Saturday, April 30, 2011

Library News from Bald Eagle, PA...and Suzanne Fisher Staples

In sad, enraging and all-too common news, the march of stories about the death of support for librarians and school library goes on. In Bald Eagle, PA, the librarian teaches 6 library classes in 4 buildings from 8:20-11:30. Then she is required to go to the high school and teach Family Consumer Science to 3 more 50 minute classes until 3:10. Her lunch is eaten in the car as she travels from the elementary schools to the high school. Her libraries are not organized by Dewey or Library of Congress- they are slammed on the shelves in AR order by the kids-- so good luck finding anything by topic or author or keyword or any other way... sometimes the school secretary helps reshelve.

Suzanne Fisher Staples of Shabanu fame is a trained journalist who spent years in Asia, especially Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh and India. One of her goals is to bring little-known cultures to Americans. She is speaking today about cultural misunderstandings. Thank god for political people-- Jeri Hurd, you would love this discussion-- the first thing Suzanne brings up is the war with Afghanistan and its misguidedness, based on misunderstandings of the Afghani people. Here are some amazing highlights of her wonderful discussion with us at PSLA today:

* The WHO had to remake their standards of poverty for Pakistani people-- since trade largely takes the place of money, per capita income doesn't apply-- so the WHO replaced per capita income with number of calories taken in each day. Grown men consume 1200 calories while doing hard physical labor all day.

* Suzanne speaks Urdu, the language of Pakistan. When in Pakistan, she wore the clothing they wore to fit in-- she says they are half her size with fine features and dark skin. She wore a chador- say "cha-der"--a 56 inch square piece of fabric over their heads. Suzanne does not find the chador to be a sign of male oppression. It is a tool for carrying kindling, makes a great sling or hammock for babies, protecting them from snakes and scorpions, a bed sheet, a bandage, a towel. Suzanne says the chador is a symbol for her of remaining open minded and open hearted about cultures we are unfamiliar with.

* The myth of the hookah smoking male oppressor keeping women sheilded from Western ideas was met with incredulousness by Pakistani men Suzanne spoke with. They were very happy, according to Suzanne, to have their women learn to read and write, and gain in any way from anybody. They exist in abject poverty and look for help, she says. She says the men didn't know what to make of her--she was big, she was blond-- she says they didn't know if she WAS a woman. Sitting with the women was entirely different-- they touched her face, her hair. Once a glove she was wearing came off in a woman's hand, who was appalled and then hilariously amused--the woman thought Suzanne's skin had come off. She said she and the women would discuss food, birthdays, children, etc. Suzanne was able to carry news of droughts to the governor of Punjab province, endearing her to the men who began to see her presence as helpful.

* American schools were built out of huge square blocks of heavy materials to ensure their safety from earthquakes. Pakistanis would not go into them not because they eschewed education but because they knew should an earthquake occur, being inside the building would mean being crushed. These schools were built without electricty, and the only time people had to attend class was at night after working all day. 120 degree days and freezing nights kept teachers and doctors away.

* 1200 calories does not mean that is the amount a man ate everyday. During the dry season people ate much less. Suzanne gave teddy goats and banty-sized chickens, both of which ate little and produced much milk and eggs, to people who attended her literacy programs in Pakistan. This gave people the ability to live and learn.

* Shabanu, Haveli and House of Djinn are going to be made into MOVIES!!

* People ask her, "Isn't it hard to be the only woman in these countries?" Suzanne says that being a woman in the Islamic world was for her, an advantage. She says if anybody seeks hospitality from a Muslim, they will protect their guest literally with their life. Any time she visited a refugee camp she was offered a cup of tea, a meal, whatever they had-- even in the face of crushing poverty.

* Suzanne is mystified by some popular novels about Western women in Saudi. Her experience is with countries based on Persian culture-- she finds Pakistani culture to be very different from depictions of cultures in Iran and Saudi Arabia. She makes a distinction between Arab and Persian cultures. During the Bush years, Suzanne was shopping in a souk. While there, she met a spice merchant who said, "I am Iranian. Your President and mine have troubles, but you and I will be friends." As he shook her hand, he palmed a beautiful container of mahogany saffron into her hand as a gift.

* In response to a question about the French law forbidding Muslim head coverings, Suzanne says, "There are more Muslims who are victimized by fundamentalists than Westerners." She strongly states that laws like this only make the Muslim and Arab world less able to believe in the goodness of Western countries.

