I’m uncomfortable…and that’s a good thing.

Lately, I’ve been uncomfortable.  And that’s a good thing. I’ve been uncomfortable because not only have I been placing myself in more new situations, but also mentally confronting a lot of things that I’ve simply pushed to the side most of my life. This makes me a better teacher and a better person. Some recent challenges:

  • The close-minded ideas I grew up around
    • I don’t mean my family’s values and I don’t mean all of the ideas I grew up around.  You see, political stereotypes are never all true and the idea of looking at someone else’s point of view is usually met with, “Well, they all just hate (fill in the blank) and they’re so selfish and lazy and (fill in the blank). They’re stupid and useless.” Well, different policies work for rural and urban areas, but I’m not talking about that. I’m talking about the idea that one group isn’t ok or one group is less valuable than another. This is typically the result of fear and unfamiliarity. People who do crappy things to other people, regardless of why or how, are crappy people. Period. I get that, but just because someone has a different skin color as you or a different religion than you doesn’t mean they’re not a human being. Oh, sure, you can tell me that you believe all people are valuable, but unless your actions say it, I don’t believe you. This certainly isn’t unique to the area that I grew up in and I dearly love a lot of things about that land-locked prairie state, but these ideas seem more deeply rooted in areas where everyone looks like you. So, I’ve consciously pushed myself out of those types of spaces a little more. I don’t have a lot of cash or time to travel, so this often consists of reading more about different people’s perspectives and experiences.
  • Facing my own privilege
    • I won’t feel guilty about the way I grew up; there’s no use in that, but I see the silo of ideology that privilege can lead to. I grew up comfortably in a quiet, rural, racially and religiously homogeneous area. I excelled in school and as result, had most of my college paid for through scholarships. Now, my parents purposefully raised us “poorer” than we really were so they could save more for their own future, which I’m thankful for. As kids, we learned how to get along with less, we didn’t wear name brand clothes like the other kids did, and the cars we were lucky to have at 16 were junkers. It made us more grateful for what we had as well as the time and effort that afforded those things. My parents worked hard to provide us opportunity and I will work hard to provide that opportunity to my child, but with privilege comes responsibility. My responsibility is to make sure that I do what I can to stand in the way of people who want to perpetuate stereotypes, perpetuate segregation in schools, perpetuate the idea that students are only there to show up and be filled with knowledge instead of actively participate and bring their own ideas and backgrounds to the table. Handing the student the microphone is important. I’m in a position to that, so I should, especially when it comes to students who are different than me.
  • Stepping back and looking at the way “things have always been”
    • When I look at the way classes have always been conducted in both K-12 and higher education, it makes me very frustrated. I sat through so many lectures and was taught that knowledge came from the top-down (not explicitly, but it was there). It wasn’t until I attended Education classes at a small, historically black college in Missouri that those ideas were challenged.  Again, this wasn’t outright, but it was there. I was called to think, to discuss, to talk about my ideas with faculty and my peers, to apply different theories to classroom situations – only to move out into a school system that didn’t encourage those things. I always wanted my students to be active, to be hands-on participants, to talk to each other, to ask questions, and to take new academic knowledge and apply it to their own situations. I’ve had to intentionally place these things into my classes instead of being told to leverage and utilize them. For some reason, I never realized what I was doing…I just did it. Now I actually see what has been happening and it makes me angry. Educators have talked for years about how important these things are, but the reality is that our classrooms are quite restricted. There is value in students knowing facts and procedure – great value – but why is this not paired with our responsibilities after we gain this knowledge? Why is there so very little discussion about what so much of this really means? Why do we have a system that considers art, literature, music, etc, as throw away subjects that are there just to be quasi-well-rounded. Why is there so very little recognition of the interplay that happens in our brains when we learn? It has to MEAN something beyond reinforcing the way things have always been. We sent a man into space using math; we produce life-saving medicine through science; we save countless lives with evacuations using weather warning systems; and we connect with each other through art. There is a human element to every subject and they’re all interrelated.
  • Exposing myself to feminist, critical, and progressive ways of thinking
    • Growing up in a very conservative area can really put you in a weird state when you agree with so much of the “opposite” ideology. I doubt that anyone will ever call me radical, but there is so much of myself reflected in critical pedagogy, feminist instructional techniques, and progressive ideas. Unlike when I was younger, I’ll now admit that I am a feminist (and, frankly, I was raised that way, we just didn’t call it that) because I believe in equal opportunity for men and women and I believe them to be equal, not just in “theory” but in reality. Yes, I still say thank you when a man opens the door for me and I sometimes take up a man’s offer of a seat on the bus because it’s just polite and my feet hurt, dang it. My husband recently had a conversation with a man who stated quite proudly that his wife doesn’t have to work. My husband just smiled and replied, “Yeah, my wife’s too valuable to stay at home.” There is absolutely nothing wrong with a man being happy that he makes enough for his wife to stay at home with their children, but there is a huge problem when it’s used as a measurement of masculinity. It’s through these subtleties and ideas that hierarchy and prejudice is reinforced. I was once told that I would never “get a man” because I didn’t dress feminine enough, I hiked and camped too much, and I was too sure of myself. Really? Whether or not I agree with any stance in these ways of thought doesn’t matter – pushing myself to listen and consider what is being said and why, does.  As it happens, I agree with a lot of feminist, critical, and progressive ideas, but it doesn’t mean I don’t also agree with financial responsibility, the power of small business, opportunity for economic growth, and hard work – but it all has to be balanced with seeing others as humans and that we’re all in this life together.

