There was a time when if one wanted to teach 3rd grade, they simply needed to have finished the 4th grade. This makes teaching sound like an easy gig, but not necessarily in an agrarian society were few stayed in school. Once in the ‘profession’ limitations were placed on teachers that required them to stay single, follow strict moral codes and rise before dawn to heat the schoolhouse. Communities kept a close eye on teachers because in their wisdom, they knew it was necessary to be careful who was given access to the children.
This care still continues and sometimes we appreciate the caution and other times see it as excessive and unnecessary. Teachers still have codes of ethics. There are communities that publish teachers’ salaries in the newspaper and qualifications are publicly accessible on the Internet. It can still be difficult for GLTBQ educators to find or keep teaching jobs and a teacher’s arrest for DWI will often make the local news. In today’s world, teachers often spend more time in a day with children than do their own parents.
Books give publishers access to children and affect how they perceive the world around them. Books validate us, inspire us and teach us. So, shouldn’t we be concerned about the librarians, authors, publishers, editors and other adults who have access to our children through the world of books? In working for diversity, we have to focus beyond what’s not on the shelf and look at the real decision makes. We have to see the need for more diverse books as more that the battle for Mitali Perkins, Greg Neri or Gaby Triana to become rich and famous. Rather, we have to work for people of color to be the decision makers who control the publishing houses, make the marketing decisions and edit the books. These are the positions that control the ideas and images that reach our children.
In the past week, I’ve seen growing multi-faceted approaches to addressing diversity issues. Does what’s on the cover matter? Do we fight like Martin or Malcolm? While Charlotte’s Library questioned the whiteness of a bi-racial child on a cover, Shelftalker’s recent post grew into a debate as to whether books with multicultural casts should make a greater effort to show ALL characters on their covers. What are we teaching our children? Without honestly portraying the browness of the world, how do we end racism?
There’s so much to do! It’s not just books and book covers in the 21st century! We have to be aware of the overarching message and this implies that we can’t just regulate the adults in front of our children or filter what they access on the Internet. We have to be concerned about the real decision makers, the powers behind the scenes that control the ideals that charge the information. We have to be vigilant, watching the book covers, the language in the text and the cultural references. We can’t believe that just because America is getting browner that there will be greater access! White Readers meet Black Authors just blogged about the resistance of whites to what movies with majority Black (or Latino or Asian) casts. I won’t resist watching a television show with majority white actors, will you? Sounds like colonialism perpetuated to me and these colonists still have access to our children.
So what are we going to do this week?
We’re going to donate books published by companies that support people of color to Ballou High School through GuysLit Wire AND to Helen’s high school through Ari’s C.O.L.O.R. project.
We’re going to call the local public library and place a request for one of these books by these same companies.