Suzanne Fisher Staples is a calm, attractive older woman with gray hair, glasses and no make up. She is soft-spoken and totally believable. She would make a wonderful speaker for middle school kids who need to learn about Muslim culture. I feel very lucky to have heard her today.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Karen's Top 10 Web 2.0 Tools--ways to use social networking sites, etc. for education

Between sessions I've been talking to librarians from across the state and hearing one heart-breaking and enraging tale after the next. One librarian's district has just make ALL of their librarians part-time-- involuntarily. A Philadelphia librarian spoke about a statistic she had to read nationally (because it wasn't found locally) that Philadelphia is the nation's leader in pregnant 10 and 11-year olds..and they are set to cut school nurses, instrumental music, school librarians, health classes and art. Every time two librarians are together you will hear blood-curling stories of essential services to children being heartlessly cut. One woman's small town has no library-- and all school librarians' jobs are on the chopping blog. WHERE WILL THOSE KIDS FIND BOOKS TO READ??

Some highlights from today's second session:

Karen's Top 10 Web 2.0 Tools-- check this out:

Helpful tools for educators:

* Facebook as an advertisement for the library program-- use it to connect to parents and students about the program, curricular connections, core content links, pictures and video that relate to things you are teaching. Create a FB page for your library. Be careful to be absolutely clean in what you post! Be aware of restrictions district-wide on the use of FB.

* Book Trailers-- look on the Teacher Librarian Ning for great examples of student-made book trailers. Be careful with copyright violations-- go to as a resource for copyright friendly images to use. Upload to Vimeo. See the PSLA wiki for more info on resources for images, kid-made book trailers or other uploading sites.

* goodreads sometimes has book discussion groups with authors, you can intro it to your kids and have them introduce you to their favorite authors, books, etc.

* online surveys-- and there are others to use too, googledocs lets you embed your surveys into other sites--- find out what kids are reading, what books they liked best, what they'd like to see offered at the library, (book purchase request), feedback on projects, pre-and post-assessments for content lessons, etc. You can teach kids about how to evaluate data with surveys, too-- what makes a good or bad question, is this a good reflection of the attitudes of a population, etc.

* as a pathfinder for all kinds of content areas-- vocab glogs, career research, literary glogs, etc. Link 10 glogs together to make one project so you have plenty of room on it and don't put too much stuff on each page. The .edu site limits the might have to pay for extended numbers of students' accounts.

* twitter feed can be embedded in your page-- and you can send out info all the time to students and parents-- watch hashtags such as #tlchat, #edchat, #edtech, #psla11-- Joyce Valenza says twitter and Diigo make her appear super smart-- she gets to gain from other people's wisdom

* screencastomatic can help you make a screencast so you can have videos of you teaching stuff to kids, parents and staff: check out: Saddleback Library, McNeil Library, Tulsa Community College for examples of good screencasts. See Bekci Kelly's Screencast Page on the PALibrarians wiki. Zamzar will convert Youtube videos to videos you can download and upload to other sites. Khan Academy is an important and up-and-coming source.

PSLA Conference 2011-- This post contains offensive language-- fair warning!

There's a gorgeous woman I know who is every inch a former ballerina. Long boned, slender and elegant, this lady looks all together, all the time. Beautifully dressed, well coiffed and manicured, she exudes class. She is a children's librarian and as such, she is more than she seems. Let's call her Audrey. Audrey loves gangsta rap. She once texted some lyrics from one of her favorite songs to me, which, if you are easily shocked, you may want to avoid reading, below:

Niggas! Bitches! Bitch-ass Niggas!
Bright ass hoes and bitch-ass hoes!
Fags, hags and scallawags!
It's about to go down like a muthafuckin plane crash!
It's about to burn like a bad-ass perm!

Now the use of the "n" word here is not in any way to be considered an endorsement of using the term. I agree with Maya Angelou that a word is a thing-- and as such, can be absorbed physically and cause harm. I hate the "n" word. But this blog post is not about that terrible word and the politics of using it. This blog article is about the incongruities of librarians-- which I find to be endlessly amusing, surprising and affirming-- as I am a bundle of contradictions myself.

Audrey sent me this text on a day when I was angry and feeling powerless to make changes I thought were terribly important. They gave me a way to laugh and have that impotent rage feel understood-- which I imagine they may do for the people who wrote them. Audrey once corrected my pronounciation of Mozart-- "It's Moat-tzart, Sheila," she said. Audrey recently gave me a CD of songs she likes, including Damn it Feels Good to be a Gangsta and Pimp Juice.

