Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

Striking Teachers Deserve Our Support

Teachers play a critical role in the lives of our youth and they have long been neglected by both state legislatures and local communities. Certainly there are isolated schools and school systems with adequate support, but these are the exception, not the rule. Not only do many teachers work long hours for ridiculously low pay and meager benefits, but they are struggling to do critical work with few resources, both material and human. Because these individuals are the most likely to understand the needs of the students they serve, the last thing they want to see is a strike that puts students out of school. Witness the efforts of teachers during the West Virginia strike to ensure that students had adequate food to get them through the days when schools were closed. We owe our support to these public servants. One of the best ways to start is by becoming informed on the situations and issues of concern. Below you will find a round up of articles to help you get started.

Fed up with school spending cuts, Oklahoma teachers walk out

Teachers Are Marching Ahead Of Their Unions, In Oklahoma And Arizona

Oklahoma And Kentucky Teachers Go On Strike, Demanding More Education Funding

West Virginia teachers strike ends with just one more quick fix *

*A coworker’s spouse works as a teacher in West Virginia and while it may seem like a victory in their case it was definitely mixed results.

Sunday Reflections: What Malala means to me as a woman and a librarian, a reflection on women’s issues in the news

Image Source: Amnesty International

It was kind of an interesting week to be a woman.

This week, Malala Yousafzai earned the Noble Peace Prize for her efforts to fight for female and youth education in Pakistan and around the world. It’s an amazing thing. I saw this wondrous feat championed on Twitter and I celebrated. Malala is the youngest person to win the Nobel Peace Prize, and she did it for a cause I can truly believe in: the rights of children, particularly girls, everywhere to receive an education. “One child, one teacher, one book and one pen can change the world. Education is the only solution. Education first.” (U.N. Youth Assembly, 2012)

But at the same time, something else was happening on Twitter – #Gamergate. #Gamergate is another stunning example of the abuse that can befall women who choose to express themselves openly on social media. From what I read at Huffington Post, it sounds like at least 3 women in the gaming community were forced to flee their homes this year amidst rape and death threats against themselves and their families. Speaking out openly against systematic sexism and misogyny can make the Internet a very hostile place for women. See also: The Atlantic article The Unsafety Net: How Social Media Turned Against Women.

And in other news, Buzzfeed did an extensive story in multiple parts that revealed that in several cases where a father had abused or even killed a child, the mother often got a longer prison sentence for failing to protect the child. In one case, a man who raped his son received 15 years in prison while the mother, herself abused by this man, received 20 years for failing to report or protect her son. So the man who actually abused the child will spend less time in jail than the abused woman who failed to report it. Whatever you may think about a mother who fails to protect a child in an abusive home, keeping in mind that the woman herself is often abused, it is ridiculous to see that these women are receiving longer prison sentences than the person who is actually committing the abuse. And I feel the same if the genders are reversed.

In Egypt, freelance journalist Kimberly Adams was repeatedly asked by the local police to drop her pursuit of charges against a man who she claims was sexually harassing her on an airline flight. Why, they asked, couldn’t she just accept an apology and his promise that he would never do it again, another stunning example of how hard it can be for women to even attempt to seek out justice when they are sexually harassed by the men around them.

Also earlier this week, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella stated that women shouldn’t ask for a pay raise but should rely on “good karma” to help bring them to a place of pay equality. Of course if good karma worked, women would already be receiving equal pay for equal work and this wouldn’t even be an issue. And it’s important to remember that very recently every single Republican senator voted against a bill that would demand gender equality in the work force. The very leaders we elect to ensure a government “by the people, for the people” failed approximately one half of the people they serve with this vote.

The irony is that all of this happened in a world that seems to be debating: do we even need feminism anymore? Because of feminists, I can vote. I can get an education. I can go to work everyday. I can open this laptop and put my thoughts out into the world and work to help make the world a better, safer, and more just world for everyone. I am thankful to the feminists who came before me and paved a way for me so that in this moment in time I could proclaim that yes we still need feminists and yes I am one. Because as Malala reminds us all: “I think that the best way to solve problems and to fight is through dialogue, is through peaceful way, but for me the best way to fight against terrorism and extremism is just simple thing: educate the next generation. “ (BBC, 2012) That’s what we’re doing every day in your library, trying to educate the next generation. In fact, we open our doors every day to try and educate every generation. And Malala is my hero.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go remind my daughters not to take their education for granted, because it comes at a great cost for so many.

