Literacy is Political

lit_is_political_sizedThomas Jefferson famously said, “An informed citizenry is at the heart of a dynamic democracy.” An informed citizenry must be able to deeply comprehend information in all formats and engage in critical thought and well-reasoned civic decision-making.

Before the 2016 election, there were a number of comments on the distribution lists and blogs to which I subscribe related to educators maintaining an “apolitical” stance.  In some classrooms and libraries across the country, educators downplayed local, state, and national campaigns in order to avoid confronting “political” issues in schools.

What are the unintended consequences when learners do not wrestle with the political life of our nation in the supportive environment of their classrooms and libraries? How can students and educators practice civil discourse and learn to listen to and share divergent perspectives if political issues are not discussed in schools?

While an individual school can be considered a system, each one is not a “closed” system. All public schools function within a larger system—a school district with procedures, curricula, and policies. School districts must respond and work within even larger systems—state and federal bureaucracies and mandates. What happens in the society at-large affects each of these systems.

It is, therefore, in my view, important for school-age children and youth to have the opportunity to intelligently and respectfully discuss political issues—not just in high schools and not just in civics or social studies classes.

What does “apolitical” mean in a fake news and post-truth world? When political candidates of all stripes and their supporters tell outright lies, mess with the “facts,” or distort the truth, how can educators guide students in an open, respectful dialogue that touches on sensitive topics, including social justice issues? When post-election emotions are running high while results are still coming in or being questioned, what is an educator’s role in responding to these teachable moments?

Quotes from the Field
On December 2nd, the PBS Newshour published an article in their “Teachers’ Lounge” column called “Helping Students Understand the 2016 Election Results” In the article, the reporter Victoria Pasquantonio includes quotes from civics, social studies, English language arts, and world history teachers from across the country. I believe this article and the quotes are important reading for all educators who want to help students unpack the recent election cycle.

Like Ricky House, 7th-grade civics teacher, in Arlington, Virginia, who is quoted in the article, I would never tell students how to vote nor would I use my influence to tell students what to think about a political issue. On the other hand, I have not and would not hesitate to discuss election issues, such as specific policy platforms, marketing techniques, political activism, voting processes, voter ID laws, the process or effectiveness of polling, the Electoral College, and the popular vote. Some of these discussions could lead to social justice or injustice issues thus providing students with opportunities to think about policies, laws, and the Constitution and how they might be changed or interpreted for the betterment of society.

As librarians, we are charged with providing physical and intellectual access to information. We are committed to making sure that students are able to use literacy skills to think critically and apply critical thinking as informed citizens. As Ricky House says, we want our students to be equipped to “go out and use what (we’ve) taught them to change the world.”  And yes, there are many who would consider that goal “political.”

Resource
The National Institute for Civil Discourse is a non-partisan center for advocacy, research and policy. To support civil discourse during the last election cycle, they offered a program for high schools called “Text, Talk, Vote.”  School librarians and classroom teachers who are teaching digital literacy through social media may want to adapt this program.

Tips for School Librarians Who Coteach Controversial Issues
When coteaching controversial issues:

  1. Form instructional partnerships with trustworthy colleagues.
  2. Consider coteaching with educators who do not share your perspective and respectfully use your divergent thinking as a resource for learning.
  3. While coteaching, collaborative partners can provide each other with a bias-check before, during, and after instruction.
  4. Model civil discourse and guide students’ practice of civil discourse when discussing controversial issues.

Work Cited
Pasquantonio, Victoria. “Helping Students Understand the 2016 Election Results,” PBS Newshour, 2 Dec. 2016, http://www.pbs.org/newshour/updates/teachers-lounge-reaction-election-continues/

Image: Copyright-free Clip Art from Discovery Education

Elevator Speech: Reflections on What I Teach

ElevatorThis month the BACC co-bloggers will reflect on the “what” and the “why” of our roles as educators of future school librarians.

