Category Archives: What I think about this…

I don’t think so: A Canadian reacts to the American election

This blog is ultimately about inclusion. Yes, I focus on inclusive early literacy but in light of the USA election results, I need to air a few thoughts about what this all means to me, as a human being, a Canadian, and a professional white woman who has worked my entire adult life to provide literacy resources directly to children and their families. If you know me in real life you know I am prone to foul-mouthed responses to things that upset me, things like misogyny, ableism, bigotry and general hatred being at the top of my list of profanity inducing issues. So fill in the asterisks as you see fit in the following: What the actual f***! It is 2016! What are these f***ers thinking electing this monster? What is wrong with you stupid a**h***s anyway! Oh my freaking…what? What?

I watched the election results with my sister and at the end of it all we hugged and cried and I walked home in the rain weeping and saying out loud to the night “How could they do that?” over and over again.

I’m not American, but I am North American. I arrived in Canada at age 5 and became a citizen at 16. Almost my entire adult life in Canada has been spent working with children and families, mostly in public libraries. I have developed and delivered many programs intended to increase the participation and inclusion of our most vulnerable community members, and I know we do good work. Here’s the thing though: A great deal of my drive and enthusiasm for children’s librarianship has come from my association with American librarians. I started attending library conferences in the USA early in my library career and quickly tuned in to the critical mass of excellence that thrives there. I give credit to countless US colleagues for expanding my abilities, for making me a better children’s librarian and a better advocate for getting library services to the children and families who need us most, i.e. immigrants, refugees, people with disabilities and members of other marginalized and underserved communities.

Today, I think my relationship with so many American librarians lulled me into a sense of security. There were so many fantastic librarians doing so much good work, for all the right and socially just reasons that this couldn’t possibly go wrong, right? To my mind, Americans were smart and strong and they gave an actual sh** about people, or at least enough of them did to keep Trump from winning, are you kidding me? Wrong. I admit I was wrong. And now things are wrong and not only slightly wrong but terribly wrong.

At this moment, I choose to speak truth to this utter wrongness and say I denounce Trump and his ilk. I denounce bigotry in all its insidious forms and I denounce complacency. I denounce the now common refrains: Calm down; Wait four years; and my personal favourite: Give him a chance! What the actual f***? Why should I give him a chance? He has had a lifetime of chances to prove he is not a bigoted jerk and I am supposed to wait until he’s installed in the freaking White House until he proves himself as anything but the bigoted, misogynist, ableist and ignorant cad he really is? As a Canadian librarian who has spent decades fostering young children on their paths to becoming critically literate citizens of the planet I denounce this nonsense for what it is: an unfathomably enormous backwards step for the entire human race, and a particularly hard and brutal shove backwards for what I thought was a shared, vibrant and just North American culture. Ouch, that hurts.

Besides being worried for very specific people who Trump’s agenda poses actual and immediate danger to, I am intellectually and morally distressed that the bigotry I always knew existed at a certain level isn’t actually on the down low, isn’t actually on the decline, isn’t actually socially unacceptable like I thought it was. No. This kind of crap is everywhere and while we’re at it we won’t be ignoring the fact that it is insidiously rampant in Canada too. Besides the actual existence of these horrid attitudes, now that Trump has told the entire world that xenophobia, ableism and misogyny is okay, the bigots and sexists have their hero (again). They and their terrible ideas are being legitimized as I type. Today, I learned that a Canadian politician thinks his “exciting” ideas will be welcomed in Canada? I don’t f***ing think so, not in my Canada anyway.

I am not crawling under a rock to wait it out though. I have every intention of continuing to show up for my students as well as and the children and families I serve in public libraries. I will call out bigotry and ableism at every turn so I dare bigots to try it in my presence, or on my Facebook page, on my Twitter page, on my blog or in real life. I will take bigotry down while I still have breath. I will research and write and publish and talk about inclusion. I will hold the line for equality, respect and acceptance. I will watch my colleagues in Canada, the USA and beyond do this good work too. The monsters got in a few shoves, maybe took a bite or two, but they are not eating us whole. No way.

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What about adults with disabilities in libraries?

