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Archive for the ‘youth’ Category

Revolutionary Voices 2.0: Toward a new edition

In censorship, LGBTQ issues, youth on April 19, 2011 at 2:10 pm

What a week! Landing on ALA’s 2010 Most Frequently Banned and Challenged Books list caught me by surprise. No small feat for a collection of youth voices published by an indie press more than 10 years ago.

Over the years, numerous fans and reviewers have said the book was “ahead of its time.” Seems like maybe its time has come — or not, depending on how you view the book banning shenanigans.

What is a fact: The book’s message of perseverance, community, healing, visibility and social justice is more needed than ever. If you don’t need this message. Don’t read the book.

As one of the original contributors wrote to me this week, “May a thousand queer youth pick up the book from their public library and know that it’s not them that needs to change, but the society around them!”

I am working to get the book back in print. I welcome comments here from anyone who supports reprinting this book. Would you buy it, loan it, gift it or add it to your syllabus? I would also like to know if people prefer print or digital editions, or audio books. My goal is to assure future editions meet universal access standards.


Worker Safety and Worker Solidarity

In activism, class, labor, libraries, unions, youth on March 23, 2011 at 5:44 pm

Friday being the 100th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire that killed 146 workers — mostly women, mostly immigrants — I am thinking about worker’s rights and worker’s power. It’s been hard not to think about this since Wisconsin public workers from all corners joined together in a noble fight against legislative bullying (and lying). Like all workers, library workers owe much to the U.S. labor movement, as well as those movements of excluded workers currently struggling for rights and recognition.

Teens make up one important class of those workers. In my day-to-day work I interact with dozens, sometimes hundreds, of young people. The more active among them — youth advisors and volunteers — are deeply concerned about reductions in library funding and the ways libraries can be undervalued by legislators, voters and school boards. Their concern extends to the library workers whom they have known since they were children attending storytimes, getting lost with a book in oversized beanbag chairs, and shaping their identities as great debaters, writers and community organizers — today’s library advocates and tomorrow’s library leaders.

We don’t talk much about labor history or working conditions. But we should. Some teens I work with are frustrated they can’t start earning needed income before age 16. This is a labor issue. It begs a history lesson. Some drop out of school to save up needed money to get their own place by the time foster care ends. Most will need to pay their own way through college. We talk about their options. We troubleshoot. No state i.d., constantly changing home addresses. But we should also talk about their rights, their responsibilities, and the responsibilities of their government and their employers. Some are locked out of work before they even get a chance to join the rank and file. Daily survival limits the time we have for deeper discussion.

My union, SEIU, made this great homage I plan to share with my young workers.Infographic about worker's protections

How unions succeeded in making your workplace safer.

Today I am thinking about worker protections, about my own workplaces, and how I can share this with young workers. Today I am grateful for the incredible history of the U.S. labor movement. I am hopeful that it can do better. I am committed to working on behalf of those workers still not fully represented or protected by U.S. labor. Those excluded workers are organized and they deserve our full support, as they always have.

Until all of us are included, none of us should settle.

Thanks to Union Librarian and Blatant Berry for laying paths forward in the library field. Thanks to Young Workers United for trailblazing for youth workers rights!

The Censor’s New Clothes, CLA Presentation

In censorship, education, intellectual freedom, LGBTQ issues, public libraries, school libraries, youth on December 4, 2010 at 1:09 pm

As promised, here are the slides from my brief presentation on the Revolutionary Voices book challenge in New Jersey. (Delivered at the California Library Association conference, Sacramento, CA, Nov 14, 2010).

Library law expert Mary Minow and school librarian Jill Sonnenberg joined me for a great overview on the ideological forces driving intellectual freedom challenges in libraries (from LGBTQ-themed books to Vamos a Cuba to Internet filtering). Mary clarified the meaning of Island Trees v. Pico and legal differences between public–school material challenges.

Jill talked about the ways filters are changing and limiting student’s ways of learning, particularly when it comes to active learning methods using content creation, critical inquiry and collaboration. She shared,

While most of us out there in the trenches will fight to keep important books on our shelves…[w]e are not fighting for students’ rights to create and collaborate…We stop at no when our districts or tech directors or network administrators summarily or arbitrarily ban blogs and wikis and social networking and media sharing and yes, even digital storytelling.” — Joyce Valenza (10/5/08, “2.0 is an Intellectual Freedom Issue”)

Jill left us with an excellent list of practical background reading, especially Doug Johnson.