Sunday Reflections: Not All Educations are Created Equal

I was speaking to someone the other day about the issue of growing poverty in the U.S. when the friend shocked me by victim blaming kids living in poverty. The most surprising part of it all was that this friend is a social work major who is going into the field to help children. She is going to go try and help the very children whose lives she doesn’t seem to understand in any way. 

It’s easy for us, as adults, to look at other adults and see that a better education could help improve their lives. But the truth is, not all educations are created equal and many children are born into this world with incredible educational disadvantages that can be almost impossible to overcome.

To begin with, not all schools are created equal. Many schools rely on local funding, so schools in poorer communities are fundamentally disadvantaged. When we were living in the poorest county (at the time) in Ohio, you could see that reflected in the school system. Because over 80% of the students qualified for free or reduced lunch, the school district applied for and received a special grant so that every child in the area received free breakfast and lunch. Every year the school tried to pass a new operating levy and every year it failed. In the 10 years that I lived there no new levies were passed. It’s not that the parents didn’t care about education, it had more to do with the fact that the average yearly income was around $24,000 and paying additional taxes would mean going without more meals or the opportunity to fix your dying car you need to get to and from work.

In comparison, we moved three years ago due to my husband’s job. Though things are still very tight for us and the people who live in this neighborhood, the schools in Texas have a different funding structure and are doing better financially. Beginning in the 5th grade, every student in this school district gets a laptop to take home every night to do homework. I imagine there are a significant number of students who don’t have Wifi at home, but they can still use the computers to write reports or put together presentations. Due to funding laws here, when the schools recently needed an increase there was no vote necessary, the district simply raised the school taxes.

And yet even with the improvements in this school district from our previous one, I can still see inequalities when compared to the school district my nephews attend. The Tween has never been on a school field trip, because the district here can’t afford it. Primarily, it seems, they can’t afford the busing. However, my nephew has been on several field trips each year to places like the zoo and science museums. As someone who loved school field trips, it always makes me a little sad that The Tween has never been on one.

The funding inequalities of individual districts affects their ability to recruit and maintain qualified, experienced teachers. It affects the types and amount of equipment that they can have in the classroom. It affects the diversity of curriculum offerings – schools with more money can have more special classes like languages, arts, consumer sciences, etc. And it affects the entirety of after school program offerings.

These inequalities also affect the way colleges perceive applications. Because not all schools are created equal, not all diplomas are equal. If you receive a diploma from a poor or failing school district it certainly doesn’t carry the same weight as a diploma from a prestigious school with a rigorous academic program. People living in poverty seldom have access to these types of schools.

If they are accepted into a college or university, students who have lived their whole lives in poverty must find a way to pay for that secondary education. Unless they are one of the few who receive scholarships, this often means that they must limit their choices once again due to economic factors.

The myth that kids and later young adults can pick themselves up by their bootstraps and get a good education is just that – a myth. Can a teen living in poverty change their life with a good education? Yes, sometimes. But there are very real systematic barriers we need to be addressing to help increase their chances. Mobility among social classes – upward mobility – is difficult due to systemic barriers that prevent kids and teens from achieving their full potential.

When we look at high school drop out rates, which current research indicates are declining though still substantial, it is important to remember that a percentage of those students who drop out do so to get full-time jobs to help feed their families. These aren’t slacker teens, they are teens who are forced to sacrifice their futures in order to take care of very real present needs.

Parental involvement can often be limited in poorer communities as these parents must work multiple jobs with unpredictable hours, frequently leaving their children home alone after school and in the evening hours to make their own dinners and try and complete their homework without an adult to ask for help or guidance.

The community into which you are born and raised can have tremendous impact not only on your immediate life, but on your chances of future success. Yes, there are people who rise above these limitations every day, but we do a tremendous disservice to the children we serve if we don’t recognize how real and overwhelming these systemic barriers are.

