Diversity: Life Is A Box of Crayons

When I first think of the word “diversity,” an image of crayons instantly comes to my mind.

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(Image: Flickr.com)

Yes, you read that right; I think about crayons. When I was younger, I remember a teacher reciting an old saying to my class about how crayons can show diversity. Even though each crayon is different from the one next to it, they co-exist in the same box. On top of this, they also can make some beautiful pictures when they work together. There are shades of numerous colors. Some have sharp points while others are worn down from overuse. Some of their names are different from anything you’ve ever heard, but they’re still undeniably beautiful. Despite all of their differences that can be seen, they still live in the box together and work together to make unique pictures. So why can’t people do the same?

 “We could all learn a lot from crayons. Some are big, some are small. Some are sharp, some are dull. Some are pretty, some are bland. Some are long, some are short. Some have uncommon names. Yet, they learn to live in the same box.”

The Crayon Box of Life: Diversity

Diversity is, in my opinion, important for our nation and the classrooms within it. The United States of America is defined as being a “melting pot” of people from all different backgrounds put together. Since we have many different people living in one place, it’s important to recognize and celebrate the differences of every person. From the readings this week, it’s obvious that our country still has a way to go in this area. Diversity is important because we must allow our students to be able to see life through a different lens. We must also let our students have the opportunity to look into the “mirror” that a book can present to them. Books must be diverse in order to meet the needs of every student; this is one area that can be improved.

 

The Publication Problem
I’m going to be honest, I never really pay attention to what books I read. I often just grab a book that looks good to me or the one with the story line that sticks out. That being said, these are books that stick out to me; what about the other children and teens who might not have a book that they can relate to?

 As I discovered who I was, a black teenager in a white-dominated world, I saw that these characters, these lives, were not mine. I didn’t want to become the “black” representative, or some shining example of diversity. What I wanted, needed really, was to become an integral and valued part of the mosaic that I saw around me.-Walter Dean Meyers

When reading the articles on diversity for this week, I found myself astonished. Walter Dean Myers’s article held a statistic from the University of Wisconsin that said only 93 books out of the 3,200 that were published in 2013 were centered around the lives of black people. 93 books. That number shocked me. I find it troubling that this number is so low. Christopher Meyers, in his article The Apartheid of Children’s Literature, discusses the issue further. Meyers points out that despite the reassurance from publishers that they will commit to diversity, it is certainly lacking still. Could it be society holding back? Is there an unwritten rule? These are questions that are posed within the article that I think deserve to be answered.

There is yet another big question that needs to be asked. How are these children supposed to have books that are more than just windows into other peoples’ lives? Professor Rudine Sims Bishop posted an article titled Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Glass Doors that really clicked for me. The article discusses the fact that books can serve as windows that allow readers to look out into a brand new world that they might never (or can’t ever) enter into. For me, this window includes books such as Twilight (it’s been awhile since I’ve been able to make a reference. It feels good) and Girls Like Us. These books offer a perspective into a completely different life, and it really benefitted me to be able to take a look into that life. Other books can function as mirrors, showing us a reflection of ourselves through the novel. Readers can look and see references to our own lives and experiences. Both situations are vital, but with the lack of diversity in novels, are everyone’s needs being met? To me, the answer is simple: no. No, everyone is not getting what they individually need from novels. Bishop states that “children… Have suffered from the lack of availability of books about others.” Children need to understand the diverse world that they live in, and books can give them an idea of different backgrounds that are all around them.

 They need books that will help them understand the multicultural nature of the world they live in, and their place as a member of just one group, as well as their connections to all other humans. In this country, where racism is still one of the major unresolved social problems, books may be one of the few places where children who are socially isolated and insulated from the larger world may meet people unlike themselves.- Professor Rudine Sims Bishop

 

Celebrate Differences

It’s obvious to me that, in the words of Walter Dean Meyers, “there is work to be done.” What can we do now? Even though we are not publishers or in charge of that side of the business, we can still help our students. We can truly embrace and celebrate diversity and what all of it entails. We can buy and read books that will help us to diversify our reading and help children find books that are not only windows, but also mirrors into their souls. Let’s become friendly with the crayons around us. After all, most prefer a colorful, vibrant sunset to a gray afternoon. Differences make a beautiful picture. It’s time that we start to actually realize and embrace that.

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(Image: Flickr.com)

-RG

Love for Libraries

When I was a senior in high school, I had the privilege of working in our school library. Since my school librarian was awesome, I was able to skip a lot of the work that normal teacher’s aids had to do and was able to instead immerse myself into stacks of books and read for an hour each day. Pretty sweet deal, am I right?

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(Photo: Flickr.com)

Ever since that time, I have fallen head-over-heels in love with libraries. I love the feeling of walking in and not knowing what book (or books) I’ll come out with. I love letting my eyes peer out onto numerous shelves holding (literally) hundreds of books that are just waiting to be read by me. I love all of the book-obsessed people that I’ve met while in a library. Basically I just love books, and this is a love that I want to instill into my students.