Censored Book Contributors

A Message to LGBTQ Youth

I talked about the recent challenge against Revolutionary Voices in the context of a religious and political campaign against Obama appointee Kevin Jennings, while focusing on some of the learning and positive outcomes the challenge created. Most notably: both sides harnessed their ability to get the word out online and, therefore, opened doors for a (somewhat) transparent public debate. We need more of this.

I recently heard second-hand that another NJ library is reconsidering The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. The school apparently discussed making the decision quietly behind closed doors. Not every challenge results in a book removal, but transparency about challenges provides a crucial pulse-check and an invaluable learning opportunity for anyone engaging in the debate — especially local students.

On a related note: NJ school librarian Dee Venuto provides excellent documentation on the Revolutionary Voices challenge on Prezi.

From Glenn Beck to Your Backyard: Targeting Gay Books

In censorship, gender, intellectual freedom, LGBTQ issues, school libraries, youth on April 11, 2010 at 4:32 pm

Tomorrow, April 12th, a special review committee** in Mount Holly, NJ, will determine the fate of three books challenged for gay-themed content. One of them is my queer youth anthology, Revolutionary Voices. (The other two are: The Full Spectrum and Love & Sex). A local group has called the books pornography and wants them removed from Rancocas Valley Regional High School.

While the legal standard on pornography will not help their cause, school book challenges like these have been successful. It is my sincere hope these books won’t be removed — both on merit and legal precedent. Island Trees v. Pico held:

“Local school boards may not remove books from school libraries simply because they dislike the ideas contained in those books and seek by their removal to ‘prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion.'”

Unfortunately, political and religious objections to LGBTQ-themed material are old news. But, what’s newsworthy here is who’s behind this challenge. As American Libraries reported, they are connected to Glenn Beck’s 912 Project.

Beck is known for his alarmist and inaccurate commentary. He admits that he doesn’t check his facts. With millions of viewers, however, he’s not to be underestimated.

Last Fall, Beck began attacking Kevin Jennings, former director of the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network (GLSEN).* Picking up the torch, local chapters of Beck’s 912 Project are now requesting the removal of books that appear GLSEN’s book list. Mine included.

This particular chapter is in Burlington County, NJ. According to its MeetUp page, the chapter boasts 350 members (called “freedom’s foot soldiers”). If you have any doubt that their motives are political or religious, you might look at 912’s Principles. Number 2 is: “I believe in God and He is the Center of my Life.” A perfectly noble belief, but not a good reason to withhold well-reviewed books from the entire student population.

Luckily, community members and library media specialists at Rancocas Valley High have been proactive in defending students’ freedom to read. They are also warning other libraries to be on the lookout for challenges backed by other 912 chapters. Last week I wrote a letter to the Board offering “my full support to the media center staff who judiciously select materials based on local policy and reliable reviews.”

I wrote in my letter, as well, about the young people for whom these books have made a difference. In the decade since Revolutionary Voices was first published I have received hundreds of comments from readers. In almost every case, they convey how the book inspired them or taught them something new.

One letter came from Lewis W. in Ann Arbor, MI, who was 15 when he found the book in his teen center library. He wrote,

“My friends and I passed around a single copy of this book for weeks… I was fascinated and relieved that there were other people out there who shared elements of my identity. At the same time, it was really important for me as a pretty sheltered young person to see that I was by no means identical to other LGBTQ youth, that there was a wide diversity of voices within the community. This was an illuminating and strengthening part of the book for me.”

While book challenges can become a battle of the most vocal, I hope the Board takes perspectives like Lewis’ into account. Queer students may not feel safe speaking up when LGBTQ books are challenged. But, they certainly deserve a chance to discover the “diversity of voices” that make balanced library collections so crucial for the health of our communities and democracy.

**This is corrected information. I previously wrote that the local Board of Education was meeting Monday. The Board will not meet until late April. This special committee is tasked with making a recommendation to the Board.

* Side note: There’s been criticism of the content of specific GLSEN safe sex workshops that I will not get into here. If you want to look it up, search for “fistgate,” or better yet “kevin jennings and revolutionary voices.” You can see where Beck got his information from.