The PSLA, or Pennsylvania School Library Association, has an annual conference in Hershey, PA every spring. Today is the opening day-- and already I have been struck by the broad spectrum of people drawn to my profession. I sat next to a young woman from North Philadelphia this morning at the opening breakfast. She had a large segment of Dante's Inferno tattooed in Italian down her left arm. You go, Rocker Librarian Gangsta Chick! Sitting now in my first session, I see a nun in full habit (really! In this day and age!) You go, Religious Lady! I bet underneath that habit lies the heart of Joan Jett. That's the thing, I find-- no matter how they look on the outside, librarians often have rich veins of revolution, outsider and dork, roughly mixed with Vera Bradley, Talbot's, sensible shoes, tattoo ink, dreds, patchouli, knitting needles, piercings and obscure Japanese thrash metal.

The first session's presenters are a farily good illustration of this. The session offers a collection of well-thought out lesson plans aligned with standards, all of which will be sent to my email box by the end of the conference. This is a good opportunity to see what others are doing with new picture books and to see what younger librarians and librarians-in-training are up to.

First up is an obese undergraduate in a lavendar shirt, white tie and crew cut. He is pink cheeked and looks mighty young. However, his lesson plan involves a media-rich web quest on Lafayette which he created in response to a gorgeous book by Russell Friedman. Next is an anorexic girl with long hair and hollow eyes in a sequined blouse. She designed lessons on art movements throughout history to bring Art & Max, David Wiesner's new book to life for students. An intense, very thin girl dicusses the digital storytelling apps (one of which is PhotoPeach, which I've never heard of) she uses with Interrupting Chicken. She clearly gets an "A" in every class. Last is a very good-looking jock-looking fellow who will definitely set high-school hearts a-flutter when he gets his first job as a librarian. He speaks in a very soft voice, gesturing balletically with long, elegant hands about The Heart of a Samurai, a novel based on a true story of a marrooned Japanese boy.

Maybe what surprises me is to find the intelligence and innovative thiniking behind the faces of these young people-- and that surprise reflects badly on me. It's good to have your biases and limitations challenged. I'm glad I'm here so I can learn about these new books, innovative teaching that is becoming ubiquitous (better keep up, May-Stein!!) and what an asshole I really am.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Catherine Ferguson Academy Video and America's Egypt

Catherine Ferguson Academy on the Rachel Maddow Show

Watch the video, above. This segment of the Rachel Maddow Show is devoted to the story of the Catherine Ferguson Academy in Detroit, Michigan. As you will have seen from the video, this school is for girls who are pregnant and/or have children already. They run a farm using some of the abandoned areas of Detroit as part of their schooling, and bring their babies to the daycare on site. The school is named after an altruistic and heroic former slave who spent her free years caring for lost children. One of the requirements of Catherine Ferguson Academy is that you must apply to college, and 90% of the girls do. The Principal, Mrs. Andrews, is a guiding light and an inspiration to her students. And due to the current hostile take over by corporations of our democracy in American-- the school is slated to be shut down.

All of the people who are fired up about Waiting for Superman and other commercials for corporate take-overs of public schools need to be aware that until they have exhausted themselves in the effort to support poor and special-needs kids, they are part of the problem. Don't blame teachers for the failings and disinterest of a country fascinated by the Royal Wedding and Charlie Sheen to the exclusion of the needs of children. If people can't ensure that in their own country public libraries are well funded, neighborhoods are safe, arts in schools are thriving and teachers are respected and well paid, they don't deserve a vote in how schools are run. Sorry-- true.

Having just read the ground-breaking and beautifully written article Of the 1%, By the 1% and For the 1% by Nobel-prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz, I have to say to the top 1% controlling 40% of American wealth, watch your back. In total agreement with Stiglitz, I believe that you can only push people so far before Egyptian-style freedom movements occur. Shuttering schools like Catherine Ferguson Academy in the battle-worn city of Detroit is a board in the coffin being built for this system. And I think America's Egypt will begin in Detroit. Too much pain and suffering is concentrated there.

Sign the Petition to Save the School!

Article about a city-wide baby shower for the students

info on the school

Oprah segment on the gardening work of the school

Metro News article on the school