In Ohio, the state supreme court ruled more than 10 years ago that the way the state funded schools was unconstitutional because it created the very real economic discrepancies described above. And yet, more than 10 years later, nothing has changed about the way the state funds schools. Every day I read article after article where adults lambast our school systems with open hostility and refuse to invest any additional monies into failing school systems. The rhetoric against teachers has grown to a fevered pitch. All the while, education is being handed over to corporate sponsors who know little about it, care little about our children, and are primarily concerned with putting more money in their pockets.

One of the things I loved about the upcoming LOVE IS THE DRUG by Alaya Dawn Johnson is the way that Johnson was able to address some of these issues in the midst of a very thrilling ya novel about a flu pandemic. The teen students themselves often are forced to grapple with all of these issues as they look at the privileged life some of them lead while scholarship students are treated much differently. And when one character is able to get her cousin into the school it makes a very real difference in his life. These teens are very aware of the inequality in the world that they live in and are forced to grapple with them every day, so I’m amazed when I encounter adults who don’t have their eyes open to these very real issues. 

I’m not a teacher. I don’t work for a school system. But I am a mom and I have seen the differences in our school systems. And as a librarian I have worked with a wide variety of tweens and teens across a wide variety of communities. I have worked in a wealthy district and in the poorest, and it is night and day difference. That difference is not just in things like the types of subjects they study and the amount of homework they do; you can see it in their eyes and in their drive. Kids growing up in poverty often lose that spark, that drive. They are hungry, not for knowledge or future success, but literally hungry. They are tired. They are world weary. We are failing these kids and in failing them, we are failing ourselves.  If you think for one moment that the growing poverty issues our country is facing won’t dramatically impact the future of our country you are dead wrong. If we really want to change our future, we need to start having serious discussions about the inequalities of our education systems and find ways to provide adequate funding that don’t involve lining the pockets of large corporations.

Social Mobility:
Washington Post

Cycles of Poverty:
Breaking the Cycles of Poverty in Young Families
Cycle of Poverty Hard to Break in Poorest U.S. City
The Cycle of Poverty and Poor Health

How Poverty Affects Schools:
How Poverty Affects Behavior and School Performance

Teens and Poverty Series at TLT:

Teens and Poverty: PBS Newshour Discusses Being Homeless and Trying to Graduate High School

As I thought about writing my post earlier today about teachers, I couldn’t help but think of my 4th grade teacher. I remember her name, I remember what she looked like, and I remember the intense hatred I had for her. You see, in the 4th grade my parents separated and divorced. We went from being a doing okay two-income family living in a house in the suburbs to living in two struggling very much separate apartments. Suddenly, I qualified for free and reduced lunch. I remember the burning shame each day in the cafeteria line and how you would pray that the lunch ladies would be quiet and keep it all on the down low so the other students wouldn’t know. Being labelled poor is like being forced to wear a scarlet A.

And I remember being at a parent-teacher conference where the teacher told my parents that I had no friends and she told them (this is not a joke), that they needed to buy me a pair of Jordache jeans so maybe I could fit in. We couldn’t buy me lunch, how was this even reasonable advice?

I eventually became friends with a girl whose family lived in a week-to-week low-cost hotel in a very dangerous neighborhood; one night her family simply disappeared as they moved on to another place. I was always aware that they were just one step away from the edge of what it meant to be homeless. It’s been more than 30 years and I wonder every day whatever happened to her. Life had already been so unkind to her, I hope that her family was able to turn their situation around at some point.

According to Do Something, there are 1.7 homeless teens in the U.S. 39% of the homeless population in the U.S. is under the age of 18. In addition to poverty, teens are often homeless because of abuse or because of rejection (or abuse) from their family because they come out as GLBTQ. In fact, 40% of homeless youth are homeless because of their GLBTQ status (Do Something).

And many more families are just one job less, medical crisis or other emergency away from losing it all. In many homes parents are working sometimes two and three part-time jobs trying to make ends meet while older siblings are asked to make dinner, help with homework and put younger siblings to bed at night.

As part of our ongoing focus on TEENS AND POVERTY, I encourage you to head over to the PBS Newshour for a special report on what Los Angeles is doing to help homeless teens complete high school. While reports come in offer other areas putting up “anti-homeless spikes” – and yes, this is apparently a real thing – other people are investing that money in trying to help people succeed. There are very real effects to children and teens living and growing up in poverty: it affects physical health, it affects mental health, it affects school success, and it affects the future. Not just THEIR future, but all of our future. Helping children and teen succeed makes the world better for us all.

