(left to right) Jane Gangi, Alexandria Hercules, Anthony Hazzard, Nancy Benfer, Lauren Feliciano, Jane Tejeda, Justin Lewis (missing: Peter Gangi, Gabrielle Gallinaro, Taylor Law)
Imagine that you found fault with the Common Core standards, spoke up about it, were contacted by the authors, and convinced them to make a change.
This is what happened to Jane Gangi, Ph.D. an associate education and literacy professor at Mount Saint Mary College in Newburgh, New York. (A little more about her here.) Like most authors, Gangi has developed a succinct “elevator pitch” for her work: “The Unbearable Whiteness of Literacy Instruction” is her summation of the battle she’s fighting to increase the number of books providing “mirrors” and “windows” in elementary school classrooms. Gangi is the author of three books for education professionals about the best use of trade books in building literacy.
Her emphasis is on providing children’s books of excellent quality that present a range of viewpoints -- multiple cultures, backgrounds, and abilities. Jane found such books to be poorly represented in Appendix B, the list of books recommended for classroom use in the Common Core standards. “Their text exemplars were primarily white,” she says.
Although Jane was public with her criticism, commenting on the Common Core website, writing letters, and speaking, it wasn’t until Emily Chiarello of Teaching Tolerance, a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center, heard her speak that things began to turn. Chiarello connected Gangi with the Student Achievement Partnership, which is carrying out the Common Core. In late 2012, emissaries arrived at Mount Saint. Mary to visit Gangi.
She greeted them with a conference room full of hundreds of books that offer, in her view, “mirror” and “window” opportunities for children -- mirrors, so that they see themselves in books, and windows, to provide a look into the lives of others.
The SAP asked Gangi to propose an alternative to their Appendix B. Her job was to get recommendations of books from literacy professionals -- teachers and librarians -- and to annotate and excerpt them. This past March, Jane put together a rainbow team of ten alumni and graduate students to assess the recommended books, and soon added two undergraduates who begged to join. Together, the team assembled a revised Appendix B that comprises nonfiction, fiction, and poetry, and represents varied ethnicities, faiths, and abilities.
Gangi’s team’s Appendix B selections are now being analyzed for level at Stanford University. Subject to that final nod, they will replace the “unbearably white” initial Appendix B. School districts adopting the Common Core may have already purchased books from that Appendix; my hope is that the books in the Appendix B will find their way to more classrooms, too.
What follows are comments from team members. Note that their list includes all genres, including fiction and nonfiction.
Nancy Benfer, a graduate of Mount Saint Mary College, teaches fourth grade at the campus elementary school, Bishop Dunn.
“I have three students whose families originally came from the Philippines. One of the moms brought in the story Lakas and the Manilatown Fish by Anthony D. Robles, illustrated by Carl Angel. The three students were so excited they gave me a standing ovation [for buying it for the classroom.] The rest of the class were very excited, too. These mirror text are more powerful than I think any of us can understand. They are personal and individual, while allowing the reader to feel like he or she is not alone.”
Alexandria Hercules is in her senior year at Mount St. Mary, studying history and psychology, with certifications in childhood and special education.
“I am Trinidadian-American, and I grew up in a small town with a large Caucasian population. Every day I ironed out my curls and tried my best to fit in with my peers, but I knew that I was different. Hot Hot Roti for Dada-ji, by Farhana Zia, illustrated by Ken Min, is, in my opinion, one of the best examples of the kind of books that I want children to be reading. The overall themes in the book are things that I hold dear to me. It represents my culture and my roots. I see myself in the little boy Aneel, and my life is just like his.”
Justin Lewis has a bachelor’s degree in information technology and childhood/special education certification and is working toward his master’s in literacy, birth to age six.
“Being involved in this project means that I get the chance to speak on something that places importance on minority cultures. If only 18 books out of the 150 in Appendix B are by authors of color, what kind of message are we sending to students? As a black male, I know there aren’t as many positive role models for black children. Reading books in school about other children with similar experiences shows students that they too are important. It gives students of color the idea that they are also expected to succeed and become doctors, lawyers, artists, or politicians.”
Jane Tejeda is a senior at Mount Saint Mary working toward dual certification in special education and middle school education.
“My mother is Dominican and my father was Columbian. My school had predominantly white students. I could not find anything that represented me. From the portraits of white men and women on the walls to the bookshelves filled with books from white authors telling the stories of white people. To fit in, I only spoke English, and did not participate in any of my cultural festivities as much as usual, because I trying to be accepted by a new culture that I started to believe was better than mind. No child should feel this way.”
More examples from the new Appendix B:
Crazy Horse’s Vision by Joseph Bruchac, illustrated by S.D. Nelson
The Last Black King of the Kentucky Derby by Crystal Hubbard, illustrated by Robert McGuire
Heart and Soul : The Story of America and African-Americans by Kadir Nelson
Waiting for the biblioburro by Monica Brown, illustrated by John Parra
Songs from the Loom: A Navajo Girl Learns to Weave by Monty Roessel
Honda: The Boy Who Dreamed of Cars by Mark Weston, illustrated by Katie Yamasaki
The Poet Slave of Cuba by Margarita Engle, illustrated by Sean Qualls
When the Shadbush Blooms by Carla Messenger and Susan Katz, illustrated by David Kanietakeron Fadden
Catching the Moon: The Story of a Young Girl’s Baseball Dream by Crystal Hubbard, illustrated by Randy DuBurke