What Remains Important: Some Reminders About Literacy for BIPOC Children & Youth During a Pandemic

Dr. Kim Parker
September 22, 2020

Even during a pandemic, literacy remains important. In fact, I wonder if what Dr. Theresa Perry described as “freedom for literacy and literacy for freedom” in relation to African Americans’ pursuit of literacy since, well, forever, rings more important during this moment. In Young, Gifted and Black: Promoting High Achievement Among African-American Students, Perry explains how Black people have consistently fought for not only their own literacy, but the literacy of others. We need to double down, right now, on that same collective pursuit of literacy access and uplift.

For young people, this means that we insist on and implement a few consistent practices and beliefs:

  • Children and youth are literate. They practice literacy in multiple ways, and in multiple modes. Our work is to build on all the ways they are literate and all the ways that literacy is happening to make learning relevant for them. Deficit-based language about losses and gaps prevent us from having substantive conversations about normalizing high achievement for all children, and especially for Black, Latinx, and other IPOC children.
  • Choice still matters. Children, and everyone else, deserve to read whatever they want, whenever they want – especially now, when we are struggling to find meaningful ways for readers to engage with reading. Let us remember that choice drives engagement.
  • Critical literacy applies online. Given that we can’t always assume families have reliable access to technology, we have to get creative about ways readers can access text and ensure that they have diverse texts to access. While tech companies are offering lots of resources, we still have to make sure that Bishop’s “windows, mirrors, and sliding glass doors” (1992) are being represented in the online texts schools are making available to children. (In my experience, the offerings tend to skew heavily toward white characters and white authors).If they aren’t diverse, we need to insist tech companies do better – refusing to put our money behind those resources – and find and share better, inclusive resources with families and educators.
  • We need to be constantly challenging, and changing, our own beliefs. Maybe we went into this pandemic thinking that we would need to do everything possible to staunch the perceived losses headed our way (deficit thinking). What is more useful, and more liberatory, is that we use this time to think about how we can reimagine literacy for BIPOC children and youth and the ways our own internalized biases and outdated thinking get in the way.

We know everything we need to know to make literacy experiences for kids the ones they deserve to have. May we finally decide, collectively, to make different choices and to support children and youth’s right to live the literacy lives they deserve.

Dr. Kim Parker currently prepares preservice teachers as the Assistant Director of the Teacher Training Center at the Shady Hill School in Cambridge, MA. Kim taught in public schools, universities, and graduate schools for 18 years and served on several committees for the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) and the New England Association of Teachers of English (NEATE). As a Heinemann Fellow (2016-2018), Kim documented her successful work de-tracking her ELA classroom for students of color. Her continuing scholarship is focused on the literacy lives of Black youth, particularly those of Black boys.  She is a co-founder of #DisruptTexts and #31DaysIBPOC. Twitter: @TchKimpossible