June 13, 2015

Expertise and educators: Teachers make a difference

If you care about teaching, stop what you're doing and read Joshua Beatty's CAPAL 2015 paper, "Reading Freire for first world librarians." I had seen others tweeting about how great this paper was but hadn't had a chance to read it until now.

I can't really even count the amount of exclamation points I wrote all over my printed-out copy. There are a lot! We talk about a few things regarding critical pedagogy that have had me feeling conflicted. I wasn't sure how to put my uncertainty into words. Conversations regarding teacher authority, students-as-teachers, and borderline disdain for outcomes have had me feeling like "hmmm no" but not entirely sure how to express my hesitation clearly. And when I say "we," I mean librarians, teachers, and higher ed faculty who engage in discourse about critical pedagogy, but also sometimes those more informal discussions in our #critlib chats. And this is certainly not uncommon, a hashtag to talk about umbrella topics does not automatically imply there is monolithic agreement and a shared politics/approach/philosophy. This is why these conversations are great, because it's a safe space to talk about these things. I just haven't been able to fully articulate my disagreement about these issues until reading this paper.

So without repeating everything he says, essentially, the point is that first world librarians have been interpreting Freire incorrectly. Most of us--myself included--have only read Pedagogy of the Oppressed, which was written with a very specific time period and population in mind and does not apply to Western classrooms (especially in the U.S. education system). Beatty points out how "Freire believed that North American teachers had conflated the concept of authority with the concept of authoritarianism. For Freire, the difference was essential. Authoritarianism was opposed to the existence of freedom, and is illegitimate. Authority, in contrast, was not opposed to freedom, but necessary to it" (p. 6).

The teacher's authority comes from their knowledge of the subject matter; but as Beatty explains, Freire realized in our misreading of his work that in rejecting authoritarianism, we wind up rejecting the teacher's authority... the thing that is actually needed for reaching freedom. And when we reject the teacher's authority and focus on this idea of teacher as just a guide or facilitator and not an expert with authority, we are actually causing harm to both the students and the teacher.

How this causes harm to students: Teacher authority is thinly veiled behind this idea of a classroom of shared power, which is just not in existence. Problem-posing in truth would be to acknowledge the authority of the teacher, to discuss it and be aware of it, instead of pretending it doesn't exist or making it seem like it can go away. I have never fully abdicated my authority as a teacher when I am doing instruction, feeling that I would come across as insincere. I wrote a blog post previously about TMI and student retention, and how trying to appear as if on the same level as your students is not helpful to teaching. I had included a couple YouTube clip examples in the post that have seemed to disappear, but this one can illustrate the idea here from Kids in the Hall, He's Hip. He's Cool. He's 45! The dad is trying to act like his authority is invisible by being "cool" and imposing no limitations on his son. He "doesn't care" about restrictions such as curfew and even goes to offer his son a joint with his cool man stance on the couch armrest. But the son clearly sees through this facade, not taking his dad seriously, as if he's a joke (well, he literally is):

This is obviously an exaggerated example, but I think it is disingenuous to frame a classroom as hey we're all the same, teacher, students.... even though I have the authority to grade. Also, there really are right and wrong answers in a number of cases. Dialogue is important, though. Facilitating is also important, but not at the expense of denying the expertise of being a teacher.

How this causes harm to teachers: I have written about the identity of librarians, the identity of librarians specifically as educators, and presented on how incorporating critical pedagogy into information literacy education can help transform our image. What Beatty is saying in his paper ties directly to this issue inherent in women's work and female-dominated professions having an expectation for service work and caregiving. Caregiving and warmth is essential to a degree in successful teaching, as we recognize the human component necessary for learning (affect), but positioning teachers--and librarian teachers, a double-whammy--as simply guides or facilitators or helpers, we are reinforcing a renunciation of authority, respect, and the need for individuals (mostly women) in these roles. We can have authority without being authoritarians. We can be experts and strategic educators who use learning outcomes (especially as formative assessment) while also working with students to realize their own knowledge and interests via dialogue and bigger picture learning.