I’ve stayed quiet a lot in the past when I disagreed with someone. I might still now if it’s not worth the push-back, but as a parent and a librarian who teaches, I have a greater responsibility. What you won’t see out of me is a raised voiced or a pushy conversation – I vent that frustration later. I believe in being respectful, even when you disagree. My God says that everyone is valuable and I believe that, too.  Doesn’t mean I have to like the person, but I try to be respectful, even when I don’t think someone deserves it. This is why you won’t often see me push back on social media, which is already so dehumanized. It probably wouldn’t get me anywhere, anyway. Meaningful and civil dialogue can happen in daily relationships and interactions, though. Other people may not be open to change, but I can push myself to come at something with a critical mind, and when someone sees that you’re trying to see their point of view, they often give that back.

So read books about Jews, narratives on black oppression, and feminist texts: push yourself outside of your own experiences. Make yourself uncomfortable – not to lose yourself or your foundation but to broaden your horizons.


Authority and Information on Vacation

This past week, a couple of good friends of mine were married in Atlanta. My husband was in the wedding, and we decided to make it a vacation and went out 4 days early to spend some time in the city and get some much-needed sleep. While we were there, we visited the CNN Studios and my brain started lesson planning before I could stop it.

We arrived at the CNN Studios around 11:45 am on Wednesday, March 22nd. When you walk into CNN, you’re standing in the food court/shop lobby. It’s an expansive space and your eyes immediately travel upward to the 8-9 story ceiling. There are flags of different states and countries that flank the opening and a huge globe.

The escalator entering the globe is on the 7th floor. It is the longest freestanding escalator in the world. Photo: Jenni Burke

There is a large monitor on one end of the lobby and I immediately noticed the headline: “Attack outside UK Parliament Being Treated as Terror”. I paused and read some of the closed captioning and my heart dropped. Not good.

After recovering from the shock of the lobby and the headlines, we bought VIP Tour tickets for 1:30. This put us in a group that was capped at 12 (instead of 45) and gave us access to a few extra taping areas than a regular tour. While we waited, we ate lunch at the Chick-Fil-A (yes, ironic) and wandered through the Cartoon Network store, the CNN store, and the Braves shop, stopping to talk baseball with the older gentleman who worked there (particularly about how the Rockies management keeps raising prices not because the team is any good but bc they can make money off of the opponent’s fans). On a side note, if you’re a Cardinals fan like myself, go to a Rockies-Cardinals game – it’ll feel like you’re at a home game in St. Louis.

Around 1:15, we went through security and started up the longest freestanding escalator in the world – 7 stories tall and only attached at the top and bottom! We entered the 7th floor through a giant globe, took a quick photo, and went through a set of double doors into a small theatre with a large, three-paneled control screen that showed the different camera angles and teleprompters of all of the the domestic CNN stations and CNN International. The guide would then cut the different audio feeds from what the audience would hear to the Executive Producer’s audio line directing the Breaking News show on the main CNN station. This was infinitely fascinating as he was directing different things all at once like the camera angles, the digital pictures that were coming through live feeds in London, and when different teleprompter segments were to come in to which anchor. On other screens, Wolf Blitzer was filming the Situation Room segment (that would have been playing if it weren’t for the Breaking News) and Robyn Curnow, who was waiting for the main CNN feed to cut to her. Each show has its own Executive Producer who controls every aspect of the show or segment; nothing happens without their approval.