I am in the throes of revising my dissertation. I have a publication coming out in a library journal in a few months though, and I will post about that here when it is available to read. The library world is quite small, and I have been approached to offer suggestions on how to “handle” certain disability-themed situations. Sometimes I have good, concrete suggestions, mainly because they are things I have thought about before, or things that I have heard other people have had success with. Even though my scholarly knowledge is focussed on young children, I even get asked about adults with disabilities in libraries sometimes, as was the case today. The person who asked me said that some staff were considering inviting some adults with disabilities to children’s programs because they were developmentally more like children so wouldn’t these programs be the right fit for them?

I am tired of hearing that adults with developmental disabilities described as being “like children”. They aren’t. They may have low literacy levels, they may have low vocabulary and lower abilities to express themselves than other people their age. They might like a lot of things that kids like but so do many non-disabled adults too (hullo, Star Wars, Harry Potter?). That doesn’t mean adults with developmental disabilities should be grouped in with children, or worse, treated like children. They are not children and have every right to be treated like adults because they are adults. Adults with disabilities should have agency in the choices they make, even if they need help making those choices and need support in acting on their choices. It is demeaning to adults with disabilities to be perceived as children and treated like children in adults’ bodies.

Now on to specific scenarios to address in public libraries: Many children’s library programs are designed to be experienced by a group of age peers and that is completely okay. As long as they are inclusive of all the children within that age range who show up, disability or no disability, it is okay. I might be one of the most disability-friendly librarians on the planet, but I would not want an adult with any kind of  disability to come to my book trailer program, not because of their disability and not because I thought they couldn’t learn to make a book trailer, because I would always assume they could. I would not want them to come because it is a program for children and this person just isn’t a child. However, that being said, in order to provide topnotch library service, I would want very much to point this person to an appropriate program for adults and I would want very much to assume that they would be welcomed at that program by that particular program’s leader. If this adult needed to have or bring a support person of course that would be accommodated and if they needed to have things explained visually, or needed a bit of extra time to do the program activities or whatever, that would also be accommodated. That is what inclusion is.

What concerns me about this is that in discussions to do with libraries and adults with developmental disabilities, it often seems to me that offering children’s programs are the only thing being considered. But adults should attend offerings for other adults, not children. So what are adult librarians thinking about here? Have they never encountered an adult with a developmental disability who wants to participate in any of their book clubs or crafting circles or whatever? I am going to venture a guess and say, rarely or probably not. This might be because there is a widespread assumption that adults with developmental disabilities are “child-like” so they couldn’t possibly be interested in adult oriented programs so they often don’t get invited either.

If public libraries offer programs that are open to the general public, things like puppet shows, magicians, concerts and singalongs then by all means, invite adults with disabilities to come, but don’t invite them just because they are adults with disabilities. Invite them because they are people who might enjoy something fun. If you offer programs with specific age ranges in mind, like my example of a book trailer camp for ages 10-12 then no, don’t invite them and gently say no even if they ask. It is a program for children and they are not children. Refer them to something else instead. If there isn’t anything else then we’ve found a gap in service haven’t we?

Library staff members at all levels of service need to be educated in what is called the social model of disability and they need to understand that barriers to participation for an adult with a disability are erected by society, not the person themselves. Keep in mind that we are emerging from an era when people like the adults with disabilities who come into your library today were institutionalized as a matter of course. This practice was generally horrendous and unjust and we should be relieved that it is no longer standard practice. However, the remnants of that era are still with us and many of the practices directed at people with disabilities seem to me to be designed to keep them in their assumed place at the bottom of the social heap. Often they must be recipients of “charity” just to live their lives with dignity and many do not have lives of dignity even with charity. This is appalling. People with disabilities need agency and opportunities not tokenism and charity and they most definitely do not need to be infantilized.

We have long way to go, but I maintain that public libraries are a great place to demonstrate inclusion. However, I also believe that there is a chasm we all need to cross first. In my research, I have been working on early years inclusion in libraries but I sincerely hope other library researchers take up other age groups. Finally, I will state that “special” library programs designed just for people with disabilities are perfectly acceptable and that while they can and do offer a great many things they don’t really do much (or enough) to advance inclusion aims. Finally, it troubles me that libraries are constantly calling themselves inclusive places when their programming and overall practices really aren’t inclusive. As a profession, we need to understand inclusion from a social model of disability standpoint and it is on all of us to figure out what that means in terms of how we go about meeting the needs of adults with disabilities beyond inviting them to a program designed for children.

