School Library Learning Commons as Venues for Social Justice

The following is the response to a discussion prompt from LLED 467 of the UBC Teacher-Librarian Diploma. The prompt was to provide examples of social justice from online content and if of how yo might integrate it into your program.

I am submitting two examples of online content that provides examples of social justice. The first was found a couple of years ago and left quite an impact on me. The second was accidental, surprising and quite timely.

The first is a video that was released in India a year after the gang-rape of a girl on a bus in New Delhi. This incident sparked a public outcry and official reaction toward the treatment of women in Indian culture. As the father of two daughters and as a human being interested in advocating for equality, this video raises both an immediate awareness and a piece to reflect upon.

The video shows men staring at women, then having their looks reflected back at them suddenly through various reflective surfaces. It also shows their surprise and guilty reactions as they have the opportunity to see their predatory expressions turned back at them.

As you walk into our library, there is a small poster that asks “How do you act when no one is watching?” This video encourages this type of self-reflection on the behaviours and self-moderation in terms of how your actions could be perceived by others. After all, the hook line invites the leering men to look at themselves while they are ogling women.

There would be so much to talk about after playing this, including the history of where and why it came into being and why it is still necessary to be conscious of. It could certainly be used in a classroom situation, but for our school we have a bi-monthly advisory (homeroom) where issues like this are addressed, as well as a personal relationship day that introduces healthy relationships and sex education, by grade level.

An introductory video like this could be used to introduce a variety of conversations, depending on the audience. Anything from respect to predatory behaviour to societal/cultural challenges toward gender and acceptable norms could be the topic of classroom conversation. An extension could be to use the video as a jumping off point for a creative project that highlights or illustrate challenges around the school community, so that the effects of a particular behaviour back at the perpetrator(s).

The second piece is a poster was found on our trip across the border into the state of Minnesota just last week. I believe that it highlights a principle that could move toward re-establishing positive communication and valuing the input from multiple points of view. The idea of civil discourse is something that has been identified as problematic, especially as ideologies gain more polarized opinions toward societal issues. We have also seen it online in the form of “trolling” since, well, since the Internet allowed for anonymous comments.

As political opinions become further entrenched as either “pro-” or “anti-“, readdressing (or perhaps reminding) what it is to listen and engage in respectful discussion and debate has an importance not yet seen. With individuals able to broadcast their opinions via social media instantly to audiences the size that no one person has had, ever, even while on a soapbox, giving people the tools to engage respectfully to disagree or agree is of utmost importance.

Those of us in education need to take the lead in providing those tools; teacher-librarians even more so than classroom teachers as the learning commons is a melting pot of ideas and activity. Hosting debates and discussions in the commons would be a way of formally introducing these skills. Having posters like the one attached in strategic places that would encourage a moment of second thought while engaging with Internet discussions, or around the school so that the ideas found on the poster, like those of listening, being agreeable, not gossiping and being respectful in all dialogue becomes part of the language in the school culture. This should include teachers and parents, not only students.

With the skill of civil discussion, we can further ensure that all voices can be respectful heard. As Danielle McLaughlin and others in the readings of Module 11 suggest, civil discussion can allow all voices to be heard and not simply be drowned out by the majority. Going beyond this, the voices heard may not be of the majority, but of stakeholders that have further vested interest in having their opinions move forward at the expense of others. There are further links on the website that I will be investigating to see how to better integrate the ideas of civil discussion into the school library learning commons.

Speak Your Peace Poster

With both of the above ideas regarding the consideration of social justice, the consideration of the entire staff must be acknowledged in the implementation. As per my essential question, encouraging the staff to embrace the ideas of self-reflection and civil discussion is necessary for the culture to the school to shift and accept it. Neither can be practices that only apply to students, but needs to be seen utilized by the adults in the building.

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