship: Fall Semester Book Study

This fall, the Core Values in School Librarianship: Responding with Commitment and Courage (Libraries Unlimited 2021) contributors and I will be sharing two posts for each of the nine chapters in the book. Beginning today with this introduction through the last week of December, blog readers can read recaps of chapters or more thoughts and experiences of chapter co-authors. (As you know, one challenge with a published book is that once it’s off to the printer, it is fixed in a way our learning and practice never are!) You can find the line-up of posts on this blog. I will be adding links to each of the posts as they are published.

Introduction: A Passion for School Librarianship
As the book’s editor, I wrote the introduction. In it I share my motivation for this proposing this book. I know that my own enculturation into and my passion for the core values of school librarianship guided my library practice, my work as an educator of preservice school librarian, and my continued involvement in the profession and advocacy work. Equity, diversity, inclusion, and intellectual freedom combined with the values we share with classroom teachers such as collaboration and literacy as a pathway to success have been at the end of my work/life.

"All school librarians need a firm foundation to provide strength and direction during these rapidly changing and challenging times" (Moreillon 2021, ix).These are indeed rapidly change and challenging times. Grounding our practice in our core values gives us a necessary and needed firm foundation to stay strong as we speak up and out for the benefit of our library stakeholders. The pandemic, Black Lives Matter movement, and backlash from various quarters of society have converged to create a time that is testing our mettle. I truly believe we must act now.

Destabilization
Accelerations in technology, globalization, and climate change result in a “constant state of destabilization” (Friedman 2016, 35) all of which affect the education landscape as well as society as a whole. For example, laws recently passed by some state legislatures that intend to constrain educators’ teaching and students’ learning regarding U.S. history will be tested in practice as well as in courts of law. When librarians are guiding students’ social studies inquiry, we must hold to our values and ensure that learners engage with accurate historical records, think critically about our nation’s past and present, and discuss issues that are relevant to their lives—today and in the future.

In this environment, we are called upon to recommit and hold tight to our values: equity, diversity, inclusion, and intellectual freedom. We may be the only educator in our buildings who holds these core values. As such, we cannot fail to take courageous action when warranted for the benefit of our learning communities.

Co-leading Change
We cannot, however, act alone. While we must embrace ambiguity, stretch our flexibility, and exercise our initiative, we must reach out to others to co-lead change in our schools and districts, state and national associations. We need a tribe to keep us centered in our values. The education profession, of which school librarianship is an integral part, needs a tribe of like-minded dedicated colleagues to move our work forward.

People don’t care how much you know
until they know how much you care.

Dr. Jean Feldman

During these challenging times, many educators, school librarians among them, are feeling vulnerable; others are quite understandably afraid. This may be particularly true at this time for those who are making professional decisions that affect their families as well as their students. It is incumbent on us to practice empathy as we co-lead with our administrators and teacher leaders. Empathy is a key tool in our work as we strive to take compassion action.

Choosing Courage Over Comfort
In her book Dare to Lead. Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts (Vermillion 2018) Brené Brown challenges those of us who live our values to speak up about the “hard things.” She describes integrity in this way: “choosing courage over cover; it’s choosing what is right over fun, fast, or easy, and it’s practicing your values not just professing them” (189).

In our book, the contributors offer inspiration, thoughts, and experiences as guides to help you lead through our shared library values in your learning community. We invite you to share and comment on our blog posts and join in via our social posts as well. We look forward to hearing how you are enacting core values in your library this fall and positively influencing the teaching and learning and work of your administrators, colleagues, students, and families.

Reflection Questions
Each chapter in the book concludes with reflection questions. In addition to your personal consideration or to discussions with your near colleagues, we invite you to respond to these questions on this blog or via our other social media posts.

If I were to add such a question to the book’s introduction, this would be it:

How are you expressing empathy for others and practicing self-care
as you launch the 2021-22 academic year?

Additional Resources
Circulating Ideas Podcast by Steve Thomas: Core Values in School Librarianship: Responding with Commitment and Courage Interview with Judi Moreillon (7/13/21)

Core Values in School Librarianship: Collaborating for Social Justice – School Library Connection Webinar (6/28/21)

Taking Action for Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, and Intellectual Freedom in School Libraries at #alaac21 (6/21/21)

Works Cited
Brown, Brené. 2018. Dare to Lead. Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts. London: Vermillion.