What do I want to do in order to instill that love, you may ask? I want to have a classroom library.

 I can see the alarm on the face of my mother (who knows how much money I can spend on books) and all those before me. “NO,” they’re thinking. “We cannot let her loose to buy books for a library. She’ll be broke!” These comments, albeit harsh, are certainly true. I am a shameless book buyer. So where’s a girl like me to start on her adventure of creating a truly awesome, student-friendly classroom library? Another question would be why should I have a classroom library? Is it really necessary?

In my opinion, a classroom library is absolutely necessary. I want my students to be able to have numerous options to pick from. I want to have so many books that kids from other classes are willing to come in and check it out. I want my students to never have an excuse to not read. The problem is figuring out where to start. This week, we read a blog post by Sarah Andersen titled “Creating and Managing a Classroom Library.” This post is inspiring and beyond helpful. The fact that she started out with just 35 books and grew her library is enough for me to know that I can do it, too. The blog discussed ways of management and budgeting, which will both be incredibly helpful. After reading, I went and counted up what books I have already, and am starting to plan. You can bet that I’m hitting up Goodwill and garage sales all summer to search for books!

Now to answer the question of why. Why have a classroom library? Of course there will be a school library, but is that honestly enough? Could there be harm done in giving the students more choices? Absolutely not. I believe that having a classroom library is incredibly important and can help students become better readers. I really enjoyed Andersen’s blog post “Is ‘Getting Along Fine’ Good Enough?” This post showed exactly why adequate is never the best. If we want our students to excel, we must give them every opportunity possible to get there and show them that we care as well. Andersen shared responses to a poll she took on this blog, and the results are incredible. Out of 58 students, 52 said that they borrow books from their classroom library. 52 students. Look at how many students that library alone is reaching! Those students are ones that might not have looked elsewhere. This number alone shows how influential a classroom library can be.

Another answer to the question of “why” would be that a classroom library helps a teacher build a relationship with her students. By incorporating a library into our classroom, we are able to reach more kids and form relationships with them while doing so. I can’t wait to talk about books daily with students and help them pick out the perfect one for them. After all, according to Book Love, the relationship is the most important part of teaching. What better way to accomplish this relationship than to talk about something that you have common ground on and hopefully a love for?

So yes, I will be saving my money for a classroom library. In fact, the plan is to “start reading and begging and spending money” as Book Love explains it. It may take me awhile to get there, but once I do, I know that it’ll be worth it for my students in the end, and that’s all that matters.

-RG

 

Confessions of a Self-Proclaimed Picky Reader

I have a huge confession to make:

I self-censor books that I read. And I didn’t even know it.

I know what you’re all thinking. How did I not realize this? The answer to that question is simpler than you may think. I have always been a reader, but I have always read books that fall squarely into my comfort zone, which includes fantasy, romance, dystopian (shout out to The Hunger Games and Divergent series), etc., but I haven’t really branched out past that. I used to think that that was okay.

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However, after our class readings this week, I can see what a huge issue this is. Self-censorship itself is a massive issue. I hadn’t ever really considered the issue of banned and challenged books. Whenever I would walk into the library, I would simply look over the books and pick one that piqued my interest (and probably fell into my comfort zone). I’d never thought about the actual buying of books or the backlash that can be felt by librarians and administrators over this. The crazy truth is that this is a very real thing that happens all around us. Books are being censored due to their content and are being pulled off of shelves. Librarians are choosing to not purchase certain books due to their content that could upset parents. They are also choosing to not purchase these books in fear of losing their job. Librarians should not have to worry about this, especially when they are simply protecting the reading rights of their students. According to the article About Banned & Challenged Books, “censorship by librarians of constitutionally protected speech, whether for protection or for any other reason, violates the First Amendment.” Librarians should not have to worry about losing their jobs for buying books that could enrich their students’ lives; shouldn’t our librarians and teachers be applauded for trying to protect our students’ rights to what they read?

The answer to that question is yes. Novels with particular ideas might make adults squirm or feel uncomfortable. In fact, they might make me, a teacher-to-be, feel uncomfortable; but does that give us the right to take away those opportunities from students? Should we be able to decide what is good for them and what isn’t? No, I don’t think that we should. We must protect the reading rights of all of our students and stand together to not allow books with certain themes to vanish from our shelves. Perhaps these books can help our students grow and learn more. Maybe they don’t serve a purpose to one person, but can have a lasting impact on another. Parents that challenge novels for their content must realize that students have needs that are sometimes only met within the pages of a novel that covers difficult issues. We simply can’t let these types of books disappear.

You won’t ever make a difference if you don’t step out of the box… We can make a difference to children. Who knows? That very book that you thought was inappropriate may be the one that turns a child in the direction that he needs to be going or that gives a child quiet hope about a situation.