From here, we followed the guide to a small, staged newsroom where she explained the green screen, digital touchscreen, and teleprompting technologies. I asked a few questions like what was on the paper the anchors hold (the hard copy of the teleprompt text) and where the text comes from (the writers, but the anchor can add comments). After seeing the main filming stage for HLN, things got really interesting.  We walked to a two-paneled window with a view into a large room where the writers and copyeditors work. There are normally about 100 staff members present, but during disasters like the OK City Bombing and 9/11, they cram in about 300. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of screens dominate in this room – smartphones, tablets, tv’s, radios, computers, and large digital control panels. There are marker boards with events and names and locations everywhere.

Writers are assigned to different shows and given topics to research and write about. After the initial stories are written, they go to the copy-editors who fact-check, correct grammar errors, and make revisions. From here, they’re sent to the Executive Producers for approval and disseminated to the anchors on paper and the teleprompters before and during the shows. Under normal circumstances, shows/segments are researched, written, edited, and approved in roughly 3-4 hours. Under Breaking News situations, an entirely different team of writers take over and the turnaround time for information is reduced to 5 minutes or less. During this process, every screen, tv, and radio is constantly playing competitor’s news, sister station’s news (ALSO treated as competition!), local news, and…here it comes…social media. These are the places in which writer’s pull their stories. Yes, you read that correctly. They pull stories from social media.

Here’s where my Librarian brain took over before I could help it. There are a few hidden gems in the Framework that seem “obvious” but don’t always sink in, even for librarians: Learners…understand the increasingly social nature of the information ecosystem where authorities actively connect with one another and sources develop over time AND Learners…understand how the commodification of their personal information and online interactions affects the information they receive and the information they produce or disseminate online.

You see, this is important for students to understand – how they interact with the world online has an effect on what is reported! News used to have to travel by mouth and paper. Now, it can pass through thousands of hands before it even reaches the news stations and every station is competing with each other to be the first, the fastest, and the most eye-catching. They even compete with their own networks! What we post, what we like, what we share, what we tweet – it can all directly affect the information that we receive back. We are now ALL contributors to the conversation, whether we like it or not. It’s vital that we build lessons that make our students think about the process in which the information is created and delivered, and even more importantly, where does it originate?

In the food court lobby of CNN, the tile forms a world map (with time zone lines). There is a brass plate for every CNN location. Photo by: ana_feliciano (flickr) https://hiveminer.com/Tags/cnn,hq

On the floor of the lobby, tiles form a map of the world. Embedded into this floor are about 45 brass plates that represent a CNN location. No one can be everywhere at once, even a network this large. They rely on each other and the population for news stories. Unless a reporter is standing on the sidewalk during an event, the news is coming second hand. So we all have to dig a little deeper than we used to find out more. Then, we have to decide how to use it.

Our voices are powerful and it’s a heavy responsibility.


The Journey to Here

I’ve been considering for a while what to write on this first post. It should be witty, thought-provoking, and special, right? Well, as I sit here dodging the projectile toys that my toddler is fast-balling around the kitchen, I realize it’s much more important to just be real. So, what’s been on my mind lately? My journey to here.

Through out my life, career has been something that has eluded me. I was born into a family in which half of us are notorious for taking the long way around life and typically not settling into a career until our 30’s (if ever).  I have proven to be no different. One of my grandfathers held a variety of jobs throughout his life: he was a school teacher, a car salesman, a landlord to a trailer park in an army town, and (my personal favorite) owner/operator of a worm farm. He was a jack of all trades, master of a few. Later in life, he’d just fall asleep in front of Nascar races watching the stock ticker to find out if he’d lost or gained anything that day. It’s fairly normal for us to end up teaching deaf kids in Kenya, nursing, welding, consulting for businesses, curating in national museums, or thinking about Mars. We’re all over the place.

