When I was 17 years old, my history teacher pulled me aside and told me tone it down. “It” being my opinion in case it intimidated others. “It” being speaking my mind because sometimes I would come across so forceful that others did not want to engage. So I stopped speaking in his class. I stopped jumping in, afraid that I was going to rock the boat or upset the other students. I knew I had opinions, but I didn’t want to be known as someone who did not make room for others.
A long time ago I decided that staying quiet would not get me anywhere. That hoping that someone would understand what I needed without me actually speaking up was a delusion. That I could no longer wait until someone spoke the words that burned within me so I could quote them and pretend I hadn’t thought the exact same thing. I started writing, speaking, and teaching as the whole me, rather than the 17 year old girl who had been told to tone it down. It has been quite a journey since then.
As educators we speak up all of the time. We speak up for ourselves when changes need to be made in our schools. We speak up for our students when they need us to advocate. We speak up for our own needs and hopefully for the needs of our students. We speak up when we see injustices that need to be righted, when our teacher stares are not enough.
So I think it is time for us to speak up and let our voices be heard because when I look at my classroom library, when I really study the books I am able to put in the hands of my students, I cannot help but wonder; where are the books from non-white authors? Where are the picture books that center around kids that are going about their every day life that look like some of my students? Where are the holiday books, the birthday books, the first day of school books, the books that share small slices of life that have characters that are not white?
While I buy the ones that I know of thanks to blogs like Reading While White, We Need Diverse Books, and the Nerdy Book Club, I am constantly reminded of how few there are out there for us to purchase. When I receive a package of books I am constantly reminded of how often the kids in the books look just like my own kids in all of their whiteness. How my kids must take it for granted that, of course, the books they read have people in them that look like them. That I do not have to scour the internet to find books that remind them of themselves because those are the majority of books out there. That in book upon book being white as a character is the standard not the exception.
We need diverse books. We need own voices books. We need more than what is out there and so we need to raise our voices. There will be no change if we do not say loudly; “This is not enough. This is not ok.”
So as educators we can speak up. We can reach out and demand better. We can spend our precious budgets on books that do not just offer up more white narratives, but actually mirror the diversity that we are surrounded by. We can tell publishers that we need books that show all of the kids we teach. We need books about Native American written by Native American, or other #OwnVoices authors. We need books that go beyond the standard stories being shared so that when all of my students open up a book they can find a character that looks like them. Or when my own white children read a book, they will see a character that does not look like them and understand that that too is the norm.
For too many years we have waited for publishers to notice the major gap that has been created, and while changes are under way, the process won’t speed up until we speak up. So use your voice, use your connections, use your money to show the world that when we echo that “We need diverse books!” it is not just because it is a catchy phrase, but is the truth.
I am currently working on a new literacy book. While the task is daunting and intimidating, it is incredible to once again get to share the phenomenal words of my students as they push me to be a better teacher. The book, which I am still writing, is tentatively Passionate Readers and will be published in the summer of 2017 by Routledge. So until then if you like what you read here, consider reading my book Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students. Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.