I’ve been thinking a lot about my professional networks. These include who I know in real life, who I admire and follow on social media, and who I generally look to for advice and insight. I tend to turn to these folks when I want to know more about an issue, or to seek solidarity, but generally, these professional networks can be enduring spaces of possibility.
What I’ve been most struck by in the last several months is how these networks either support or undermine the literacy activism so many of us do.
Most notable about all of this are the silences. What I’ve expected, hoped for, needed to hear from these folks is that they see people of color and they are willing to pursue issues of equity beyond a sign on their doors, or a liked Facebook post. Beyond Ally Theatre, as it were.
Instead, the responses have been…crickets.
What this looks like includes:
- Mentions of some -ism that fails to acknowledge intersectionality. That might be someone calling out Anti-Semitism but not articulating how racism and Islamophobia have impacted and continue to impact so many in systematic, debilitating ways.
- Adoring a celebrity like Beyonce for her fashion or her beauty, or even disparaging her amazing birth announcement while failing to center that importance in how Black women have been denigrated since, well, forever.
- Suggesting a mentor text for a lesson that has clear markers of race and beg for critical analysis, but only using that text to think about structure, or plot, or something that is peripheral to what the core text really should be about.
I’m always struck by thinking: don’t these folks work with young people of color? Might they have colleagues of color? Why are they choosing not to acknowledge the lived experience of so many folks of color in this country?
My colleague wrote quite brilliantly about Ally Theater and that post bears summarizing here: when folks are showing up because it makes them feel good but does nothing to actually work for progress for marginalized folks, well, then, that’s not really helping.
And what has been sitting so uneasily with me is how many of the people I would like to consider leaders in the field of literacy research–and here I’m talking about white folks, by and large–are amazingly, incredibly silent.
Instead, I can count on one hand the folks who are attempting to do the work: Donalyn Miller intentionally posts books that are mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors for a wide range of readers. She even gives books away daily, thereby expanding access to texts that some folks have never heard of and getting the books into the hands of readers.
The teachers of Three Teachers Talk ground their work in excellent practice while incorporating multicultural texts and embedding critical literacy. This work is not an add-on. It’s what they do, and the work offers concrete potential for what others can do if they simply tried. (Plus, there are actual pictures of kids of color in their classrooms!).
There are others, certainly, but they are not the majority.
What am I hoping for? I’m hoping for educators that show up and do the work that #educolor has been doing. Asking hard questions, pursuing tough truths, being the teachers all kids need whatever their experiences. Being relentless about equity, social justice, excellent practice. Being real allies rather than performers in ally theater, while also realizing that often folks turn to our literary luminaries for guidance.
Seems like now’s the time for them to offer that guidance.
Now, more than ever.