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What's in an adjective?

Social media is a blessing and a curse. Like most people with a Facebook page, I have a wide range of friends, from former students to family to acquaintances to colleagues. I try to constantly remember that the goal of social media is to be social and that I should be willing to say in public whatever I post on my page. Both public declarations and Facebook posts, though, can result in misconstrued or wildly misinterpreted intentions. In an age where everyone has a platform, we can unintentionally offend or stick a foot in our mouths, sometimes (maybe especially) when we are trying to do something good.

Having seen too many friends and family lose respect for each other over social media, I try to think carefully about my wording before I post anything. I want my conservative former student and my liberal college friend to learn alongside me, and posting divisive content does not seem to foster that type of space. I tend to stick to what I know--education--and post things that might be informative, especially for my friends who are parents or teachers. In particular, I post a lot about literacy and supporting learning from diverse texts. It is common to see me repost something from Teaching Tolerance or We Need Diverse Books. I love to share what I'm reading and thinking about, and usually that seems to be appreciated.

Living and breathing literacy sometimes causes me to forget that not everyone understands the importance of diverse texts. I teach literacy courses every semester, and teacher candidates are almost always hungry to discover how they can incorporate various cultures and backgrounds into their classrooms using different materials. Their excitement for finding great books is infectious, and it is honestly what I love most about my job. So, I was surprised when I reposted a Tweet from The Conscious Kid's Facebook page, and it caused some conflict on my own page. Morgan Jerkins is brilliant, by the way, and has a new book coming out in August 2020.

Maybe because I am used to being surrounded by people who believe in and value diverse cultures, I was not expecting to have to defend this Tweet. I reposted it because it spoke to what is at the core of my beliefs as a literacy professor, middle level teacher, and advocate for children--that everyone deserves to have mirrors, windows, sliding glass doors, and beyond in what they read. Also, reading allows us to challenge our assumptions and biases, to safely explore diverse ways of being, and to empathize with others' experiences.

I will not post the argument that ensued, but the overall premise was the Dr. Jerkins was directing her comment specifically to White people, assuming that they would not discover diverse perspectives without actively seeking out authors from racially and ethnically diverse backgrounds. My comment in response was that in schools, students are rarely introduced to non-White authors and that locating books by non-White authors is much harder than finding those by White authors. This disparity became starkly evident to me when I was on a hunt for diverse modern fantasy for young children. I did a search on Goodreads, and of the first 50 books, only one book was by a non-White author. You can also look at librarian book lists to see that, overwhelmingly, they recommend White authors. While this is changing, there is a lot of room to grow.

I took for granted that people in my social media circle would agree with Dr. Jerkins that to be well read, a person has to read a large variety of authors. When we say someone is well read, what do we usually mean? Does it mean that they have read To Kill a Mockingbird, The Grapes of Wrath, Hamlet, and War and Peace? Does it mean that they read daily? Does it mean that they read from a variety of genres?

In my experience studying literacy and teacher education, it has never made much of a difference if someone considered me well read. I am more concerned with instilling a love of reading in students. Giving them variety and helping them discover new ideas while challenging old ones is what makes children love to read. Introducing them to heroes, both real and imagined, who face different challenges in different places is exciting. Motivation to read comes from excitement, not from the external validation of being well read. But, when they discover that motivation, they are much more likely to read well.

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