YALSA Warns Against Rewriting History: As goes Texas…

In education, information access, youth on March 20, 2010 at 5:24 am

Reposted from YALSA blog, Friday, March 19th, 2010:

If you haven’t heard yet, the Texas Board of Education has approved a social studies curriculum that demonstrates a clear bias toward politically conservative ideology. (Washington Post, NYT)  In the words of one Board member: “I don’t care what the educational political lobby and their allies on the left say, evolution is hooey.” and, “The way I evaluate history textbooks is first I see how they cover Christianity and Israel. Then I see how they treat Ronald Reagan — he needs to get credit for saving the world from communism and for the good economy over the last twenty years because he lowered taxes.” (Interview on AlterNet)

Texas teachers constructed a curriculum, but Republican board members have peppered it with amendments including:

  • Rejection of the separation of church and state
  • Emphasis on the “conservative resurgence” of the 1980s and ‘90s
  • Giving the Black Panthers equal coverage along with Martin Luther King, Jr. in chapters on civil rights
  • Replacing the word “capitalism” in economics textbooks with “free-enterprise system”
  • Consistently rejecting requests to include positive Latino role models
  • De-emphasis of Thomas Jefferson’s role in the formation of the country

This is troubling for Texas, to be sure, but the other 49 states can breathe a sigh of relief, right?  At least that guy’s not choosing textbooks for MY state!


For decades, the Texas Board of Ed has had de facto veto power over textbook publishing in this country.  I first read about it in the mid-90s, in James Loewen’s remarkable book Lies My Teacher Told Me. Because the entire state holds to a single curriculum, whatever materials they select will automatically be purchased by every school.  That means that publishers would be foolish not to tailor their titles to the needs of this second-largest market.   The options available to schools in other states are curtailed because Texas wields such enormous power.  In other years, California (the #1 market) has had a mitigating effect, but this year cash-strapped CA is holding off on buying new materials.

This might be a good time to find out how textbooks are selected in your state, and what you can do to influence those choices in your community.

Karl Siewert

YALSA Intellectual Freedom Interest Group

Linda Darling-Hammond for Secretary of Education!

In community organizing, disability, education, elections, racial justice, youth on December 5, 2008 at 7:48 pm

Linda Darling-Hammond is a friend of libraries, an advocate for the equal education of children with disabilities, a respected teacher, and she’s being considered for Secretary of Education.

According to Californians for Justice, this “Stanford professor and a leader in education reform . . . is not only respected among academics, she also has broad support among grassroots community organizers and educators because of her dedication to progressive education reform, and her commitment to closing the opportunity gap for low-income students and students of color.” Californians for Justice is calling on Obama to appoint Linda Darling-Hammond as Secretary of Education. Act Now to support her appointment.

Still not decided? Check out this week’s New York Times profile on her.

Then, email Obama.

Ban Prisons, Not Books

In censorship, intellectual freedom, LGBTQ issues, prisons, youth on November 16, 2008 at 1:07 am

Click here for a videocast of my Banned Book Week speech, San Jose, CA, October 4, 2008.

[excerpt] “The rise in book challenges and successful book removals is a sign of our larger political times. To me, it’s no coincidence that we’ve seen a tenfold increase in book challenges and an 800% increase in the number of people in prison over the last two decades. The two issues are directly related. In municipalities across the U.S., libraries (even schools from Seattle to Contra Costa) are closing, but prison expansion is still on the rise (despite falling violent crime rates). Last time I checked, the need for education was not suddenly declining — on the contrary, it’s only literacy rates that fall when we invest more in prisons than in schools or libraries. So how is it that Banned Book Week, budget cuts affecting literacy and educational programs and our nation’s prison priorities are related? Because: more than 60 percent of prison inmates are illiterate. 85 percent among juveniles. This is a problem that starts in our communities, not the jails. It’s disturbing, but states have been planning the number of new prison beds to build based on the number of children who are reading below average by the 2nd to 4th grade. Think about this. States do not use this information to channel money into prevention and literacy programs. They budget to expand prisons. This is a terrifyingly backwards cycle….” watch the full speech.


RadReads: Revolutionary Voices

In censorship, LGBTQ issues, youth on November 15, 2008 at 7:51 pm

It’s a dubious honor to be the author/editor of a banned book. My first book, Revolutionary Voices: A Multicultural Queer Youth Anthology (Alyson, 2000), was banned by the Texas Youth Commission in 2004. According to TYC the book is “inconsistent with the educational goals of the state.” Makes you wonder what these goals are when a book written to break the isolation many young people feel is considered too dangerous.

Contributor Margot Kelley Rodriguez writes in the book’s introduction:

As artists, we come together in this book to share ourselves with each other and with you….Included here are stories of loss (how religion can force a grandmother to turn her back on her granddaughter), stories of rage (against our parents, against hunger, against the state of things), and stories of love (about the awesome power of desire, about the beauty of touch). Throughout these testimonials runs a thread of hope; hope in love, hope that by writing this down we can help some other queer kid out there. We know the answer to June Jordan’s question, “Where Is the Love?” The answer is us. “We are the ones we have been waiting for.”

We are still the ones. Young and old.

The ACLU of Texas reported on this and other removals in their invaluable annual edition of Free People Read Freely.