UPDATE: scroll to the bottom to for articles about additional challenges to BIPOC or LGBTQIA author youth literature.
First, I have to thank those of you who have been buying me cups of coffee! I was pleasantly surprised a few times this week and, it really felt nice! UPDATE: this isn’t meant to be a way to ask for more coffee, just a way to say thanks to all of you for your kindesses.
Have you followed the ‘freezing’ of books in Central York, Pennsylvania? About one year ago, the district ‘froze’ all items on the “Diversity Committee Summer Meeting Resource List” that was curated by some of its parents and teachers to address racism and anti-Blackness in the district. Educators received an email telling them to avoid using any of the items on the list in their teaching.. The extensive list includes articles, videos, professional development material, youth literature and documentaries. Here’s a sample list of what was included.
“The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross”, a 6-part PBS documentary.
“I am not Your Negro”, a documentary based on the writings of James Baldwin.
Me and White Supremacy: Combat Racism, Change the World, and Become a Good Ancestor by Layla F. Saad
Being the Change: Lessons and Strategies to Teach Social Comprehension by Sara Ahmed
Read the World: Rethinking Literacy for Empathy and Action in a Digital Age by Kristin Ziemke and Katie Muhtaris
Teaching Tolerance: https://www.tolerance.org/
Thank You Omu by Oge Mora
The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson and Rafael López
The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi
Exquisite, The Life of Gwendolyn Brooks by Suzanne Slade
Little Legends: Exceptional Men in Black History by Vashti Harrison
Mixed Me by Taye Diggs
Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo
Refugee by Alan Gratz
The Boy Who Didn’t Believe in Spring by Lucille Clifton
Ven a mi casa (the Spanish version of Come Over to My House) by Dr. Seuss
Student protests were instrumental in the removal of the ban when it was voted on for a second time last week.
I don’t know anyone in York, so I have no idea what racial tensions and attitudes are like in that city. I’ve not seen articles that provide a backstory to these events however, the Washington Post links the banning to the fear of critical race theory which is explained by many conservative politicians as a theory for teaching white guilt. What began by white supremacists as banning anti-bias training transformed to banning CRT and now, materials by, about or for Blacks, Native Americans, Asian Americans, Pacific Islanders and Latinx in schools.
I think most of you have finished high school. Do you remember ever being taught research theories at any time in elementary middle or high school? So, why are so many people fearful of CRT in schools when it’s not taught there. I admit that my news all comes from similar sources so, I cannot explain the fear associated with CRT or with the 1619 Project, a fact-based history project developed in collaboration with the NY Times that provides much broader evidence of contributions by Blacks in early North American history. The sources I listen to are as bias as those I don’t.
I’ve run across CRT in my own academic research and have enough knowledge of it to know that the vast majority of items on that banned list have nothing to do with CRT. Critical Race Theory is not taught in churches, basements or street corners and it is coded neither with plans of violence nor of insurrection. It lives in the academic works of scholars. Grace Lin, Angie Thomas, Jacqueline Woodson, Elena K. Arnold, Kwame Alexander, Lupita Nyongo and Hena Khan are all brilliant, creative people but, they are not scholars. Just as academic theories aren’t taught in schools, they’re not used as part of the creative process, either.
I’ve put off this post for such a long time, there are so many thoughts wrapped up in 2021 books bans and I think most of my thoughts relate to what Dr. Ebony Elizabeth Thomas refers to as a period of retribution being enacted upon BIPOC people for daring to claim the full rights of citizenship.
I think about how important these books, these windows and mirrors are to young readers who are learning to navigate the world. You know, sometimes I think this is all so over done, we do all this work for books when so many children will chose time with a video game, basketball, or cell phone over a book any day of the week. But, the ones who will pick up those books, who read the stories are the ones who will be the leaders of tomorrow and they deserve stories unchained from the imperialistic desire of world domination. They still need diverse books.
This banning, though, is happening in many subtle ways, some of which were shared with me by a librarian here in Indiana. There are organized groups (often based on Facebook) who are contacting librarians and teachers across the country, requesting that books by BIPOC people not be taught or not be placed in school libraries. The specific content doesn’t matter, only the identity of the author. This really speaks to the the force of ideas and the power of literacy; the exact reasons why enslaved people weren’t taught to read.
I’ve not heard of any challenges here in this state but, that doesn’t mean there aren’t any happening. These challenges can range from a teacher being asked to stop teaching Kelly Yang’s Front Desk to well, something like this district wide ban in Central York. Here in IN, those working in libraries are being contacted as part of a concentrated effort to remove particular books from their shelves.
Here’s the problem in Indiana: many of our school libraries don’t have trained librarians. Included in that training is how to handle a book challenge. Most principles and many teachers know when there’s a challenge to a book, whether the book is in a classroom or library, you go to the librarian. But, what if there isn’t a librarian?
There are resources available through the the American Library Association’s Office of Intellectual Freedom, and the National Council of Teachers of English. Don’t think it can’t happen in your school or library There will be challenges; I had one when I was a school librarian.
There are things that can be done proactively by community members as well as by schools and public librarians. Here are a few. I hope more will appear in the comments. We have got to be proactive on this.
If Critical Race Theory is an issue in your community, learn more about it.
- Make sure the schools in your district have certified librarians.
- Research candidates for local school board elections so you can know how they stand on issues.
- Attend school board meetings. Attend school events.
- Learn how to to engage in productive ways with teachers and school administrators over issues.
- Read the entire book, paper or article or watch the entire movie should you have concerns about some of the content.
- Trust your child and let them learn. Let them be the one to tell you if something they’re learning, watching, reading or participating in makes them uncomfortable. Jacqueline Woodson asks, ““Are you really protecting your child, or are you keeping your child from the tools they’ll need to deal with these issues?”
- Have a solid collection development policy. Develop it with your building principal, possibly even teachers, counselors and parents. Have them sign it. Take it to your school board for approval.
- Include in your policy that require all challenges for books in your school come from parents with children in the school.
- Have a form as part of your policy that allows the challenge to be thoroughly explained and that requires the entire book to be read.
- Be affiliated with state or national organizations that provide support.
- Be affiliated with state or national organizations that provide support.
- Work with your librarian when you create units based on trade books so that you can identify alternative texts with similar themes. You may need books with different reading levels, less mature content, audiobooks or translated editions.
- Be sure your supervisors and building principal are aware of and support your book choices before you begin using it in the classroom.
- more ideas can be found on the National Council of Teachers of English’s website.
This will be a great weekend to visit your local bookstore, purchase a BIPOC authored book or two; read it, and then place it in a free little library.