Yesterday night at bedtime, my just-turned-three-year-old pulled a ragged, hand-me-down copy of Horton Hears a Who from his bookshelf. “Maybe a little too long for his current attention span,” I thought to myself. But whenever he picks a book, I always give it a go, of course, and if it’s not a fit, he’ll move on himself to a tried and true fave like Noisy Night or Rude Cakes. In this case, he was hooked, tracking everything, and he stuck it out to the end.
This was a treat for me too—I remembered the broad contours of the Horton plot from my childhood, but had not read it since then. Through an adult lens, there were some parts of the story that now rankled me a little, particularly the paternalistic attitude that the tiny Whos would for some reason need to be persuaded into speaking up for themselves by the big elephant. But I loved the allyship between the powerful and the disempowered. And the overarching message of the story, that it is the smallest voice of the smallest, young Who that finally enables the entire community to be heard, is one that resonated deeply with me at this particular moment in American public life.
The timing of the release of our latest issue of School Library Connection on “Argument, Evidence, and Understanding” is coincidence, but against the backdrop of the Parkland tragedy, this discussion feels more relevant and urgent than ever to me. The inspiring student response is a vivid illustration that our civic duty as education professionals is not strictly to “prepare students for their adult responsibilities in participatory democratic cultures” (NCSS 2013)—as if these lessons will only be applied in authentic contexts in some far-off adult future. Our students may not have the right to vote, but their voices matter in American public life today, not just when they cross that arbitrary threshold into adulthood. So how do we ensure we are giving them the right tools now?
First, the work needs to start way before high school. Too often, we expect our students to make a quantum leap in their teenage years in developing civic skills and dispositions. In their article on best practices for facilitating inquiry dialogue, Ian A. G. Wilkinson and Alina Reznitskaya highlight the incredible work fifth graders can do developing evidence-based arguments presented with an appropriate text and the right kinds of “talk moves” by the teacher librarian to guide the conversation. Mary Boyd Ratzer argues compellingly for the importance of authentic contexts when teaching students to argue from evidence across the K-12 spectrum, and Daniel Callison delineates a vision of the specific roles for the school librarian in the school’s argument curriculum. In a mind-blowing article coauthored by high school senior Arushi Goyal Gupta and Tasha Bergson-Michelson, the authors describe Arushi’s work developing the library’s news literacy curriculum. Not only is Arushi’s incredible work a model for other schools on its own merits, Tasha’s work with her student TAs is a reminder of the transformative possibilities for library programs in viewing students not just as recipients but also designers of student learning experiences.
Also in the department of mind-blowing lessons on how to empower our students, if you missed our latest live Webinar with Kafi Kumasi, don’t despair! The recording’s now available for a limited time on our Community Page here. In her webinar, “InFLO-mation: Hip Hop Principles for Library Instruction,” viewers can learn how to increase student engagement using hip hop, connect existing inquiry models to a new, progressive framework, and integrate elements of African American history into any library setting. And mark your calendars for March 23rd at 4 PM EST, where SLC co-editor Rebecca J. Morris will be hosting Nancy Evans of Levittown Public Library to discuss “strong girls” programming for school libraries. You don’t want to miss it!
And that Yopp…
That one small, extra Yopp put it over!
Finally, at last! From that speck on that clover
Their voices were heard! They rang out clear and clean.
And the elephant smiled. “Do you see what I mean?…
—Dr. Seuss, Horton Hears a Who!
National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS). The College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Framework for Social Studies State Standards: Guidance for Enhancing the Rigor of K-12 Civics, Economics, Geography, and History. Silver Spring, MD: NCSS, 2013.