April 3, 2021 by Dr. Robbie Barber
Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, And You
Published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Copyright March, 2020
During the protests of the Summer of 2020, I felt helpless to make a difference. We were in the midst of a pandemic. My own children were spread across the county, attending protests, but not coming home due to the pandemic. I cast around for something I could do. I had finished reading my copy of Stamped: Racism, Antiracism and You by Jason Reynolds and Dr. Ibram Kendi. I wanted to get a copy for every one of my students, but I have done building-wide reads before. In building-wide imposed “big reads”, so many books are not read, left on the sidewalk, in the trash, and on the field. Plus, the cost was so prohibitive to fill a high school of 1,700 students, that I did not know of a grant that would cover it. Instead, I decided to try for a copy for every teacher. (If the teachers are onboard, then it’s easier to spread the word to the students.) The grant, through DonorsChoose.org, was filled in short order by more than two dozen members of the community. So many people gave a little to make it possible. Thank you!
The idea I proposed was a faculty book club. Now let me back up and say that I’ve never run a “real” book club. I have school librarian friends who are amazing at running multiple book clubs and engaging with students. As a non-English/non-Social studies librarian, I have never felt comfortable doing a book club and discussing one book. I have run book clubs where we gather and talk about books, especially ones we are currently reading. We have had great fun where the young man who loves horror books tries to convince the young woman looking at spy novels how great the horror books are. But this needed to be a discussion on this book AND the world around us. So I turned to others for help.
Middle School librarian maven Wendy Cope collaborated with middle school librarian Stephanie Patterson to do a faculty book club at Ms. Patterson’s school. They provided their Stamped Book Club materials as a starting guide. Because Ms. Patterson’s school was in person, she could start it right away. They put together an impressive plan and I am lucky they shared. I had a few more barriers.
The first barrier was getting books into teachers hands! We did not start in person in August so the books that I had received, labelled, and placed in mail boxes went untouched. Two, early on, we realized that everyone in the building, including counselors and secretaries and parapros should also receive a copy. So I dug into my Media Center emergency funds and bought more copies than the grant provided. Teachers returned in person in February and I finally felt like we could start the book club. But, three, no one wanted to be close, so we would have to do it online. And, four, everyone was online all the time. (Zoom fatigue is REAL.) How to engage? When to engage? Would anyone show up? I’ve run many, many events as a teacher-librarian for both students and faculty. But I had never felt this nervous. It was going to be balancing act to discuss a touchy subject in a pandemic with very real exhaustion hitting all of us.
We started on a Wednesday afternoon at 3:30 p.m. in February. Wednesdays are asynchronous days for students. But for faculty, we supposedly have more flexibility except for the required 504/IEP meetings, faculty meetings, department meetings, PLC meetings, set office hours (online), and training. After the first week, I had several requests to move the time to lunch. I ran a survey and those interested in book club (about 15 people altogether) preferred noon. Lunchtime 30-minute book club was launched week 2!
When I teach faculty how to use technology or library resources, I have found that it helps to provide a summary email. It turns out that the Stamped Book Club needed one too. Below is an example of the email summary. I’ve also summarized what we discussed or activities we did each week. I also set up an email list for those interested (even if they never came). This way, I wasn’t flooding the entire faculty with my weekly reminders and summaries.
Did I flub it? Yes, absolutely. Does that mean don’t do it again (or the first time)? Nope. I learned so much.
With a faculty of 130, having only 15 people show up for book club may feel like a waste of time. But it’s not. I heard from several teachers that they did not want to join my discussion but had formed small group discussions of the books on their own. I am good with that. Some others thanked me profusely for the book but did not join any discussion I know of. That is also okay (especially if they read it anyway).
This is hard. Talking is hard. Guiding is hard. Responding is hard. And I’m reminded frequently of Jason Reynolds talk at the SLJ’s Day of Dialog keynote talk. He said that he couldn’t call himself anti-sexist. Someone else had to call him that. (This means I’m not anti-racist, but I work on it every day.) The work doesn’t magically stop. Author Ellen Oh wrote this blog post in 2015. It remains relevant today. We need to keep having the discussion.
