Dr. Sheldon L. Eakins:

How you holding up, advocates? Just curious. I hope everything is well. I was going to say, I hope everything is going well, but the reality of it is in our educational system, we got a lot going on. But before we get into today's topic, do want to remind you, if you are looking for some keynotes, if you're looking for some training to be done, feel free to reach out to the Leading Equity Center.

               If you are a diversity, equity and inclusion officer, and you're doing this work and you're looking for some ways to bring your team together and maybe it's your staff, maybe it's department heads or leadership, things like that, and you're looking to do some brainstorming. You recognize that leading change is not always easy and you have folks are set in their ways and you have folks that are going to say, "You know what, this is not our school. We don't need equity work or our school is fine. It's not us." And you want to create more staff buy-in.

               I want to point your eyes to the diversity, equity, inclusion activities playbook. There's 20 different these that you can do with your team to lead change. So feel free to find that on the website, leadingequitycenter.com. Welcome to the Leading Equity Podcast. My name is Dr. Sheldon L. Eakins. For over a decade, I've helped educators become better advocates for their students. What is an advocate? An advocate is someone who recognizes that we don't live in a just society. Advocates aren't comfortable with the status quo and are willing to speak up on behalf of others. No matter where you are and your journey towards ensuring all of your students are equipped with the resources they need to thrive, I'm here to help you build your knowledge and confidence to ensure equity at your school.

               There was a girl who was walking down the street, and as she was walking down the street, she finds a little puppy. The puppy looks really sad. He had a collar and on his collar, there was a name tag on her and the dog's name was Joy. Little girl looked around to see if there was a owner. She didn't find anybody. So she grabbed the puppy, took the puppy home and showed her mom the puppy. The mom helped her clean up Joy. They washed him and got him all cleaned up and joy looked a little bit happier, but she wanted to make sure that Joy got back to his rightful owner.

               She goes back to town and find the spot where she found Joy. She waited all day hoping that the owner would come around, but unfortunately there was no owner. She wasn't able to return Joy to its rightful owner. As she sat there waiting and was thinking about a young puppy and she already started to become attached to Joy. She found that while she thought Joy would bring happiness to the owner, she realized acquiring this new puppy brought her joy.

               We entered into education for whatever reasons. Most of us, I would argue, went into education because we love teaching. We love working with students. We have a passion for helping others. Sharing what we have learned, the knowledge that we have, our experiences, content as well, with our lessons. But with everything going on, new laws being passed, challenges, what can I say? What can I not say? What books can I read? What books can I not read? A lot of us have lost some of our joy. I want us to get our joy back.

               When you're in positions where you're there to serve others, where you're serving a community, you're helping your future generations of individuals to become better citizens, to be the best that they can be. That's why we joined the education profession, because not only does it bring our students joy, but it brings us happiness as well. I've gotten a lot of emails over the last, I don't know, month maybe, last month or so regarding book banning. I'll go back in even further.

               I've gotten a lot of emails and questions centered around critical race theory. I believe all of this is pushback for the innovative strategies that I've seen a lot of schools take. A lot of schools, a lot of school administrators and districts have realized, you know what, historically, our educational system has negatively impacted a lot of our students. A lot of those students have historically been looked at as others, been looked at as contributors, but there's been a lot of one-sidedness when it comes to content presentations, the curriculum and instruction that's available to all of our students.

               In some of my trainings, I've had questions raised to me such as, "At our school, we've had a lot of parents complain about what we're teaching. I'm in a state where legislation is being passed to ban books that we've used or newer books that are out there and that are available that we would to use. But maybe they're written by a person of color or written by a person of the LGBTQ plus community." Parents have issue with that. The thing about book banning, it's not new. Book banning can be traced all the way back.

               I did a little research and in 1624, there was an English businessman named Thomas Morton comes to Massachusetts with a group of Puritans. What Thomas realized after some time was, you know what, I don't necessarily agree with some of the rules that are presented by the Puritans. Matter of fact, he even established his own colony. Today it's known as Quincy, Massachusetts. Because Mr. Morton didn't agree with the Puritan's beliefs, he was eventually exiled and he wrote a book. It was called the New English Cannon published in 1937 because of his shunned life experience.

               This book was banned by the Puritans, making it more than likely the first banned book in the United States. Since then, there's been a lot of books that have been banned. For example, in Texas, there was recently more than 800 books placed on a watch list. Many of those books that were placed on that watch list dealt with race and the LBGTQ plus community. In Oklahoma, there was a state Senator that filed a book ban to address sexual perversion among other things in school libraries.