When I was young, I thought I wanted to be a vet. Luckily (or unluckily, whichever way you want to look at it), I was in a Girl Scout troop who took us around to visit the professionals who held careers to which we aspired. The second I saw the operating table in our local vet’s office, I was out. Done. No way. See ya. So, what next? Teacher. I loved school and quite a few of my family members were teachers, so why not. It wasn’t something I truly desired to do, I don’t think, it just seemed to make sense. I held this idea from the time I was in 3rd grade all the way until my junior year in college when I had an epiphany while I was trying to simultaneously outmaneuver a lightning storm and a mountain lion in New Mexico (I managed this, obviously, although I’m pretty sure if the mountain lion had really wanted to eat me, there’s not much I could’ve done about it). “If I actually live through this, I need to find something I actually love.  I love showing others how to do things and seeing them succeed because of me, but does it have to be in a classroom?” So, when I got back to my university that fall, I dropped my teaching option (and, subsequently the Master’s program that paired with my BA), graduated with an English degree with a minor in Speech Communication and set out to find out what I could actually do with that. Admin work, if you were wondering.

After working for Mizzou off-and-on for about three years as an Administrative Assistant, I knew I had to do something different. I loved the people I worked with but I was bored a lot.  When I’m bored, bad things happen. I either fall asleep and get very lazy or I start causing trouble or I get under people’s feet (ask my colleagues). So, I drug myself back to college and completed classes for a teacher’s cert and went to the classroom. It was during this part of my career that I bumped into my true love and passion: librarianship. I was teaching 6th Grade Reading and took my students to the library once a week. I have no idea why this career hadn’t occurred to me before. I suspect because, as much time as I spent in libraries growing up, there wasn’t anything inspiring about it. I adored my elementary library but the librarian seemed kind of mean and I was scared of her. My middle/high school library was boring and drab. The librarian was amazingly kind and never hovered but the space itself was quite uninspired and cloistered and I never saw her outside of that room. Small town Oklahoma didn’t have much cash for places like libraries.

After moving back to Colorado, I started an online program for my MLS while working full time as a corporate Executive Assistant. The work was still a bit tedious but my boss was fantastic. He would randomly use me as a sounding board for ideas, let me do my homework in slow moments, and make fun of me when I was grumpy. He encouraged me to follow my passion and shoved me back out into the world when it was time.

Then, reality set it. There are different types of libraries (why did no one take the time to explain this to me when I was in my degree?!) and each has it’s own personality. There’s an impression that each type of library demands a special set of skills and if you’re good at one, then you won’t be good at another. Well, it’s true that each demands a special touch, but most librarians are trained at a strong enough baseline that they can jump in and perform decently. Problem is – I don’t want to be decent. I want to be excellent. I was good at School Librarianship (I was in a college prep school with high schoolers doing college level work) but I found it difficult to deal with the idea that the library would be a youth canteen, especially when the Elementary Librarian was having class and students were trying to study. After that year, I jumped at an opportunity to open a brand new public library and became a Teen Librarian in High Plains District. I enjoyed my time as a public librarian for a variety of reasons but programming was not my “thing”. I found that I was really good at the planning, coordinating, and even the active parts of putting on the programs, but it didn’t catch me in the gut. It didn’t excite me as much as doing computer classes for the adults or even being out on the desk helping patrons find answers (to the most RANDOM questions!).

When my kiddo came along, my longing to be teaching information literacy became a bit overwhelming. I kept dreaming of working in a university library, working with students and faculty who are researching and learning. I kept thinking, “If my son had a passion, what would I tell him to do?” I’d tell him to jump off the cliff and run after it! How could I ever encourage him to do that if I wasn’t willing to do the same? So, toward the end of my maternity leave, I called my boss, got on the sub list, and threw myself into applying to academic jobs. I got this gig as a temporary Instructional Librarian at Auraria and I have loved this job every day. The work is straightforward but ever-changing and my past experiences have allowed me to jump into the deep end quickly. The most challenging piece has been learning the idiosyncrasies of the world of high education. Luckily, I’ve had phenomenal examples to follow and now feel comfortable with the scholarship aspect. I have felt my love, passion, and excitement for this type of librarianship explode. All of the research, the social media, the CV-building, the presentation applications: it all makes sense in light of what we do: teach students. We aren’t “teachers” but we teach. We help students see what information means, what it does, how it affects us, how we affect it, and what our responsibilities are with it, both in the academic world and in life and society and culture. It’s librarianship in its purest form – words matter. We’re guides and mentors and path lighters and walk with students for a short time on their own paths to their own destinations.

I love that.