Last month, I wrote about how a story is shared makes a difference. I encouraged you to help your students share their stories through their viewpoints. This month, I am writing to share some factors that can impact stories and why we are important to our students. It’s inspired by a presentation I attended by Dr. Cecilia Aragon during the International Association of School Librarians conference. She is an award-winning author, professor, scientist, and pilot. Her presentation reminded me of the factors that inform our viewpoints of the world.
Like most people, I am complex. I was born with what some people may define as “three strikes” that hinder success. I am blessed to have a support system that helps me to navigate them. Even as an adult, I have benefited from numerous good-hearted individuals who have recognized my skills and potential. I choose to understand my strikes and use them to empower myself and others. Here are my three strikes.
- I am a woman. Traditionally women are expected to bear children and stay at home (Parker and Stepler 2017). Moreover, career-oriented women are frequently labeled as aggressive because they do not conform to gender norms (Gluckman 2018).
- I am African American. Sometimes African Americans are not seen as intellectuals (Wheeler and Freeman 2018) and have some of the lowest generational wealth in the United States (Schermerhorn 2019). The gaps in wealth hinder success even when African Americans are educated.
- I am dark-skinned. My dark skin adds to my identity, and it is widely known that it is not as prized as light skin (Monk 2021). If I lived before the 1950s, I would not have passed the brown paper bag test used to gain access to better jobs and an elevated social status (Gaines 2020).
These three strikes seem inconsequential until you are the recipient of the judgment that accompanies them. My strikes spoke for themselves before I ever uttered a word. They could not be hidden. As such, my parents and role models sought to counteract the negative stereotypes that accompanied the strikes.
Throughout my life, I heard a resounding reframe that included positive affirmations. “You have everything that you need to succeed. You are enough. You can be a doctor, lawyer, teacher, professor, and anything else that you want to be. You are beautiful inside and out. Choose your own road.” By the time I entered my teenage years, I knew that I would encounter a subset of the world that would dangle strikes in my face to remind me of the position that they believed was mine.
I admit that sometimes a curveball or two has hit me hard. Still, I move along knowing that I have self-worth. But what happens to the children who do not grow up supported by positive reinforcement, knowledge of their ancestral and historical backgrounds, and role models to show them that the world is a canvas for painting the future? My answer is that they have professionals such as school librarians.
I was touched last week when I heard Dr. Aragon speak about the challenges she endured during her education and how she overcame negative perceptions of the capabilities of Latinas and women. One of her memories included being asked by a teacher if she wrote a paper. The teacher assumed the work was too good to be hers.
I loved how she continued her story by speaking of the unconditional love and encouragement her father provided to help her succeed. Much like me, she cherished the library and appreciated how the librarian encouraged her to explore and check out as many books as possible. Most importantly, she discussed the role of educators in inspiring students to exceed perceived limitations.
The truth is that many children have strikes that are both visible and invisible. Another fact is that children thrive when people speak positive words into their lives and engage them in constructive activities. They need to know that regardless of statistics and perceptions, they matter, they are individuals with the capacity to contribute to society, and their lives have purpose.
I leave you with a final truth for today. I know I am an idealist when I talk about our profession helping students find their purpose. Knowledge is indeed power, and reading can introduce children to new ideas and concepts that prepare them for elementary school and beyond. After listening to Dr. Aragon, I was reminded again that we should never underestimate our potential to affect students’ mental, social, and academic well-being. Our profession helps children to override their strikes and recognize the meaning of life.
Gaines, A. 2020. “Can You Pass the Brown Paper Bag Test? I Cannot.” https://medium.com/illumination-curated/can-you-pass-the-brown-paper-bag-test-20aeac6e93f6.
Gluckman, P.R. 2018. “When Women Are Called ‘Aggressive’ at Work.” Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/nextavenue/2018/08/28/when-women-are-called-aggressive-at-work/?sh=697d79507bc8.
Monk Jr, E. P. 2021. “The Unceasing Significance of Colorism: Skin Tone Stratification in the United States.” Daedalus 150 (2): 76-90.
Parker, K., and R. Stepler. 2017. “Americans See Men as the Financial Providers, Even as Women’s Contributions Grow.” Pew Research Center. https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/09/20/americans-see-men-as-the-financial-providers-even-as-womens-contributions-grow.
Schermerhorn, C. 2019. “Why the Racial Wealth Gap Persists, More Than 150 Years after Emancipation.” The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/2019/06/19/why-racial-wealth-gap-persists-more-than-years-after-emancipation/.
Wheeler, E. M., and S. Freeman. 2018. “‘Scholaring’ While Black: Discourses on Race, Gender, and the Tenure Track.” Journal of the Professoriate (9) 2. https://caarpweb.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/%E2%80%9CScholaring%E2%80%9D-while-Black-Wheeler-and-Freeman-Jr-9_2.pdf.
Author: Daniella Smith
Daniella Smith, PhD. is a former school and public librarian. She is currently the Hazel Harvey Peace Professor in Children’s Library Services at the University of North Texas.