Recently at one of my teen programs, a group of high school students were talking and someone mentioned a boy not at the program. One of the teens present said, “Yeah, he’s okay but man his teeth are jacked up. It’s like he doesn’t even brush them or anything. It’s gross.” And I mentioned to this teen that maybe his family didn’t have the money to take him to the dentist. It got real quiet and this teen remarked, “You know, he doesn’t seem to have a lot of stuff. Like, I don’t see him wearing a lot of different clothes like everyone else. Maybe he is, maybe he can’t go to the dentist.” I don’t know if this was the case or not, but I thought it was important that they take a moment to think of all of the various scenarios as to what may be going on for this young man. Far too often those that know nothing about living in poverty have blinders on to it around them. Whether that boy was living in poverty or not, there are students all around them that are.

Additional Resources:
National Coalition for the Homeless Youth Fact Sheet
Record Number of Homeless Students in the US in 2013
National Alliance to End Homelessness: Youth

Teens and Poverty Series at TLT:
Can We All Just Stop Saying the Internet Is Free Now Please? 
Rich Teen, Poor Teen: Books that depict teens living in poverty 
Working with youth who live in poverty  
Sunday Reflections: This is what losing everything looks like 
Sunday Reflections: Going to bed hungry
Sunday Reflections: A tale of two libraries 
Sunday Reflections: Poverty doesn’t always look the way you think it does
Sunday Reflections: All I Want for Christmas is the Chance to Go to College
Feeding Teens at the Library: Summer and Afterschool Meals
The Economy as Villain in The Year of Shadows by Claire LeGrand
Book Review: PANIC by Lauren Oliver
Book Review: HUNGRY by H. A. Swain

Barnes and Noble: Homelessness and Runaways
The Homeless Experience in YA Literature
Library Thing: Homeless Persons Fiction

About the Books You See in this Post

Tyrell by Coe Booth:

“Tyrell is a young, African American teen who can’t get a break. He’s living (for now) with his spaced-out mother and little brother in a homeless shelter. His father’s in jail. His girlfriend supports him, but he doesn’t feel good enough for her – and seems to be always on the verge of doing the wrong thing around her. There’s another girl at the homeless shelter who is also after him, although the desires there are complicated. Tyrell feels he needs to score some money to make things better. Will he end up following in his father’s footsteps?” (Scholastic, 2006. ISBN: 9780439838795)

Can’t Get There From Here by Todd Strasser:

“Her street name is Maybe. She lives with a tribe of homeless teens — runaways and throwaways, kids who have no place to go other than the cold city streets, and no family except for one another. Abused, abandoned, and forgotten, they struggle against the cold, hunger, and constant danger.”  (Simon Pulse, 2005. ISBN: 9780689841705)

See also the new title from Todd Strasser: No Place

Smoke by Ellen Hopkins

“Pattyn Von Stratten’s father is dead, and Pattyn is on the run. After far too many years of abuse at the hands of her father, and after the tragic loss of her beloved Ethan and their unborn child, Pattyn is desperate for peace. Only her sister Jackie knows what happened that night, but she is stuck at home with their mother, who clings to normalcy by allowing the truth to be covered up by their domineering community leaders. Her father might be finally gone, but without Pattyn, Jackie is desperately isolated. Alone and in disguise, Pattyn starts a new life, but is it even possible to rebuild a life when everything you’ve known has burned to ash and lies seem far safer than the truth?” (Margaret K. Elderberry Books, 2013. ISBN: 9781416983286)

Summer Reflections: Thinking about teachers as a public librarian

Karen as a Freshman

Before I can tell you about the best teacher I ever had, I have to tell you about the worst. I started a new school in a new state in the 9th grade, my first year of high school. My English teacher that year had just returned from teaching English in Japan. She really loved Japan. I know this because that year she taught us so very much about the Japanese culture, but so very little about English. So when I started English in the 10th grade, I was lost. Utterly and tragically lost. I couldn’t diagram a sentence. I couldn’t label the parts of speech. I could not fix your clause or identify your dangling participle. So 10th grade was also a nightmare, but it wasn’t that teacher’s fault.