Friedman, Thomas. 2016. Thank You for Being Late: An Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in an Age of Acceleration. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

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

Core Values in School Librarianship Responding with Commitment and Courage

Book Cover: Core Values in School Librarianship: Responding with Commitment and CourageI am a card-carrying collaborator but before Core Values in School Librarianship: Responding with Commitment and Courage (Libraries Unlimited 2021) the professional books I’ve authored have been solo projects. Working with 17! co-contributors to Core Values has been a once-in-a-lifetime learning experience for me and now we all get to share in the celebration.

After an 18-month journey, our book is published and available for purchase from ABC-CLIO!

Core Values
When proposing this book, I suggested four core values for school librarianship: equity, diversity, inclusion, and intellectual freedom. From my perspective, this is an interdependent set of values and a combination of values that are unique to school librarians. While some of our non-school librarian colleagues may share two or more of these values, I proposed that school librarians have the commitment and responsibility to ensure all four of these values are fully accessible and functioning in our spheres of influence.

Indeed, we share other values with our classroom teacher and administrator colleagues such as literacy and education as a path to lifelong learning, innovation, and collaboration. Yet, these four—equity, diversity, inclusion, and intellectual freedom—are the foundation on which school librarian leadership is built.

Editorial Role
As the editor of the book, I had the honor and responsibility of securing an approved book proposal and then soliciting contributors for specific chapters. I am so pleased that the chapter co-authors said “yes!” They remained committed to this work through one of the most difficult years any of us has experienced in our professional and in our personal lives. I am grateful for their perseverance and dedication to our book.

Infusing our profession with voices of our present and future generation of school librarian leaders was one of my goals for this book. (The co-authors are not of my generation of school librarianship!) They are diverse in terms of race, ethnicity, and gender identity. The contributors, including those who offered vignettes of practice found in each chapter, live and work in various parts of the country, serve in urban, rural, and suburban schools and in libraries at all three instructional levels. Our hope is that all Core Values in School Librarianship: Responding with Commitment and Courage readers will find themselves and their work reflected in this book.

I wrote the introduction to the book (and the final chapter as well). In the intro, I share my passion for school librarianship and my inspiration and motivation for proposing this project to our initial acquisitions editor Sharon Coatney at ABC-CLIO.

The introduction begins with a one-sentence theme that summarizes the message I hope we clearly convey throughout the book.

Introduction: A Passion for School Librarianship
All school librarians need a firm foundation to provide strength and direction during these rapidly changing and challenging times.
Judi Moreillon

Based on my experience and thirty years of involvement, I can honestly say that our core values are what initially fueled the fire of my passion for school librarianship, have kept me going in times of trouble, and have—without fail—reaffirmed and reignited my commitment to the profession. I believe that our values are the firm foundation we can rely on during times of change and challenge. As a practicing school librarian and as a school librarian educator, I have met many courageous school librarians who have stepped up to ensure that our core values were accessible to all of our library users when others might have shrunk from that responsibility.

Core Values Chapters: First Four Chapters and Contributors
In the first four chapters of the book, the contributors share their understandings of, passion for, and commitment to four core values: equity, diversity, inclusion, and intellectual freedom. The co-authors frame their chapters with one-sentence themes that convey the overarching meaning of each value. They also share how they and their colleagues have enacted these values in their practice of school librarianship.

Chapter 1: Equity
Equitable access is a matter of social justice.
Erika Long and Suzanne Sherman

Chapter 2: Diversity
Diversity in resources and programming is not optional.
Julie Stivers, Stephanie Powell, and Nancy Jo Lambert

Chapter 3: Inclusion
Inclusion means welcoming and affirming the voices of all library stakeholders in a way that shares power.
Meg Boisseau Allison and Peter Patrick Langella

Chapter 4: Intellectual Freedom
Intellectual freedom, including access and choices, privacy and confidentiality, is the right of all library stakeholders.
Suzanne Sannwald and Dan McDowell

Courage Chapters: Chapters 5-8 and Contributors
The co-authors of the courage chapters share how they have enacted the four values in specific contexts: professional relationships, principal-school librarian partnerships, and through specific behaviors—leadership and advocacy. Their one-sentence themes convey connections to the application of our core values in practice.