               Recently, there's been a book, and I hope I pronounce this name correctly, Maus, written by Art Spiegelman, it's a Pulitzer Prize winning graphic memoir about the Holocaust. One of the challenges that people who are seeking to ban the book Maus was that some of the characters depicted in the book were naked. But keep in mind, the characters of the book were mice. I mean, mice don't wear clothes.

               In Indiana, they're taking it a little bit further. I said a little bit further, not even a little bit further. Indiana House Bill 1134 requires teachers to provide the curriculum for the school year in advance to be vetted through a curriculum review composed primarily of parents and community members, 60% and only 40% educators. Furthermore, parents can even opt their child out of certain lessons they feel are inappropriate. Then teachers would have the responsibility in those situations to provide an alternative assignment.

               Now, we're living in an era with COVID teaching. COVID teaching already is difficult. It's difficult to prepare lessons online and then switch back to in class and then vice versa, in addition to CDC guidelines. We're not even going to to mention the challenges that we might be personally facing. It's almost as if education to some of us is like that lost puppy. It's like Joy, right? Joy was lost. There was an owner originally, and this little girl found Joy. A lot of us found joy in teaching and that is becoming lost and we want that joy returned to its rightful owner, the educators.

               Where's all this banning coming from? A lot of the bands for these books centers around beliefs, right? Political viewpoints, religious points, cultural expression. The various purposes or reasons behind a lot of these censorships is very broad. But for those that are listening, I would imagine that you could agree, a lot of this censorship and banning and the material and the content that's being taught in our classrooms comes from the lack of understanding around what critical race theory is. It's not being taught in schools.

               Again, which books are being banned? More often than not, these turn out to be written by authors of color, LGBTQ plus authors or authors that are writing publications with themes of race, sex and gender. As I was doing a little research for this episode, came across a clip where Dr. Ibram X. Kendi responds to the book banning. Now, Dr. Kendi, if you're not familiar, is the author ever books including How to Be an Antiracist, Stamped from the Beginning. Naturally, a lot of his books are being banned or there's controversy, if you will, with professional development and his books being shared with students. Here's a clip of some of his thoughts.

Dr. Ibram X. Kendi:

I mean, it's devastating. I think it's devastating to most authors. I mean, the amount of time and sweat and energy and thought and research and reflection and editing it takes to put together a book and we put together books so people can read and reflect and see themselves and understand their world and transform their world. But I think it's incredibly devastating for children because childrens can see themselves and books can unlock their reading. I just feel that some kids aren't being unlocked to reading right now.

Dr. Sheldon L. Eakins:

Bottom line, think about books. Books should allow students to think critically and they can provide multiple perspectives of life decisions, situations. I always find it ironical when folks say, "Oh, all these concepts of critical race theory that's being taught in our classrooms and equity and all these different "buzzwords" that are being brought to our students, it's being used to indoctrinate our kids and teaching them to hate America." I think it's some irony there. It's like we're trying to be innovative with our educational process. It's 2022.

               Our original educational system if we dated back all the way to the industrial revolution, it has typically been the same. I always argue that the educational system of today is doing exactly what it's supposed to do, the way it was intended to be. Now, you have folks that are speaking out against the way our educational system is, which is, oh, don't tell students about the ugly history of how our country was formed or how we got to where we are now. Let's just keep one side of the story.

               One could argue that when we're talking about indoctrination and you want to keep the status quo the same, but we recognize, and when I say we, you have some folks that are close-minded, you have some folks that are going to say... No matter what facts, whatever you present data, whatever it is, feelings, opinions, don't matter, they're going to stand on their beliefs. Again, a lot of those beliefs center around political and religious thoughts. So if we saying that, we need to keep things the way that they are, let's not make these changes. Could that still open up opportunities for misguiding or misleading our students? I'm being rhetorical, of course.

               Good news is a lot of students are fighting back. Think about when you were a kid. You are being told not to do something, don't date such and such. I don't like that boy. Or I don't like that girl. Or your parents tell you, "I don't want you going to that store. I don't want you hanging out at that spot. I don't like the company of kids that are there." As a young child, you might have felt even more tempted to eat the forbidden fruit.

               If you're a religious person, you believe in the Bible, I'm assuming you're familiar with the story of Adam and Eve and the temptation. You had all these fruits that are available in the garden of Eden, yet there's just one tree that you can't touch. You can't eat this fruit. As adults, the temptation for Adam and Eve, eventually they both ate the forbidden fruit.