Any educator at any level can benefit from reflecting on what and why she or he teaches. Last Saturday, I participated in the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC) Leadership Meeting at the American Library Association (ALA) Midwinter Meeting in Chicago. One of the activities we engaged in during the meeting was writing elevator speeches. Over the years, I have written many of these speeches from the perspective of a practicing school librarian…

But before last weekend and although I have been teaching at the university level for two decades (!), I had not written an elevator speech from the perspective of a school librarian educator. Although it is a work-in-progress, I share it here as a starting point for a discussion of the purpose of library science graduate education.

I, Judi Moreillon, prepare future school librarians to be 21st-century literacy experts and leaders who coteach with classroom teachers to help children and youth from all backgrounds and with various abilities to become critical, creative thinkers and lifelong learners who contribute to and thrive in a global society.

In my role as a school librarian educator, I am grateful for the opportunity to learn alongside enthusiastic graduate students. These educators have chosen to expand their classroom teacher toolkits to add the knowledge and skills of school librarians to their repertoires—including the information-seeking process, reading comprehension strategies, and digital tools for motivating, learning, and creating new knowledge. School librarian candidates learn to design instruction and teach these skills and strategies as coteachers along with classroom teachers and specialists.

Over the course of their graduate program, these librarian candidates learn to embrace a global view of the school learning community and have the opportunity to consider their potential to serve as leaders in their schools. Using professional standards and guidelines I aspire to enculturate school librarians into a profession or community of practice (Wenger 1998). To that end, I also model professional practice to show candidates how to serve.

Works Cited

d3designs. “pb210160.jpg.” Digital Image. Morguefile. Web. 01 Feb. 2015. <http://mrg.bz/iqhhRc>.

Wenger, Etienne. Communities of Practice: Learning, Meaning, and Identity. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1998. Print.

School Librarians in the News, Part 2

newspaperLast week, many of us had the pleasure of attending the Library Journal/School Library Journal The Digital Shift: Libraries @the Center Virtual Conference keynote speech by Daniel Levitin. I tuned in along with three colleagues, two of whom also teach preservice school librarians, and one who has young children of his own. Dr. Levitin’s speech “Libraries, Archives, and Museums at the Intersection of History and Technology” was a wonder.

It is not often when a New York Times best-selling author shares the essential 21st-century role of librarians “who are trained in the art and science of identifying and sharing valuable information.” He described the Web as the “Wild West” and noted it is important to have “a class of people who are information specialists… who will not degrade authority.”

In his speech, Dr. Levitin recalled the day when his elementary school librarian took him from World Book to Encyclopedia Britannica. Later, she told him he was old enough to use encyclopedias as gateways but that he was ready to branch out and investigate primary and other secondary sources to answer his questions. In the information overload developed world of today, Dr. Levitin says the “primary mission of educating children should be to teach information literacy skills.” He recommends beginning at age 8 and notes that is when children should learn to interrogate sources for authority, accuracy, and bias. Bravo!

Dr. Levitin the author of The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload (Dutton 2014) is on a speaking tour to promote his new book. My hope is that he will continue to advocate for the library profession as he travels around the country.

So far I have only skimmed most parts of the book, but I believe Dr. Levitin provides useful strategies to help 21st-century technology-connected people manage information overload and ask the right questions of the information sources that affect our understandings and decision-making—in short, our lives. (Confession: I started by reading the last chapter “Everything Else: The Power of the Junk Drawer” due to the long-time different worldviews of my dear “piler” husband and my “filer” self.)

Dr. Levitin’s speech and his book reaffirm what many Building a Culture of Collaboration blog readers know: School librarians are needed to help students, educators, and families begin learning about information when children are in the early grades and continue to develop and refine their skills throughout their education and lives. School librarians can model and guide others in taking a lifelong stance of questioning information to ensure it is reliable and meets our information needs.

Thank you, Dr. Levitin.

Works Cited

Levitin, Daniel. “Libraries, Archives, and Museums at the Intersection of History and Technology.” Library Journal/School Library Journal The Digital Shift: Libraries @the Center Virtual Conference. 1 Oct. 2014. Web. 9 Oct. 2014. <http://www.thedigitalshift.com/tds/libraries-at-the-center/>.

Levitin, Daniel. The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload. New York: Dutton, 2014. Print.

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