Chapter 5: Relationships
Relationships are the root of a strong community.
Jennifer Sturge with Stacy Allen and Sandy Walker

Chapter 6: Principal-School Librarian Partnerships
Principals are our most important allies.
M.E. Shenefiel and Kelly Gustafson

Chapter 7: Leadership
Leadership requires confidence and vulnerability.
Pam Harland and Anita Cellucci

Chapter 8: Advocacy
Advocacy involves effective communication and building partnerships.
Kristin Fraga Sierra and TuesD Chambers

Final Chapter
I had the gift of contributing the final chapter to the book. Advocating for collaboration through instructional partnerships is the hill on which I will make my final stand in school librarianship and K-12 education. The four core values must be enacted throughout the learning community if school librarians are to achieve our capacity to lead and positively influence every student’s learning. Collaborating with others is the way to co-create the learning environment in which students and the adults who serve them can thrive.

Chapter 9: Collaboration
Collaboration is THE key to co-creating a values-centered culture of deeper learning.
Judi Moreillon

All Chapters
All chapters in the book include two vignettes that spotlight core values and behaviors in action. The co-authors have also included quotes that have inspired them from a wide variety of scholars, practitioners, and writers. Each chapter concludes with questions for reflection.

ALA Annual
The contributors and I are enthusiastic about sharing our work. We will provide many opportunities for you to engage in conversation with us around these core values and their implication for practice beginning at ALA Annual where the co-authors of the first four chapters will offer an on-demand video session #SLCoreValues #alaac21:

Taking Action for Equity, Diversity, Inclusion, and Intellectual Freedom in School Libraries

We invite you to join us in promoting and enacting the unique contributions of school librarians to our learning communities!

And, of course, we hope you will read our book, discuss, and share the ideas and examples of practice with colleagues in your PLNs.

Work Cited

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

Civic Education with Kidizenship

“A democracy must be reborn anew every generation, and education is its midwife.” – John DeweyI believe that civic education has never been more important than it is today. In January just before President Biden was inaugurated, the Arizona Daily Star (Tucson’s daily newspaper) asked readers to submit what they expect for the next four years. My letter to the editor was published in the Star on January 20, 2021:

Civic Education Expectations for the Next Four Years

“A democracy must be reborn anew every generation, and education is its midwife.” – John Dewey

Many educators across the U.S. are reconsidering how to teach civic education in our K-12 schools, colleges, and universities. It is clear that youth and adults alike need:

  • to hear an unambiguous message about the critical importance of voting in a participatory democracy and a clear understanding of the electoral process;
  • to know the provisions of the First Amendment and be able to make a distinction between free speech and hate speech;
  • to know how to engage in civil dialogue and learn to have respectful conversations about controversial topics; and
  • to learn multiple ways to positively and nonviolently enact change in classrooms, schools, and communities.

It is my fervent hope that civic education for youth and adults alike will lead to a national electoral process that honors the votes of all citizens and is characterized by confidence and trust in our democratic process.

Kidizenship
You might imagine that I was thrilled to learn shortly thereafter about a new (to me) civic education organization called Kidizenship.  Kidizenship was founded by Vanderbilt University professor and Bloomberg columnist, Amanda Little.

From a grades 5-12 perspective, I especially appreciate their motto: “You may be too young to vote, but your voice is powerful. We want to hear it. Enter a contest, Show us YOUR America.”

Designed for tweens and teens, Kidizenship is a non-partisan, non-profit media platform for youth to share their voices beyond the classroom. The combination of civics education with creative self-expression and community action is especially powerful.

Speech Contests
Kidizenship is using social media to promote and share their contests. Their latest nationwide creative civics contest invites 8- to 18-year-olds to compose and perform a 2-to 3-minute presidential speech. For the “Make Your Speech” contest, young people are asked to step into the Oval Office and take on the responsibility of serving as President of the United States. They are to tell their constituents about their vision and values for our country and what they will accomplish in the next 4 years.

The contest is co-hosted by YMCA Youth and Government programs nationwide and will be judged by actor Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Obama White House speechwriter Jon Favreau, Representative Will Hurd of Texas, and civic leader Baratunde Thurston. The deadline for submitting speeches is April 16th.

This contest will be judged in two age categories 8-12 and 13-18. There are cash prizes for first-, second-, and third-place winners.

