Sometimes, I watch my grandchildren with the television news as a backdrop or when adults in another room debate, rebuke, or defend the hateful adult speech, irrational adult behaviors, and nonsensical adult attitudes and actions that have become our current political and social reality. As the adult world intrudes into their young lives, I see the subtle confusion cross their faces as they struggle to make sense of words and actions that defy understanding even by adults.
It is déjà vu for me. As a child, my television and more often newspaper backdrop was of the Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War. I remember the protests and violence. I remember Kent State and George Wallace. I remember KKK posters on telephone poles and hearing about crosses set ablaze in politicians’ yards in opposition to school desegregation. I remember the dismal news coverage of President Kennedy’s assassination and watching the video loop of Oswald being shot in the police station playing out over and over again on our black-and-white television screen. I remember Dr. King and Bobby Kennedy. I can still recall vividly and sadly the pervasive sense of fear and helplessness I felt as a child looking at the world I was destined to inherit.
School with its routines and schedules provided normalcy. What helped me most through those difficult and frightening times, however, was reading. There were escape books like The Black Stallion and Pippi Longstocking, but there were a host of others that lifted me up, reaffirmed the strength of the human spirit to prevail, and helped me develop resiliency. Summer of the Swans, Treasure Island, To Kill a Mockingbird, Robinson Crusoe, biographies about Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Blackwell, Smokey the Cowhorse, Gone with the Wind, The Incredible Journey, Flowers for Algernon, True Grit, Sounder, Call It Courage … and so many, many more.
School librarians are the teachers best equipped and most knowledgeable to prepare students to make sense of the cacophony of the adult world, to enable students to confront negative information with confidence, and to empower students to assess and challenge contradictory, unsubstantiated facts. School librarians are the teachers who can help students find escape and reaffirmation and hope through reading. Students need school libraries as places of creativity and critical thinking, of conversation and inquiry, of acceptance and affirmation. But they need the expertise of a professional school librarian even more!
Untitled by KHeinz, 2014, March 9, https://pixabay.com/en/portrait-child-hands-317041/ Public domain.
Author: Anne Akers
Clinical assistant professor in the Department of Library and Information Studies at the University of NC at Greensboro working with school library candidates. Former elementary, middle, and high school librarian in Virginia, Mississippi, and North Carolina.