Karen as a Senior

But in the 11th grade, the curtain of fog lifted thanks to one Mrs. Harris. I loved her. She taught me all of the things I was supposed to learn in 9th and 10th grade. But most importantly, she made me read To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. That book changed my life. That year changed me. Seeing myself turn around and be successful at a subject that I had struggled with helped me gain confidence not only in myself, but in my future, which begins to really loom heavily over you in the 11th grade.

Sometimes all it takes is one teacher.

When I first started working as a librarian, I was invited by a teacher to visit her classroom and do booktalks. I booktalked to her students once a month every year for 6 years. Here’s what I learned about being a teacher in that time:

1. It is Exhausting

Standing in front of a classroom and doing the same lesson for 6 to 8 periods in a row is exhausting. It’s physically exhausting. It’s emotionally exhausting. It just drains you. Without fail I would announce to my husband that I was going on that morning to do booktalks and we both knew it meant I was coming home at the end of the day to take a nap. Teachers have to be constantly “on” in ways that many people don’t in their jobs because you can step into the bathroom when you need to, or get a quick drink. Standing in front of a classroom is kind of like being on stage for multiple shows in one day.

2. It is More Than Just Teaching 

Teachers enter the building before they will even teach a moment in their class and do things like facilitate drop off, pass out breakfast, monitor recess and lunch, and more. Every day when I run the drop off and pick-up gauntlet at my Tween’s school I am always impressed to see a teacher standing in the rain with cars moving on both sides of her while she holds a slow/stop sign to help make sure students get inside the building safely during this heavy traffic period. They signed up to teach a subject in a classroom and end up doing so much more, including being mentors, guidance counselors, safety officers, peace keepers and more. And then after they have spent the day navigating through the issues of students, they have to navigate through the professional and administrative portions of their jobs.

3. It is Valued

It was clear each and every time how much these students appreciated their teacher. She worked hard to teach them. They learned things. They participated. And when I came, they also valued that as well. I was impressed each and every time to see these teens in the classroom environment and honored to get to know them and get to share this time with them. When you show genuine interest and respect to teens, they often return the sentiment in kind.

4. It is Constantly Changing

What we know about development, the human brain, about science and history . . . these things are always changing. And as our knowledge of the world we live in changes so to must teachers. Teachers are required more so than many other professions to continually participate in continuing education and professional development. And because we are so invested in our children, there are incredible outside demands made on teachers, often by individuals who have no real practical or theoretical knowledge of education or what happens in the classroom. Today more than ever teachers are trying to be heard over a variety of outside influences, many of whom have more of a financial interest in education than any real concern about the individual needs and personalities of the kids and teens actually sitting in a classroom.

5. It is Important 

Teachers have important jobs and they go through specific education and training to become accredited to teach. Teachers learn about development, learning styles, building curriculum and more. Plus, they have to learn the content matter of the grade level or subject areas that they are teaching. We all have moments in our lives where we teach – we teach our children to tie their shoes or we teach a patron to set up an e-mail account – but that does not in any way encompass all that it means to be a licensed teacher in today’s school setting. Being a good teacher is a not only a skill, but I believe it is a gift and a calling. 

I remember playing school as a little kid and wanting to be a teacher when I grew up. The truth is, I believe I am doing exactly what I am supposed to be doing as a YA librarian, and it lets me do a lot of the things I wanted to do when I dreamed of being a teacher, mainly helping teens.
As a mom, I have had my issues with my kid’s teachers: I have questioned assignments, I have been disappointed in the way that individual issues have been handled, and I am deeply dissatisfied with the amount of time spent showing movies at my child’s school. But I have also had many moments as a librarian where I have been inside the schools on the other side, and that is a unique and challenging experience. I am thankful every time a teacher invites me into their classroom because I know that their time is precious, as are their students.

Karen’s Top 10 Posts for 2013

Ah, the end of the year. Time to reflect on all that we have accomplished in 2013 (or not).  Or, really, it’s time to go on vacation and I need a quick and easy post.  Plus, we have new followers (**waves hi**) and you may have missed these posts, which we really like and want to make sure you have seen.  So here are my Top 10 Posts for 2013 . . .

The one where I share what I wish my library patrons knew.