Classroom-Library Collaboration Opportunity
Classroom teachers (civics, ELA, history, social studies, and more) and school librarians can collaborate to plan and implement a mini-research (or inquiry if you have more time) and writing series of lesson plans to support students in developing, recording, and submitting their speeches. The connections between classroom curriculum standards and a host of digital and information literacy standards is limitless. Plus the open-ended nature of the project supports student voice and choice.

Research could include listening to and analyzing presidential speeches in terms of the vision and values they represent. Here are two of many possibilities.

  • The American Rhetoric Speech Bank has a searchable database that includes many U.S. presidents’ speeches—both recordings and transcripts.
  • The Library of Congress has recordings of historical presidential speeches with an accompanying lesson plan.

Writing, Presenting, and Recording

  • Students could collectively brainstorm and discuss their visions for the country as well as the values on which their visions are founded.
  • As they are composing their speeches, students’ peers and both educators can offer writing conferences to help speechwriters hone their ideas and fine-tune their speeches.
  • In small groups, students can present their speeches orally to classmates and seek feedback before polishing, video capturing, and submitting their speeches.

And if you are ambitious, you could organize your own local contest to complement the one sponsored by Kidizenship.

I look forward to hearing the speeches of the winners and following Kidizenship’s future opportunities to expand civic education beyond the classroom, the library, and out into the community.

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

 

Free Speech and Editorial Cartoons

Image: "We the People" U.S. Constitution flanked by the U.S. flagOn this Labor Day holiday, I’m thinking about how students learn the history of our national celebrations and observances. In my experience, Labor Day could be one of the least studied of those. At this time during a pandemic, it is important that we reflect on the sacrifices being made on our behalf by first responders and front-line workers, including educators who care for the academic as well as the social-emotional health of U.S. students.

Not to diminish this holiday for U.S. workers, but considering the 2020 election cycle, Constitution Day, which is celebrated on September 17th, seems to me to be more pressing in terms of students’ needs to understand the meaning and relevance of this day of observance.

Connie Williams wrote an August 20, 2020 Knowledge Quest blog post that provides resources for educators who want to guide students as they dig deeper into the frameworks of our system of government. See her post “Integrating Constitution Day into Your School Curriculum,” including a link to information about a poster contest with an October 2, 2020 deadline.

First Amendment Rights
For me, the time is right and ripe to focus students’ attention on the First Amendment to the Constitution.

First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

With the Black Lives Matter Movement protests and counter-protests happening across the country, questioning the purpose, exercise, and limits, if there are any, of this right is relevant whether or not we are actively engaged in civil unrest.

One of the ways I have engaged students in thinking about our freedom of speech and freedom of the press is through deep dives with editorial cartoons. Not only do these texts, which are accessible online and in paper print, sharpen students critical thinking skills but they also give students the opportunity to learn and practice questioning and drawing inferences, essential reading comprehension strategies.

Free Speech
In Tucson, we are lucky to have David Fitzsimmons, a talented and “no-holds-barred” editorial cartoonist who has been sharing his opinions in the Arizona Daily Star since 1986. He’s won many awards and his cartoons are syndicated to over 700 media outlets worldwide. Like many editorial cartoonists, David shares his work via social media as well. You can find his cartoons and commentary at: @DWFitzsimmons (Notice he describes himself as an “insultant.”)

Like all editorial cartoonists, David makes no bones about the fact that he is a “biased, partisan, unfair” commentator on social and political topics. I recently attended a Star Opinion Page Reader Chat where David shared his work. (The quotes are from my notes.)

In that chat, David shared how a cartoon he penned and published on May 31, 2020 after George Floyd’s murder was used as a “political satire” text by Cooper Junior High social studies teachers in Wylie, Texas, located just north of Dallas.

According to the newspaper article in the Fort Worth Star-TelegraphWylie ISD faces backlash after assignment includes cartoon comparing police with KKK,” the students were learning about the Bill of Rights and the cartoon was not part of the district’s curriculum.

On August 26, David Fitzsimmons wrote an op-ed in the Arizona Daily Star in response to the controversy: “Fitz’s Opinion: Texas, Governor Abbott and the National FOP are not happy with this cartoonist.” I agree with David that the Fort Worth Star-Telegraph’s headline misrepresents his cartoon. I also agree with his assessment of the overall situation surrounding this incident: “Persecuting, smearing and scapegoating public school teachers for teaching truth, civic dialogue, historical context and critical thought is beyond unacceptable. It’s un-American.”