I have found somewhat of a clash between educational psychology / instructional design principles and critical pedagogy when considering design, outcomes, and the role of the educator. I was so glad to read Beatty's paper to help me realize exactly where I felt uncomfortable with this conflict and why it existed. He talks about a lot of other great things like the idea of neutrality, the importance of collaboration with faculty, and neoliberalism + educational technology... you should really read.

And so, if anyone really can be a facilitator or a guide or a helper, then who needs us? Freire's notion of laissez-faire education would be realized. Teachers make a difference, and we can use our authority to help students learn. 

April 26, 2015

WAAL 2015 Opening Keynote: Transforming our image through a compass of critical librarianship

I went to Wisconsin this week to present the opening keynote at the annual Wisconsin Association of Academic Librarians conference for 2015. I had a great time meeting librarians from all over the state, and really enjoyed talking about librarian stereotypes and using critical librarianship as a compass to transform our image.

Find details and access to all materials below!

Title: Transforming our image through a compass of critical librarianship

Description: Librarians have been lamenting our stereotypes for over 100 years, but has anything changed? Critical librarianship--the process of incorporating social justice through theory and practice into professional philosophies and day-to-day work--pushes us past a simple dismissal of stereotypes, and toward a consideration of what implications these tropes have on our diversity, status, pay, and ability to collaboratively carry out our work with faculty as partners.

This keynote address will examine how implementing critical librarianship through our library instructional pedagogy, scholarship, and other ongoing work can add greater value to the profession, and help transform the perception of librarians to campus, as well as our own perception of ourselves.

Transcript: Find the full transcript here, including list of references

Slides (It looks like slide 81 is blank, but it's a video)... the full PPTX is here, which includes the videos that you can watch in the ppt, and then image credits are in the notes of each slide). Below is the SlideShare version for quick reference but videos won't play here.

April 17, 2015

Zines fests, neutrality, and tie ins to library work

photo by Jen Collins/ Flickr Creative Commons
Today I was reading here and here about how the Brooklyn Zine Fest silenced People of Color (POC), through removing a panel about #BlackLivesMatter under the guise of keeping the fest "apolitical." This is appalling and additionally depressing to hear about considering that this essentially is a space for activists and those who are endeavoring to express alternative points of view. We have to remember, sadly, that the erasing or silencing of POC can happen anywhere, not just in spaces that have a more hostile agenda.

Also, an 'apolitical' zine fest??? I would say that's a definite oxymoron.

I really want to tie this in to library work. In Jordan Alam's blog post about this, she says:

"Our bodies and lives do not have the privilege to claim that they are ‘apolitical.’ By our basic existence, we must contend with the very politicized assumptions placed upon us, black people most of all. Shutting us out from programming is a choice to align with the dominant racist and anti-black culture."

This is relevant to the argument that we say "we're neutral!" in libraries and that we are aware of and represent "all" points of view. In our collections, in our instruction, in how we organize and describe our materials, and all the work we do. Because this blanket of neutrality supposedly covers the whole library, I would imagine, when making this argument.

But just like at this zine fest, when a point of view was silenced to stay 'apolitical,' it's like turning the conversation around #BlackLivesMatter to #AllLivesMatter. White people have the luxury of being viewed as "normal" and "apolitical" and "neutral." #AllLivesMatter is the point of view that is always front and center. And this point of view tends to take the perspective of whiteness. POC are always silenced or marginalized or othered. Actually showing "all" points of view would be to put more focus on these perspectives that are not always in the spotlight, as whiteness is the lens we tend to see everything through.

I made this argument with my colleague, Niamh Wallace, in our recent article for C&RL News, "Black Lives Matter! Shedding library neutrality rhetoric for social justice." But I think the point can still be missed by those who might not be seeing past what the true meaning of neutrality in library work means.