The one where author Kim Purcell tells us how we can help get teens involved by raising awareness about human trafficking.

The one where my friend and school librarian Amianne Bailey shared about how one book made a kid think differently about a nonverbal kid in her library and made our eyes leak.

The one where I discussed what it means to tell boys that they should only study boys and girls that they should only study girls, and maybe got a little ragey. Because feminism.

The one in our ongoing series on youth and poverty where I reflect on the fact that poverty doesn’t always look the way you think it does. As poverty is growing, we need to be aware and we need to work towards change.

The one where Heather reminded us all of the ways that teenagers are like cats.

The one in which author Mike Lancaster kindly opened up his life to us and shared what it was like to grow up watching Doctor Who for Doctor Who Week, it was such an amazing gift to be invited on this journey with him.

The ones where we discussed the implications of the newly proposed electronic badging process and then Christie got her snark on and proposed some other badges we could earn in part of our Things I Never Learned in Library School series.

The one where Jonathan Maberry helps me impress The Mr. and asks him, “Haven’t you learned that wives have superpowers?” Bam, take that Mr.

And the one where I discuss why The Immortal Rules by Julie Kagawa is more than just another vampire book because it is a reminder of the dangers of banning books.  Because education and the freedom to read are vitally important.

Rant: Failing our Kids

Everyone wants their kid to succeed in life. There’s no question about that statement- no matter who the kid is, we want them to succeed. But what happens when the system that we as a country are giving them is failing them?

I literally work with kids who would resemble today’s 80’s movies, like Breakfast Club. I have the Brians (gifted and talented, advanced, super smart, driven) who buckle down, do homework projects, get into the magnet schools and the career high school, know what they want and how they’re going to get there. I have the Claires (completely into social status and using it to get things), who can work the system and will give attitude to the library worker they feel is most likely to crack, yet will talk to me for hours on end about the latest boyfriend or fashion they’re in love with. I have the Allisons (wandering in and out, hoping that someone might notice but usually just in the back, unwilling to spark a conversation but once you get them going they will talk about anything). I have the Andrews (completely into sports for scholarships and teambuilding and trying to work that around school and everything else, and can’t wait to tell me about the latest game). I have the Benders (acting out against anything and everything, rebelling to rebel and hurting inside).

Yet a lot of times, I also have the Camerons.

Cameron, if you remember from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, is the sidekick. He’s normal, if a little anxiety prone, and doesn’t know what to do with his life. He’s stuck between his parents, he’s middle of the road in grades…  he’s not special. When Ferris was made in 1986, he would make it to college at the University of Illinois, then have a nice life somewhere (in fact, we see him in Speed) .

But not today. Today, the Camerons are tested every year for standards that are different across the country, and if they need help, they can easily fall through the cracks just because they are in the middle. They are stacked 30+ to a classroom, and if they speak English as a second language, they have to learn fast because if they fail a grade they can be sent to the alternative school where their chance of graduating or even getting scheduled is laughable.

Think it’s hyperbole? I’ve got two teens: one that it’s happened to, and one that’s going through it now.

The first is now a “new adult”, and came to the US when he was 4. FOUR. He’s been going to the school district since KINDERGARTEN. He failed a grade, failed a couple of other classes, and during his time in high school the district built this new alternative high school which was to marketed as a place to get a high school diploma through innovative and technology-driven instruction. Originally, it was to be offered for those older than the typical high school students (23 & up) who didn’t get their high school diplomas. What it’s turned into is a dumping ground for the “normal” high school, for those who look like they won’t graduate on time. My new adult was one- he wasn’t going to graduate on time, and was going to take an extra year and a half. Instead of letting him finish out and graduate at his high school, the administration TOLD HIM and HIS FAMILY point blank that he had to transfer to the alternative school in order to get his diploma- he didn’t have a choice.

So he did.

The alternative school did not register him for classes the first semester- they told him they were full. They didn’t register him for the second semester- again, they were full. Never mind that they were offering three sessions of rotating classes and online courses- whatever he needed, they were full. My new adult ended up transferring to Dallas in order to get his high school diploma.

What were the all the administrators of all the schools thinking?