               You got a lot of folks that are being told don't do something. It makes it more attractive at that point. Now, why are you telling me I can't read this book? So a lot of students are actually forming their own book clubs or they're staging walkouts and protesting about these books. Because a lot of these books that are being banned that are centered around race and sexuality and gender are lived experiences for some of our students. You got to keep in mind that there's a lot of students that do not feel heard. Their identities are ignored and they're forced to comply or they're forced to assimilate to the views and beliefs of the dominant culture.

               I read an article where a queer student who already was concerned about coming out to her parents. She had a fear that her parents wouldn't accept her for who she is and books such as Jack of Hearts, she could resonate with. She said, "For me, a lot of these books offer hope." She said, "I'm going to go to college soon and I'm really looking forward to that and the freedom that it offers. Until then, my greatest adventure is going to be through reading." Another student who also identifies an LGBTQ community said Jack of Hearts, for example, gave her a sense of validation. So the main character is a 17 year old who isn't shy about his love for party and makeup and boys.

               This story was a sharp contrast to her own high school experience, constantly on guard against saying or doing anything that might lead to her being outed. Reading that book made her feel less alone. A lot of our kids can identify with these books. I'm a parent. Let me mention that. I'm a parent. I have two kids. I can understand as a parent there's concerns, what is my child learning in school, those are things that I think about. I check my kids' papers as they come home and their projects, their assignments that they're given, keep an eye on that myself. So I understand.

               However, I'm an educator and I do believe in the power of teaching our kids to think critically and to view the from multiple perspectives. You might be thinking, "Well, okay, you know what, I can get around book banning. I'll figure something out." I found an article, five reasons why your kid should read banned books. I'm going to leave a link in the show notes so you can find it yourself. It's from commonsensemedia.org. The first reason why your children should read banned books is today's edgy is tomorrow's classic. A lot of books push boundaries.

               Over time, some books that were written years ago, they were in the hot seat, if you will. Today, books such as The Great Gatsby is a high school classic. But when it was written in 1925, a lot of the concepts around that book were considered shocking. So a lot of the books now that are coming out recently over time will be considered classics.

               The second reason why kids should read banned books is there's more to a book than the swear words in it. You got to think about the content as a whole. What is the message? What's the story overall? We focus on, oh, there was one curse word. But maybe these books that have been on the banned list because of its language, again, maybe some of this is opportunities for our kids to evaluate, develop their own perspectives on its concepts shared in the books.

               The third reason is kids crave relatable books. A lot of the books that are on this list written by authors such as Toni Morrison and Michelle Obama, a lot of these books are relatable to a lot of our kids. I mentioned a few examples where books such as Jack of Hearts, a lot of the kids can identify themselves and it brings them hope. The book, The Hate U Give, which was produced as a movie as well. Police brutalities is a huge concept within that book. The reality of it is, is a lot of our students and their parents, it impacts their community, police brutality. Again, I'm not against police, but I am against police brutality. It's a challenge that impacts a lot of people in the black and brown community.

               Fourth reason is controversial books are a type of virtual reality. Exploring complex topics like sexuality, violence, substance abuse, suicide and racism through well drawn characters lets kids contemplate morality and vast aspects of the human condition, build empathy for people unlike themselves and possibly discover a mirror of their own experience.

               The final reason to allow students to read banned books is they'll kick off a conversation. They're very good conversation starters. What were your thoughts? Reading a challenged book is a learning experience and can help your kids to find their own values and opinions of its content. I know a lot of us have lost joy. I want us to get that joy back. I'm hopeful and I'm with you educators as you're navigating the educational system, you will find joy again. Joy will return to its rightful owner.

               Just a message of encouragement today as you go to work, as you go to your classrooms, as you're preparing your lesson plans, whatever you're doing right now as you're listening to this episode, you'll find that joy. Stay encouraged. Stay motivated. My favorite quote from Dr. King, "If you can't fly then run, if you can't run then walk, if you can't walk then crawl, but by all means, keep moving." Let's continue to be a voice in leading equity.

               If you're looking for motivational speech, if you're looking for training keynote opportunities, feel free to reach out to leadingequitycenter.com. If you want more episodes, we got them here at Leading Equity. I wish you a productive week. Stay encouraged my friends. This episode was brought to you by the Leading Equity Center for more podcast interviews and resources, head on over to leadingequitycenter.com.

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