Recently, I read the book Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan. This novel is an LGBTQ novel that is centered around the relationships of several young boys. I will admit that this novel was not one that I would traditionally pick up to read, but I decided to read it in order to diversify my reading. What happened, though, was magical. I learned SO much from my reading. Getting different perspectives and really placing yourself outside of your comfort zone can honestly make a world of difference. Although I will always have my favorite types of books to read, I understand that I must read numerous different things in order to truly help my future students. Just because I might not necessarily have all of the same interests that the students do, that doesn’t mean that they can’t read them. They might need to read them. These types of novels might just be the ones that they’re craving to read.

So, when it comes to my own personal self-censorship, I am trying to branch out. I believe that when we self-censor ourselves, we are losing out on some amazing stories and chances for personal growth. I’m sure that I might not always like everything I read, but that shouldn’t stop me from reading new and different things. I understand that my future students will be walking a completely different path than I did while growing up, and I want to be able to understand some of that. I want to fill my shelves with a collection of different types of literature. I want to be able to guide them towards books that are in their comfort zones (and some that are not). In order to do this, I must read many other books. Books that might not fit squarely into my comfort zone.

And you know what? That’s okay.

-RG

Requirements Lead to Resentments

“I absolutely hate this book.”

“Why is everything that we read boring?”

“I’d much rather read about things that matter to me.”

Do these quotes sound familiar? To me, they most certainly do. I’m even guilty of uttering one or two of them from time to time. These are sayings that frequented my English classroom in high school. Assigned required reading was certainly something that happened, and no one was very happy about it. Even as I sit here today, a Language Arts Education major and self-proclaimed lover of books, I can honestly say that I despise assigned required reading. I read the required reading because, well, it’s required and I’m a teacher-pleasing type of person. I often find myself skimming the required reading for classes because it’s too dry or dull for me to really love it. There was even a time that I stopped reading all together because I felt like what I was assigned was literally sucking the life out of me. It’s obvious that this practice isn’t working, but what’s an English teacher to do?

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Required reading is what has always been done. It’s practiced in classrooms all over the nation and is the go-to fallback of everything. Does that necessarily make it right though? Classics line the shelves of my English classroom back home. Everything from The Great Gatsby (which I actually really enjoyed) to The Scarlet Letter and Johnny Tremain (which, if you read my previous post, I absolutely detested) sits up on the shelves. Are these books worth a read still? I’d say that’s up to the individual student’s perspective. There are some students that honestly really enjoy the classics, which is great. Then, there are others who, like me, are not a huge fan of many of them. And, that is okay. It’s okay to not like those books. However, the issue is that when kids don’t like them and are forced to read them continually, they turn away from reading for good. I know that many of my classmates didn’t read any of the novels that we were assigned in high school. Why should we continue to force books onto students? Why should we continue to let our students pretend to read novels that they haven’t even opened?

If students do not read the assigned texts, nothing important is happening in your literature classroom-nothing very important to develop your student’s reading and interpretive abilities is happening… Nothing important is happening because student development of reading and interpretive abilities requires engaged reading.

I have always thought that there wasn’t a way around assigning required reading, but after reading the first two chapters of Penny Kittle’s Book Love, I am more determined than ever to re-write the status quo when I become a teacher. I want my future students to love the books that they are reading. I want them to become so engulfed in the novel that they forget to go to bed at a decent time. I want to see them sitting by their locker before school reading, not because they have to, but because they want to. We must stop grouping students together into a large lump and assigning the same novel to everyone. Let students find their passion and let that drive them. Allow students to choose their own books to read and do projects over. Possibly have them do a Literature Circle or form book clubs within the class to discuss novels in a group setting. Give them creative outlets. Show them different genres. Do whatever you have to do, but don’t give them any reason to hate what they read.

… But a reading appetite is quirky, singular, and essential. At the core of what I know about students, teaching, and learning is passionate engagement. Passions are peculiar, but passions drive readers to devour books.

This week, I also watched Penny Kittle’s video Why Students Don’t Read What is Assigned in Class. This really revealed the awful truth that surrounds our English classrooms today firsthand from a group of students: today’s students are not reading. Some of the students hadn’t cracked open a book that they were “required” to read in years. Doesn’t this make required reading useless? Even more importantly, isn’t this frightening? Students are getting nothing out of class. Nothing! They are simply relying on classroom discussion or SparkNotes to get them through the novels. This has to stop.

I truly believe that if we open up the reading options for our students, we will see a great response back. I know that I read a lot more for pleasure than I did (or still do) for my actual classes. Reading should be required and expected, but we should not assign what the students have to read. There is no one book that every student will love and relate to the same, so why should we continue to try to cage them in? Let’s let their creativity show and allow our students to grow in their reading instead of shrink.

According to Kittle, “the study of literature is half the job; leading students to satisfying and challenging reading lives is the other, and we haven’t paid enough attention to it.” So, let’s stop requiring our students to read novels that they hate. Maybe then we can allow our students to truly start reading.

-Regan