 

A great read about IEPs, special education and inclusion: The Separation Box

Just this…

The Separation Box.

Slice of Life: Reading Malpractice

Yes, just yes. This kind of schooling is killing the joy of reading, and doing a disservice to everything we as literacy educators, teachers, librarians and parents hold dear in terms of educating our children to be thoughtful, literate human beings.

the dirigible plum

slice of life

I think I should sue my son’s school for reading malpractice. Every day he comes home from school hating reading just a little bit more. Understanding just a little bit less what it means to be a reader. Understanding just a little bit less why anyone would ever want to read. Feeling more confused by the disconnect between the meaningless busywork he’s asked to complete in a reading workbook at school and the astonishingly wonderful world of books that he knows at home.

Against my better judgment, I said yes when his school said he should take the READ 180 reading intervention class this year. There would be independent reading time every day, I was told. I examined the classroom library. Small but fairly choice. There would be time to read with partners, in small groups. Reading would be social. And yes, sure, there was the computer program but that wasn’t…

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My comments about inclusive education and the teachers’ strike in British Columbia

Here is my email to Rick Cluff (CBC Morning edition) in response to the Sept 4 broadcast in the series called Dis/Integration. You can find it on the cbc radio website. I was troubled by a lot of the very negative framing of children with disabilities. It is a long email but they did read out some of my comments the following morning. Here it is with the segments they chose to read in bold.

Dear Rick,
I listened to today’s segment of Dis-integration with growing dismay. The almost constant negative framing of children with disabilities that I heard repeatedly in both conversations with your two guests this morning stands in stark contrast to the hugely positive goals of inclusive education specifically and social justice more generally. Here are some of the words and phrases I heard in relation to children in our communities.

“the most difficult to teach”
“prescription for disaster”
“growing level of violence”
“range of behaviours that staff face”
“all kinds of behaviours, syndromes, medically fragile…”
“problem”
“regular classroom with so-called normal children”
“these children”
“violence”
“autism”
“Fetal Alcohol syndrome”
“unable to express themselves”
“children exhibiting violent behaviour”
“they’re frightened (of the children exhibiting this behaviour)
“evacuate”
“safety concern”

I listened to the broadcast again this evening just to make sure I wasn’t over-reacting or if I had missed something positive someone might have said about inclusive education. Nothing. Not one word was said about the importance of continuing this fight. Nothing but negatives about “special needs children” and what teachers and education assistants “have to face” when dealing with them. I hope you are able to recognize how incomplete (and dangerously inaccurate) this picture is. Even with the appalling cuts and continued threats, those who care about the inclusive education have made huge strides and continue to work tirelessly towards more inclusive schools and classrooms (and society), beginning with our youngest citizens. This work is for betterment of everyone, not just children labelled with disabilities and their families. Research has repeatedly proven that inclusion is best for everyone; children with and without disabilities can and do thrive when inclusion is done properly.

At one point in the show, one of the guests said that she could not remember children like these in school when she was in school. There is a shameful reason that adults around our age cannot remember being schooled alongside children like the ones who now appear in our public schools. I was educated in the 1970s as well. My age peers with disabilities were in one of two places: in segregated separate schools or in live-in institutions. Neither of these options heralded particularly positive learning or social outcomes.

Persistent negative framing of disability and the “problems” associated with educating “special needs” students threaten to undo all the progress that has been made in terms of social justice and access to education for those who used to be deemed wholly incapable of learning. Your broadcast perpetuated many of these very persistent, prejudiced views. There are many people who are entirely comfortable with the idea that children with “special needs” should be segregated once again. McBride practically stated so herself when she said “very often the regular class setting is not the most appropriate place for them…” Anyone with any real commitment to the goals of inclusive education would not say that so blithely. While McBride seems to have a good grasp of the complexities of funding inclusive education, I am not entirely sure she sees the socially just value in it at all. If she does recognize the intrinsic value of inclusive education then she should have said so, loudly.