Intellectual Freedom
Intellectual freedom is a core value of librarianship. I believe school librarians have an essential role to play in bringing thought-provoking texts into the academic programs in our schools. When I served as a librarian at Sabino High School in Tucson (2001-2003), David was an engaging and effective guest speaker for social studies and history students and classroom teachers. Sadly, he reports that invitations to share with K-12 students have sharply decreased in recent years.

David gave me permission to reproduce one of his cartoons in in my book Coteaching Reading Comprehension Strategies in Secondary School Libraries: Maximizing Your Impact (ALA 2012). The ‘toon entitled “Asterisk” focuses on how the Constitution grants us the rights enumerated in the Bill of Rights. The asterisk leads readers to a briefcase with these words printed on its side in capital letters: SPECIAL INTERESTS.

Whether teaching face to face or remotely, these widely available texts are goldmines for students. Visual texts like editorial cartoons capture today’s students’ attention. Pairing cartoons penned by editorial cartoonists with divergent viewpoints can create deep conversations. Questioning these texts and using readers’ background knowledge and evidence in the drawings and carefully selected (minimal) words in editorial cartoons to make inferences are ways to shore up students’ thinking and reading skills. Educators can also use editorial cartoons as provocative texts to launch inquiry learning, especially in the areas of civics, social studies, and history. (My hats are off to the classroom teachers in Wylie ISD.)

Additional Resources for Editorial Cartoons
David Fitzsimmons’ editorial cartoons and op-eds can be accessed via the Local Editorials and Columnists Opinion Page at Tucson.com.

The American Association of Editorial Cartoonists offers a gallery of editorial cartoonists’ work.

Many cartoonists have websites where they display their work. The Cartoonist Group site includes editorial cartoonist Clay Bennett’s work, which I use it in the “advanced questioning” lesson plan in my book.

Side note: In his 9/3/20 reader chat talk, David Fitzsimmons stated there are only 23 editorial cartoonists working in the U.S. today. He also listed the local newspapers that are on the brink of collapse. If you are as lucky as I am to still have a local paper, I hope you subscribe to it. I also hope you are integrating the paper printed or online issue of your local newspaper into your teaching. In 2017, The Washington Post adopted “Democracy Dies in Darkness” as its official slogan. It’s worth asking yourself and your students how local newspapers can be beacons that shine the light.

Image Credit:
wynpnt. “Constitution 4th of July.” Pixabay.com, https://pixabay.com/illustrations/constitution-4th-of-july-july-4th-1486010/ 

Speak-ing of #BannedBooksWeek

This week (September 22 – 29, 2019), 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. When I served as a secondary school librarian, this week was one of my most treasured. For those three years, I collaborated with 8th grade (one) and high school English language arts classroom teachers to spotlight the 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books from 2000-2009. (I look forward to the 2010-2020 list!)

I gathered as many as possible children’s and young adult books from 100 Most Frequently Challenged list from our library and interlibrary loaned through the public library. (There were a few titles that were not appropriate for the school environment such as Private Parts by Howard Stern.) We launched the lesson by helping students make connections among these three terms and books written for youth: banned, challenged, and censored. Students who had read Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 made connections and often led the discussion.

The classroom teachers and I co-read one of the picture books from the list and modeled a conversation about why the book had been challenged. Then, students working in small groups were given a short stack of books and the task of discussing each one to determine why they thought the book had been challenged. Students read picture books and book jacket information for novels to guide their thinking. Their ELA-R teachers and I facilitated these discussions by monitoring students’ conversations and asking probing questions.

Each group reported to the class by selecting the most surprising book in their stack and shared their determination for the “reason” the book had been challenged. One of the biggest takeaways from this lesson was that students had read a good number of these books in the past and where annoyed or shocked that any adult would think they were incapable of thinking critically or shouldn’t have even be allowed to read the story or information.

Laurie Halse Anderson’s Books
Laurie Halse Anderson’s book Speak appears as #60 on the 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books from 2000-2009. I have been a fan ever since the book was published… and this year read both the graphic novel version and her latest book Shout. It isn’t often that readers have such a powerful example of three texts—one novel, one graphic novel, and one free verse memoir—to compare their responses to the “same” story told by the same author. Anderson has given us all a gift with Speak (1999), Speak: The Graphic Novel (2018), and Shout: The True Story of a Survivor Who Refused to Be Silenced (2019).