Librarians have been talking about this for some time, I have never implied I am the first to discuss this, but I think there is an extra focus or interest in these topics again currently. We should be talking about this as a profession, as being critical involves dialogue. We're not going to always agree, and it's not going to always be in binary terms of right or wrong, but that's not a reason to not engage. And if we are representing diverse communities with different perspectives than ~85% white librarianship, this idea of "we'll just show all points of view" but remain "neutral" misses the point and further marginalizes our users.

I really hope Brooklyn Zine Fest will engage in productive discussion (and apology) about this with their community, particularly zinesters of color, and add an extra event focusing on these issues during the fest.

March 31, 2015

#acrl2015 reflection: experiences of academic librarians of color

Before #acrl2015 might become a blur, I wanted to reflect on the conference, and one session in particular, From the Individual to the Institution: Exploring the Experiences of Academic Librarians of Color with panelists Juleah Swanson, Isabel Gonzalez-Smith, Azusa Tanaka, Ione Damasco, Dracine Hodges, Todd Honma, and Isabel Espinal. You can find the Storify from the session here. I'm parsing my ideas together still, so apologies if this is a little messy...

One of the main takeaways from this session for me was that we need to stop framing diversity as a problem that needs to be solved, and that diversity is everyone's responsibility. This drives home the point for me even further that diversity and inclusivity research and other work should be woven into, and encouraged in, day-to-day work as well as in the tenure and promotion process. Something I wrote about over the summer was related to hiring for diversity and this panel made me think even more about the burden of responsibility we put on those who are diverse to do this work. We should all be doing this work, we should be doing this research as tied to our "regular" work. As Isabel Gonzalez-Smith noted during the panel, our students' diversity is skyrocketing, but diversity of librarians is crawling along at 0.5%. Why is that? If we're concerned with how people use our resources, how we do instruction, and the value of the library, shouldn't we be spending as much time on figuring out why we haven't been able to improve our diversity and how that affects our field and our constituents? I feel like I might still be framing it as a problem here, and it's a hard rhetoric to get away from, something that many of us could probably change our perspective on.

The other thing this panel made me realize is how we talk about diversity in regards to "types" of diversity. When we say we need "all types" of diversity equally, that brings to mind the conversation around #BlackLivesMatter vs #AllLivesMatter. It's this misconception that "colorblindness" affects positive change by imagining everyone as the same, when it winds up being detrimental by not acknowledging specific, very problematic issues. Here is a tweet for some context:

If we don't focus in on specific diversity and instead just lump it all together, we can't really address what we are lacking and what needs to change. And just saying finding people with "different viewpoints" is equivalent to diversity that speaks to systemic structures, such as racism, classism, sexism, etc. is problematic, particularly if these people with different viewpoints also happen to always be white males or white middle class white women. Of course, finding people with different perspectives is important, but it doesn't stand in for addressing other issues surrounding diversity.

The other thing we should be taking about is that diversity isn't a numbers game. Filling all the lower-level positions with diverse candidates still doesn't address who holds the power. There is a highly skewed percentage toward white men holding administrative positions, so even if we get the "right" number of diverse candidates, how does that change the culture?

And the last thing I want to touch on from this panel that really made me think was the idea of "institutional fit" that a couple panelists brought up. The fact that this nebulous idea of fit when we're looking for candidates can harm our moves toward diversity by discounting certain people who we don't feel are like us. And we can say that we really don't do that, but when we think of fit it winds up being people we get along with, or people who have a similar mindset to the institutional mindset already in place. It can reinforce hegemonic structures.

So I think we have a ways to go, but it's so heartening to see more critical sessions accepted at ACRL and that there is a bigger interest in talking about these things. I'm certainly still learning and thinking about what privilege I have, but I hope we can have these larger discussions with our institutions and as a profession.

--Check out the session link above for their list of resources / bibliography, and also see Gonzalez-Smith, Swanson, and Tanaka's chapter in The Librarian Stereotype: Desconstructing Perceptions and Presentations of Information Work. The Pho & Masland chapter might be of interest as well.