My current teen failed a grade and got behind on his classes, just by messing around. He’ll admit it- he screwed up. He knew he had help waiting here with me and That Guy- we’ve told all the teens this, and they know it. He was catching up and was so excited when the school year started because he had the chance to be on track by this January and graduate with his peers.

Then in October he started showing up at the library during school hours- skipping school. When I asked him what was going on, he said that the guidance counselor said he was probably going to have to go the alternative school, so there was no point in doing the work. Gibbs-smack later and a kick to the butt, he got driven back to school and told to get straight with his classes because there was no way he was going to the alternative school- he was graduating from the high school. That stayed for two weeks.

November, and my teen is more depressed. “Miss, they’re telling me I pretty much have to go to the alternative school.” “NO,” I said, “you have a choice- there’s always a choice, and you don’t have to go. Are you passing?” “Yes, Miss.” “Then stay on track.”

I come back from vacation and being sick, and my staff tells me my teen has been skipping, and I see him in the computer lab. We talk, and he says that the high school has flat out told him that if he doesn’t pass these “tests” (class admittance tests is what he’s calling them) then he’s being transferred and won’t graduate. While I sit him down and let him think about what he wants to do- because if he doesn’t want to fight for his future, I can’t make him- I scour the guidebook. There’s NOTHING in the high school rulebook or anything online that says they will force them to the alternative school. The only things that my teen and my new adult have in common are their race, their socioeconomic status, and the fact that they’re in the middle part of an education system that only helps the top and the bottom.


We sit down with the guidelines for graduation, and turns out if he passes all his classes through this school year, he’s two classes short- that’s SUMMER SCHOOL. Yet, the administration doesn’t want him on their state statistics, so they’re trying to transfer him to the alternative school, where he won’t count. Where he can get lost, and be someone else’s problem.


Not on my watch.

These kids may not be my kids by biology, but they are MY KIDS, and I will fight for them and their rights. If the school system is doing this to these kids, what are they doing to others? And who will be their voices?

Series Focus: Youth and Poverty

Poverty is one of the growing issues our tweens and teens face today.  Since 2008, many people who have never had to worry about feeding their children now do.  We are doing a series that focuses on the issue of growing poverty, how it is affecting the lives of our patrons, and what it really means to be food insecure, to now have access to the  things we take for granted like access to the technology we need to succeed and be successful in school, how libraries in various communities can have such different clienteles which changes their mission.

Graphic from World Vision.org, visit for more information

Can We All Just Stop Saying the Internet Is Free Now Please?

Rich Teen, Poor Teen: Books that depict teens living in poverty

Working with youth who live in poverty

Sunday Reflections: This is what losing everything looks like

Sunday Reflections: Going to bed hungry

Sunday Reflections: A tale of two libraries

Sunday Reflections: Poverty doesn’t always look the way you think it does

Sunday Reflections: All I Want for Christmas is the Chance to Go to College

Feeding Teens at the Library: Summer and Afterschool Meals
The Economy as Villain in The Year of Shadows by Claire LeGrand

Book Review: PANIC by Lauren Oliver

Book Review: HUNGRY by H. A. Swain

The Curious Case of the Gender Based Assignment

A pink piece of paper set on the counter with these instructions: The students were to do a living Texas history project.  Girls were instructed to pick one girl who has made a significant contribution to Texas history, write a 5 sentence report, create a costume, and learn a brief speech about their historical figure.  I let it set there for a few days as I tried to figure out the feelings I had about this assignment, and then I contacted the Tween’s teacher saying I was a little concerned about this assignment, the limitations it put on our students, and how it stifled creativity and promoted gendered thinking and bias.  The teacher replied, “Your child can study a man if she wants to.” I sat with that reply for a while, and then I wrote a letter expressing more fully my concerns . . .

I would like to ask the teachers involved in this assignment to contemplate the broad cultural ramifications of presenting this assignment in the way that it was presented and asking ourselves what is the educational value of the gender limitations put on the assignment.  For me as a parent and a woman, there are two main concerns:

1) The assignment itself seems to have unnecessary gender parameters put on it that re-emphasizes dangerous cultural messages.

Girls are constantly told they should stay out of “man things” in this male dominated society, and the subliminal message here seems to re-emphasize this.  Likewise, guys are taught that they are above girls and that girls are not worthy of their time and attention, a message that seems to be validated by this assignment.  But what if we started to identify each other as people first and not by gender?  If we instead choose to see and learn about the value of people based upon their individual acts irregardless of their gender.  What if we didn’t tell boys and girls to limit themselves to boy or girl things but just asked them to learn and explore and investigate . . .