Speak, the Novel
I read this book when it was first published. In 2002, I facilitated a student book club at Sabino High School. (It was my first year as a high school librarian after serving in elementary school libraries for ten years.) The students in the club were freshmen and sophomores. I provided students with a stack of books for which I could secure multiple copies. They picked Speak as our first read. I sent home information to students’ families about the book club (we met once a month during lunch) and noted the list of nine books the students had chosen to read that year.

Of course, I suspected that Speak would be an important book for the young women in the group. Protagonist Melinda’s experience, silence, inner turmoil, and trauma were clearly and poignantly conveyed in the story. What surprised me, at the time, was that the young men in the group were equally affected by Melinda’s story. Anderson’s voice rang true and authenticity created an invitation for readers to relate to the story on an emotional level. Students’ discussion was open and frank. It was an outstanding beginning for building our caring and thoughtful community of readers.

Speak, the Graphic Novel
Emily Carroll’s illustrations in the graphic novel add another dimension to Anderson’s story that may help some readers relate more deeply to Melinda’s story. The black, white, and sepia tones of the illustrations portray the fear and suffering of a freshman girl who has been raped and shunned. Her isolation and depression are vividly drawn. When Melinda finally takes the opportunity to strike back at the rapist, the image of her punching him captures the emotional power of finding one’s courage, using one’s strength, and protecting one’s self from further harm.

The parallels with the acts of superheroes will not be lost on readers. Carroll, who is known for penning horror comics, was the perfect pick to illustrate Anderson’s modern classic. The graphic novel format with brief text, frames that sequence and chunk the text, and drawings that pack an emotional punch will bring many new (and returning) readers to this text.

Shout, the True Story of a Survivor Who Refused to Be Silenced
And finally, for me, Shout, the free verse memoir brings Laurie Halse Anderson’s first-hand experience with abuse, rape, and resilience into an even sharper focus. Her intimate poems about family dysfunction, microaggressions (a word I didn’t “have” when I first read Speak), and most importantly of all, ending the shame associated with sexual assault will tear at your heart. As a woman, mother, and grandmother, I wept for young women who have suffered and continue to suffer in silence and must find resilience without family or societal support.

With today’s #MeToo movement, I believe all three “versions” of Speak/Shout provide a rich literary experience for critical conversations. But from my personal perspective Shout was the most powerful of the three. For me, Anderson’s memoir presents undeniable truths from which I, the reader, could not turn away.

Thank you, Laurie Halse Anderson, for your courage in breaking the silence, for openly sharing your life experiences, and for your heartfelt truth telling.

As you honor and celebrate The Freedom to Read and The Library Bill of Rights, this week and 365 days a year, school librarians must recommit to advocating for and protecting students’ rights. Our library materials reconsideration policies are a place to begin. Please read Mona Kirby’s article that appeared in the September issue of American Libraries: “Up to the Challenge: Dealing with School Library Book Challenges Before They Happen.”

Reading Dangerously

At the June, 2019 American Library Association (ALA) Annual Conference in Washington, D.C., I attended the Freedom to Read Foundation’s (FTRF) 50th Anniversary Celebration. I wrote about the celebration on my blog on July 1, 2019. The FTRF is a non-profit legal and educational organization affiliated with ALA. Supporters helped crowdfund the event by purchasing tickets and the FTRF’s book. Reading Dangerously: The Freedom to Read Foundation Marks 50 Years (2019) in advance of the event. I jumped at the chance and am so happy I did.  This post is about the book and the work of the FTRF.

I can still remember my excitement during my very first class in my first course as a library science graduate student. The course was “Foundations” and the First Amendment and the Library Bill of Rights were the topics for the opening class session. I remember the satisfaction I felt knowing that activism would be part of my everyday work as a librarian. I also remember telling my husband and daughter that night at the dinner table how deeply pleased I was to learn that librarianship was political.

Reading Dangerously opens with an introduction by Neil Gaiman. As Gaiman writes, the First Amendment means that we will be called upon to “defend the indefensible. That means you are going to be defending the right of people to read, or to write, or to say, what you don’t say or like or want said” (v). But as he also notes that willingness to defend free speech means that your own speech commands defending, too. The next section of the book is a powerful statement by the FTRF’s founder Judith Krug: “We were trying to develop a total program in defense and support of the First Amendment, and that’s basically what we’ve done… The Freedom to Read Foundation is the last step…. When all else fails, then we can go to court.”