I am no Pollyanna. I have a child with a very significant disability and know better than anyone that we as a society have a long way to go before children like mine (and many of the children referred to so negatively by your guests) are fully included in society across contexts (schools, communities, places of employment etc.). However, I believe very much that my son’s life has been and will continue to be markedly better than the life he would have had if he had been born in the 1960s. Inclusive education has made and will continue to make strides, will continue to be done to the best of our ability by those of us who care about social justice. There was and never has been any justice in separating children because of perceived “differences”. Residential schools for First Nations children are an example of this kind of injustice.

Inclusive education can of course be called a work in progress but I maintain that it will ONLY progress when the general public are presented with balanced views about the value of inclusion. Today’s broadcast was a serious disappointment in this regard. I would be happy to recommend some successful inclusion stories so that listeners can learn how this work is being done, can continue to be done and moreover MUST be done for our continued move towards becoming a socially just, inclusive society. I stand with my children’s teachers and the work they have done and continue to do, in spite of everything the government is doing to undermine them. I am hoping that the general public are able to grasp the importance of restoring (and continuing to build) an education system that is inclusive of all the children in our communities. Balanced broadcasts will go a long way to achieve this aim and I urge you to explore a broader view of this topic, one that reflects on the value of building an inclusive society and the role that our teachers play in this regard.

Word Crimes : Feedback to Weird Al

To: Weird Al
Re: Word Crimes
Despite being purely brilliant in places, many of us in the disability community are not pleased with this video: After one view, I was able to count three cheap shots: spastic (totally unacceptable as an insult): mouth-breather (not much better than calling someone a retard): drool (ditto) I will give a pass to the use of the word “moron” (spelled moran in the video) but I really shouldn’t because it shares a common history with words like retarded as a word that was once a “diagnosis” becoming synonymous with stupidity. All these insults come from systematic and historical hatred towards people with intellectual disabilities, many of whom were/are denied access to literacy education not because they were/are incapable of learning to read but because someone decided/decides they were/are not worth teaching. I know perfectly well that your song is meant to target those who have chosen to ignore the education they have been privileged to receive. However, in amongst a great deal of extreme cleverness and humour, you also invoke images about those who have been systematically excluded from education in order to deliver your insults to those who you deem be too lazy to use what they were freely given.

Chicago, here I come! And a rant about inclusion…

Im-attending

I am busily doing laundry and starting to pack for my trip to Chicago the day after tomorrow for American Library Association’s Annual conference. My poster session Growing Readers at Storytime (see summary below) is ready, my business cards are at the print shop and I am buying a new backpack to save my shoulders from harm in the exhibits hall haul. Oh, and my ALA schedule is truly out of control. I am really looking forward to connecting with my colleagues and sharing our passion for all the ways we can work together to connect kids and literacy in all its wondrous formats.

My focus is on how we can make our early literacy programs and services more inclusive of children labelled with disabilities of all kinds. I also think librarians can set such a positive example and hopefully encourage other service providers to do the same thing with their programs (community recreation programs for example). It is really important to me that kids who have traditionally been excluded from mainstream early learning actually get to participate alongside their age peers. We can’t keep offering “special programs” for “special kids”. Inclusion works (especially in early childhood!)  when it is done mindfully, with the essential features of “access, accommodations and supports” woven right into the service or program, so there is no need to parcel kids off. While I see the value of things like Special Olympics and Easter Seals Camps (my own child attends regularly!) literacy experiences need not be segregated, at all, especially not in early childhood.  I have heard one too many times about kids who are denied placement in inclusive early childhood classrooms and are effectively segregated for their first years of schooling and beyond. Have we not already figured out that segregation is both wrong and harmful to everyone involved?

This blog is not just for librarians, and early childhood educators and others are welcome here at all times, but my focus is on the informal (but still very important) kinds of early literacy experiences that children can have in library contexts. For that reason, while I am in Chicago, I hope to have many conversations and brainstorms about how we can work together to advance inclusion aims in our own profession, and hopefully support inclusion on a wider societal scale. See you in Chicago!