I imagine if you had given the same assignment without any specification of gender, the boys would still predominantly choose a male historical figure and the girls would predominantly still choose a female historical figure.  But they would have done so without someone in a position of authority telling them to do so and reinforcing dangerous cultural messages.

From the moment our children are born, they are being bombarded with these cultural messages that seem to suggest that girls are one way and boys are another and their worth is somehow dependent on their sex.  But the truth is, each and every individual is their own thing and all people have value.  Gender is only one part of who we are, and should not be anywhere near the top of ways in which we define ourselves.  Instead, I would hope that our children would seek to define themselves as good people, moral beings, intelligent, compassionate, able to accomplish great things in this world.  But when they are constantly bombarded by these messages of gender, they start to put limits on themselves (and their peers) based on these messages.  They start to view the opposite gender as different, foreign, alien, and sadly, often as unworthy.

I would like my daughter to go up in a world where she believes she can achieve the scientific accomplishments of Albert Einstein and Thomas Edison just as much as she can achieve the accomplishments of Betsy Ross and Harriet Tubman.  And history is already so male dominated and focused, imagine what would happen if we asked our boys to study the history of women more, and to put themselves in the position of a woman in history.  Education is about challenging oneself, critical thinking, opening your eyes to the truth of the world around you and learning from it – I feel that this assignment, and the gender based limitations put on it, does the exact opposite of this.

2) The presentation of the assignment on color coded paper – pink for girls and blue for boys – further acculturates cultural gender stereotypes.

I feel that as educators, especially those teaching subjects as important as history, we need to ask students to think deeply about what we can learn from history, and I would hope that one of those messages would be that men and women should have equal rights with equal dignity and respect and opportunity.  We need to ask them to question gender stereotypes so that we as a nation can move forward into greater equality rather than reinforcing the age old gender roles.

In the year 2013, women holding the same jobs as men still earn less.  Women are still objectified and described first and foremost according to their looks as opposed to their abilities.  Women are often raped, beaten, and murdered in part because we are seen as less than men.  Congress is made up of less than 20% women.  The 100% Men Tumblr highlights how few women there are in the world of tech, media and politics.  Even as a librarian, there are more female librarians though there are more male librarians in administrative positions.  In a time when gender shouldn’t matter, it unfortunately still does because we keep teaching our children that it does.

I want my daughter to receive as few gender specific and alienating messages as possible in her life, especially from people in positions of authority in her life –  and especially in the educational realm which should have moved past simple minded classification systems.  I worry about what the cumulative effect of these gender messages have on our children, and why we can’t break free of them; why we can’t look at each individual as a person first and not define them by gender.  Why we can’t see the merits of a person’s historical accomplishments irregardless of their gender? And yes, I recognize that race and gender are sometimes important in the study of history when we consider what others have accomplished in spite of the world that they lived in, but that is not the same issue being discussed here.  Why do choose to put our children, ourselves, in such narrow boxes and allow a culture to define – and limit – other based on such narrow label as gender?  Why would my anatomy define me as opposed to the character of my person, the depth of my soul, my contributions to this world, my brain and how I choose to use it?  That is what I believe we need to be teaching our children.

Imagine what a different assignment this would be if the students were just given a neutral colored piece of paper with the simple statement that they needed to choose a historical figure and study their lives and the contribution they had made to the world.  No preconceived notions, no gender based messages – just an invitation to explore and think critically.  That is the education that I believe our children need.

What I do hope is that at some point these concerns may be talked about among those giving this assignment and in the future it will be presented in a gender neutral way.  I don’t want educators coming in with their personal bias and telling my daughter who she should be, I want them to set up safe environments for her to explore it and decide on her own, that is, I believe, the primary function of education

So, there you have it: My thoughts on the gender based assignment.  Would it have bothered you? Would you have written a letter? What else do you think I should have said? Discuss (nicely!) in the comments.

More on gender at TLT: I’m Just a Girl? Gender in YA Lit

Edited 5/08/13 to add the Maureen Johnson link