Postscript: I approached Reading Bowl club students that I meet with every week online and asked if they thought students would be interested in a Stamped Book Club. Yes, but wait til August. (Again, Zoom fatigue is real.) Okay and maybe you’ll see another DonorsChoose request to buy more copies for the students who participate. 😉
WEEK 1 Email Summary:
We started with the video from the School Library Journal’s Day of Dialog this summer with the keynote speakers: Jason Reynolds and Dr. Ibram Kendi. The entire video is here. We watched the section 3:50-12:12 for the introduction and the section 33:47-37:18 for the writing process.
The homework assignment (if interested) is to do one of the Harvard Implicit Association Tests. This is for your own understanding of implicit biases and you may choose any of the tests. There is no reporting – this homework is for you alone.
There was some discussion of doing this book discussion with students. If you think there is interest, please let me know and we’ll do it!
GENERAL WEEKLY SUMMARIES
WEEK 2: The Power of the Narrative.
We discussed briefly how we tell stories on a slant. In the process of documenting something, it changes what we were documenting (like this blog on book club). We need to understand the context behind the story.
Haters, Likers, & Lovers. Reading Chapters 1-4. Reviewing the homework assignment discussion. What did you think of the Harvard Implicit Association Test? We viewed advertisements and commercials. Are they Haters, Likers, or Lovers?
Week 1 was very little discussion and more of an introduction. So for week 2, I thought we would play a game (Kahoot!) looking at advertisements and commercials and decide and discuss which they were. While I feel like I failed to do this well, what came up was a lot of confusion on what exactly was the “hater, liker, lover” in this context. Still, the faculty started a discussion. In the Cherrios commercial with a biracial family, there were multiple issues. For example, two issues that came up was where one (white) person referring to the biracial child’s hair being “black natural” and the upset of a black woman at the biracial set up (white woman/ black man) and the disagreement about the hair. During the week, I was sent articles or examples from some of the book club to educate me. Thank you. I hope I am learning too. I’m definitely walking a tight rope of not wishing to offend but bringing into the light the discussion. I’m going to screw it up. I hope others continue to give me enough grace to learn.
WEEKS 3 & 4: Microaggressions.
After reading about Thomas Jefferson, I decided to discuss microagressions. We looked at Instagram feeds with hashtags Blackatxxx. When we saw the comments from the high school students across the country, it led to the faculty commenting on their own experiences in high school. We also collected suggestions of what we have observed in our own school in a shared PowerPoint. And, we looked the images that started with this Buzzfeed article.
WEEK 5: History.
Short session this week. We reviewed the history of Abraham Lincoln’s presidency. One of our social studies teachers jumped in to enrich and provide more details. (Thank you @gjohnson8620.) The crux of this discussion was to understand that the South seceded before Lincoln took office and the war ended five days before he was assassinated. Lincoln, as president, was willing to continue slavery if it meant keeping the country together. And one key point is that he never dealt with the results of his actions during the civil war.
WEEK 6: Next, we explored Jim Crow laws. We used portions of Hip Hughes and Dr. Byrd’s YouTubes to help explain the laws. Then we explored examples of the Jim Crow laws using a Quizlet to display. The homework assignment this week was to read about Equality vs Equity.
WEEKS 7 & 8: Fairness, Equity, and Separation Barriers. While we need to understand these terms, we also need to look at them in the school house. And, what changes can we make? We started with a Kahoot! on fairness. (Note: I learned from Week 2’s mistakes. This time there was no right or wrong answers. Instead after everyone voted, we discussed our personal perspectives. Much more engaging.) Then we create a document listing possible issues within the school. Everyone does not have to agree, but they have to recognize the possibilities.
Keep discovering what is in your school building and what can you change.