As the culminating project to this year, 4th and 5th grade have begun a Diversity Audit of the OQS library. This stemmed from many things: a Newsela article about the lack of diversity in both authorship and characters in children’s books, Marley Dias’s 1000 Black Girl Books book drive, to just a general awareness that in our quiet corner of Vermont, our children need to be raised as global citizens, with an understanding and appreciation of the common threads that tie humanity together, which are greater than the differences that can be so divisive. I decided to acknowledge, celebrate, and raise awareness about diversity in literature, and wonder with my students, Whose story are we telling in here?
The first questions we considered were Why is it important to see yourself in books? and Why is important to see people who have differences from you in books? With responses such as fiction creates empathy, reading broadens the world around you, it makes you realize you’re not alone to see books with characters like yourself in them, and it helps you learn about other cultures and see the similarities and differences to your own, I knew my students were ready to rise to this challenge. We skimmed through the book A Poem For Peter by Andrea Davis Pinkney, focusing on Keats’s feelings that none of the people in his life in Brooklyn, NY appeared in the children’s books at the time, nor did those books take place in urban settings. Children in those settings didn’t see the beauty of their lives reflected in the books they read, which inspired him to write the celebrated children’s book, The Snowy Day.
After our read-aloud, we discussed our focus questions: How diverse is our school library? Whose story is being told, who is telling it, and who is left out? I was surprised to see a mixed bag of feelings about how diverse our library already is–I wonder if some of that feeling of confidence comes from my effort to have ever-changing and very diverse book displays. I wonder if they will feel the same after they do their research!
Next the students discussed the definitions for some terms they will have to be familiar with to continue in this effort. Our formal definitions are as follows:
- Age–how old you are
- Language–what you speak, the way you communicate
- Culture–the customs, arts, beliefs, characteristics of a group of people
- Appearance–the way you look
- Disability–a condition that impairs, limits, or interferes with certain tasks or interactions
- Race–physical differences and similarities between people considered to be socially significant, for the benefit of a particular group
- Ethnicity–shared culture, perspectives, and distinctions among a group of people that set them apart. Ethnic differences are not inherited, they are learned.
- Religion–a particular system of faith or worship
Having the students understand that race is a social construct, not something based on genetics, was very important to me and I think eye-opening for my students. One fifth grader said, “So, race is like when someone makes up a game then makes up the rules so they win.” I was so proud that these young people, who can be so much more eager to understand, learn about and accept new concepts than adults, were coming along for the ride with me on this critical way of thinking. If that in itself is the only thing they take away from this unit, I will be thrilled. But of course, I want more!
From this point on, students will be Diversity Detectives and will choose a focus for their research. In small groups they will create infographics such as this one to represent their data.
Lastly they will make recommendations of stories, authors, illustrators, etc. that we need to increase the diversity of our OQS library. It’s a BIG, ambitious, exciting project, and I know my students will be up to the task!! I will keep posting over the course of the next few weeks to update our progress. I am very looking forward to seeing what they discover!