I am an elementary school librarian in an urban setting in Massachusetts. Through the work of creating a more representative and inclusive library collection for my students, I learned a lot about the politics of the publishing industry, the accepted institutional racism and purposeful exclusion of communities in books and that we should be outraged at the continued disenfranchisement of our children.
Follow me on Twitter: @reflectlibrary

Sunday, February 15, 2015

In the News: Questioning the Appropriateness of Books in the School Curriculum

The ALA Youth Media Awards were announced last week and librarians came through loud and clear,  that indeed, we need diverse books. The continued disenfranchisement of diverse perspectives that is rampant in the publishing and writing worlds will not immediately halt, but slowly as the public's understanding of the importance of writing, publishing and READING books that highlight perspectives and experiences that are not only able bodied, heteronormative, and white in their views, there will be a shift. There will also be growing pains. Librarians, teachers and others need to actively highlight, recommend and PURCHASE books for their collections. Make #WNDB the new normal, not the exception.

Teaching Tolerance put out a nice opinion piece about the ALA awards this week:
http://www.tolerance.org/blog/diverse-books-spotlight


But certainly, with all of this said, we still see evidence that many feel the experiences of people of color are somehow more "vulgar" and "less appropriate" for children to consume.

In North Carolina, parents of fourth graders are concerned about their students reading Pam Munoz Ryan's "Esperanza's Rising" and Rita Williams-Garcia's "One Crazy Summer". Both of these books look at the cultural identity of two young girls within the setting of larger cultural revolutions. I have read both, I recommend both to readers often. What is curious to me is the fact that while these two books are creating controversy for families, another book, Lois Lowry's "Number the Stars" about the plight of Danish Jews during World War II is not in question. One could reason that families "value"  the history of white struggle, but reject the struggles and triumphs of "other" groups.
Read more here:
https://www.ijreview.com/2015/02/249824-books-racist-white-pigs-ethnic-class-struggles-topped-reading-list-unlikely-place/

In New Jersey, a parent of a high school student challenged Junot Diaz's Pulitzer Prize winning book, "The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao" because it was too "vulgar".  She insisted that pulling the book would not be censorship, but because students would not be able" to get that (art) out of it”  it should not be part of the curriculum, stating students would "snicker" at its content.
Read more here:
http://newjerseyhills.com/the_progress/news/west-essex-parents-debate-vulgar-novel/article_d91fe26c-ba7c-11e3-84d0-0019bb2963f4.html

Both of these examples illustrate the fear we breed in our children of "other". From elementary school to high school, the banning and censoring of the books, voices and experiences further entrenches  us and our children into believing only the voices that reflect dominant cultural norms are the voices that matter





Monday, February 2, 2015

Black History Month: History is Made Every Day

I think people often have two minds around celebrating Black History Month. Indeed the lives, discoveries, inventions, art, social/civil movements and other accomplishments of Black Americans should be celebrated and studied. On the other hand, why is it that we still need to set aside a month in order to focus on these accomplishments? There is a good reason, cultural hegemony prevails in popular culture, the publishing industry and in school curricula, which is why the spotlight is still a necessity...

However, I worry what is often presented to our children this month (and others) is a sanitized and static version of "Black History", where the actions of a few men and women during the Civil War and Civil Rights Movement prevail as the apotheosis of an entire culture. But, "Black History" is made everyday- our children need this information. Children of color's cultural relevancy did not dissipate post Jim Crow.  I often think back to a fourth grade student last year who told me the message an author is sending him when they put a character of color on the cover of a book is that it's "about history".  While historical contributions should be celebrated and taught, let's not diminish the countless men and women of color making history *NOW*?

One thing I like to share with my students is the following video. This video is specifically tailored to elementary school age children.

Video: How Black History Month Was Started

Understanding why this month long celebration came about is important to understanding why the month continues to exist. After viewing, lead children in discussion. Do they feel like the accomplishments of people of color are still suppressed? Who is most represented in history books, the art world, even fiction on the library shelves? Do they believe that in their lifetime Black History Month will no longer be necessary as Woodson had hoped?

As far as read-alouds go this month, I am a huge fan of biography for children. Often the life of an individual is a door to a larger understanding of social context of the time. Biographies are a great launching pad to further discussion, be sure to branch out beyond what you already know. It's okay to learn alongside your children. Grownups aren't always experts.