The Foundation has three primary activities:

  • The allocation and disbursement of grants to individuals and groups for the purpose of aiding them in litigation or otherwise furthering FTRF’s goals;
  • Direct participation in litigation dealing with freedom of speech and of the press.
  • Education about the importance of libraries and the First Amendment to our democratic institutions (https://www.ftrf.org/page/About).

And go to court they have… In collaboration with the American Civil Liberties Union and other organizations, the FTRF has supported plaintiffs and defendants across the U.S. as they seek legal remedies for upholding the First Amendment. The book includes a timeline and brief summaries of selected cases held over the past fifty years. With my lens as a librarian focused on young people’s rights, these are some of the highlights from that timeline. (Note: There are several interpretations of the Library Bill of Rights that relate to the rights of youth.)

Board of Education, Island Trees Union Free School District V. Pico (1978): In this case, a student challenged the school board for removing nine books from school libraries, including Soul on Ice and Black Boy. This case went all the way to the Supreme Court where the student prevailed. (*This one was on the test in the Foundations course!)

Selected other challenges to children’s and young adult literature included Sund V. City of Wichita Falls, Texas (2000) resulted in returning Heather Has Two Mommies and Daddy’s Roommate to library shelves. Counts V. Cedarville (2003) required the school board to return the Harry Potter books to school library shelves. The FTRF has provided many grants to librarians who are fighting censorship; fortunately, in most instances, books are returned to library shelves and cases do not end up in court.

Other cases that jumped off the page for me involved a grant to fund the legal defense “Pentagon Papers” authors Daniel Ellsberg and Anthony J. Russo, Jr. (1973). U.S. Department of Justice V. American Library Association (1997): ALA prevailed in a case that struck down the Communications Decency Act of 1996 that sought to limit First Amendment rights on the internet. The U.S. government and ALA went to court again (2001) regarding the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) that required public libraries to employ blocking software that both over-blocked and under-blocked websites deemed harmful to children. The ruling gave libraries leeway in finding less restrictive ways to protect children’s online safety.

But the cases closest to home made me especially proud to be part of this profession and a supporter of the FTRF. After a five-year battle, the FTRF and the Tucson Unified School District Mexican American Studies program prevailed (2018) over the Arizona Superintendent of Instruction and other state officials. This case successfully challenged an Arizona statute that “prohibited the use of class materials or books that encourage the overthrow of the government,” or “promote resentment toward a race, or class of people,” and are “designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group,” and “advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of people as individuals” (53-54). This academically focused program had successfully motivated at-risk students and kept them in school. Although the legal battle took its toll, the district’s (renamed) Ethnic Studies Program was able put the contested materials back on the shelves in classrooms and school libraries.

The FTRF supports Banned Books Week through grants to libraries and others who sponsor public events and discussions centered on intellectual freedom. The book includes excerpts from nine of the most frequently challenged books between 2013 and 2017; seven of which were written for children and young adults.

The final section of Reading Dangerously was contributed by James LaRue, Director of ALA’s Office of Intellectual Freedom. His chapter should be required reading for every librarian and library science student in the U.S. Many of the intellectual freedom challenges that have faced our patrons, our librarian colleagues, our communities, and our country in the last fifty years continue today. It is imperative that the FTRF and librarians across the country remain vigilant and true to our core values. As LaRue writes: “FTRF is now, and should continue to be, a principled and focused voice for the rights of all to explore the ideas within and around us” (179)—emphasis added.

Thank you, Freedom to Read Foundation. When we go about our daily practice of librarianship, we are true to our values and supported by the FTRF when we keep First Amendment rights and intellectual freedom foremost in our minds as we:

  • Competently select materials for libraries that offer multiple perspectives and worldviews;
  • Design displays and programs that meet the needs of all library stakeholders;
  • And educate our patrons through resources, programs, teaching, and the example we model as engaged global citizens who uphold democratic rights and responsibilities as we serve our communities.

Considering joining the FTRF today! https://www.ftrf.org/page/Membership

 

Work Cited

The Freedom to Read Foundation. 2019. Reading Dangerously, The Freedom to Read Foundation Marks 50 Years. Chicago: ALA.