A few weeks ago, this tweet appeared in my Twitter feed.
Educators and librarians, particularly those residing in Massachusetts were dismayed by the lack of diverse representation of the those invited to speak at the 50th Annual Mass Reading Association (MRA) themed “Looking Forward Looking Back”. Donalyn Miller immediately pulled out. The MRA, an affiliate of the International Literacy Association (ILA) has since chance the Save the Date flyer and is hopefully re-thinking things.
The online conversation around this quickly evolved into a spontaneous think tank that addressed the work necessary to prevent all white panels at conferences. This would include asking those on panels to take a pledge to stop being part of all White conferences that featured all white speakers or panels that did the same. Jenn Baker, an African American podcaster, author and free-lancer, has taken this a step further vowing to only be part of panels where she is not the only marginalized person present. While this is an important self-preservation strategy, it’s also what marginalized people do: we rise together.
We also discussed what conferences are getting it right; which feel inclusive to us as professionals and are addressing the needs of all learners.
Which brings me to my own state of literacy affairs. The Indiana affiliate of the ILA recently held it’s 2018 conference. I presented at their annual conference 3 or 4 years ago and was saddened at the lack of diversity among the attendees, speakers and presenters. Over a 2 day period, I counted 6 or 7 identifiable women of color. I was the only one presenting, none were speakers. I’m not certain what the demographics were like this year, but I know this is how the event was marketed.
I commented and tweeted on the poster. While there was an immediate response from ILA inviting all interested parties to a meeting that weekend (the same weekend as the ALSC Institute). I have been in communication with the organization,. I suppose some could see their effort to recruit me, a single voice into the organization as a start, but in 2018 the start needs to have a much larger momentum. There has been no statement addressing the inappropriateness of the poster.
These state organizations can be demanding, cliquish, stale… and I think they’re often so insular that they miss can miss important shifts in literacy such as the incorporation of critical literacy, social justice, diversity and inclusion. Yet, they provide the professional development and personal networking spaces that more people can afford to attend making the places where we can gather our colleagues and go in 3-4 deep. They’re comfortable places to begin presenting or publishing articles. They’re where we can build local support networks. They’re often where lobbying begins for statewide issues. And, they’re where we can make immediate impact for young learners.
Have you looking into state or regional literacy, reading or library organizations near you?
State reading lists are the ones teachers are most likely to turn to when building reading lists or units for their students. These lists most often come from state library associations. The list in Indiana is just beginning to reflect diverse and inclusive titles. Our final lists are voted upon by students, but the list is created by a committee of librarians. I never could find out how the committee is formed (odd, but true!) but I do know that committee is what decides the books students will read and acts as a gatekeeper to the list.
Take the time to look at your state reading list and see how you can contribute to making it better. If it’s a good list, make sure teachers in your state know about it and use it. If you want it to be a great list, find out how you can work to improve it. Here, I can recommend titles to the list and I can suggest to school librarians that they join the Indiana Library Federation and work to get on the committee for the Eliot Rosewater Award or for the Young Hoosier Book Award. And yes, I could even work with the ILF to strengthen how that committee is formed.
Getting involved and staying involved is how we resist.