The Overlook with Matt Peiken

Tending the Roots of Literacy | Read 2 Succeed

October 11, 2023 Matt Peiken Episode 96
The Overlook with Matt Peiken
Tending the Roots of Literacy | Read 2 Succeed
Show Notes Transcript

Just last year, roughly four out of five Asheville-area Black children tested below grade level in reading proficiency.  My guests today are Ashley Allen and Jess McLean, co-executive directors at Read 2 Succeed, one of a handful of Asheville nonprofits supplementing the reading education happening at under-resourced schools. Read 2 Succeed is particularly focused on closing what it calls “the race-based opportunity gap—not an achievement gap—through community-powered literacy programming.”

We talk about how a white-centered approach to education perpetuates the gap. We work through different methodologies, including the controversial “Whole language” approach. We also about Read 2 Succeed’s board working through its own mission drift and get into the details of how its tutors work with schools and children.

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Matt Peiken: Now, I know the organization was founded in 2009. What I didn't know... Until looking at it, that it was in collaboration with the Asheville Housing Authority, which I found was interesting that the Asheville Housing Authority was actively involved in a reading initiative. Tell me about the founding and why Asheville Housing Authority was involved.

What was the connecting point between the goals of Read to Succeed and the housing authority? 

Ashley Allen: Absolutely. I think when we think about reading and literacy in society, it has such far reaching repercussions and implications. It's not that far fetched for the housing authority to get involved with wanting to promote literacy for its community.

We know it affects housing, it affects access, it affects the jobs that you can get, and we also know that there is a race based opportunity gap in Asheville, in the nation, but especially exacerbated in Asheville City Schools, which shows that black students are achieving quote unquote on these standardized tests less than their white cohorts.

So mark for mark, when everything is the same, two parent household, similar socioeconomic conditions, we see that black students still are getting lower on these standardized tests. And so I think for the housing authority to want to get involved, to say let's uplift our black people, I think it makes a whole lot of sense to align on this common goal.

Matt Peiken: You just brought up a term that is prominent on your website, race based opportunity gap. Can you explain that, define that? 

Jess McLean: Ashley just touched uh, on it. But when we look at how black students are demonstrating reading proficiency in our local schools, they're demonstrating proficiency far lower than their white counterparts in these schools.

That means that recent data actually shows 2022, we had 87 percent of black students in ACS and 79 percent of black students in Buncombe County schools scoring below grade level, when we're talking about reading proficiency, compared to 25 and 39%.

That is a gap that's an opportunity gap, not an achievement gap, because we know when given the opportunity, all students can achieve. 

Matt Peiken: You just got to the question I was going to follow up, where does the opportunity part come in? You know, It's interesting that you Frame that as an opportunity gap rather than an achievement gap.

Is that for, I guess for lack of a better term for on the surface uplift to not stigmatize people who are in families whose children are below that percentage below who are not reading at that level. I'm just curious, the term opportunity gap versus achievement gap and where is that opportunity to raise that number?

Ashley Allen: I think it does destigmatize, but ultimately when you call a dog, a dog. It's just naming. We are naming what it actually is. It's not a lack of achievement. It's not a discrepancy with ability to achieve. It is. and discrepancy with opportunities. So the opportunity to engage in curriculum.

Zoretta Hammond, the author of Culturally Responsive Teaching in the Brain, she says that all instruction is culturally responsive, and the only question is whose culture is it responding to? And we know that public institutions and education were built for one model, a white male land owner, which means that is the culture that curriculums are responding to.

When we look at cognitive sciences, that is oftentimes the model that scientists are looking at that is being studied. It is this one type. So Okay. If you are being instructed in a way that doesn't respond to your culture where you're having to do the cognitive load of not only the task at hand, but also the translation, it's going to take a toll on you, and then when it's exacerbated by other things like instructional bias the teacher having preconceived notions of the student, because we also know that most instructors in public education have are white as well.

And they aren't doing the burden of translating, we're asking our children 

Matt Peiken: to. You touched on two very important points here. One is the material itself and the second is the people who are charged or they're tasked with teaching. What is not happening now? You would think in some ways, we've come a long way in public education.

You would think we would have learned lessons from the past and that you mentioned how public schooling, the foundation of it was white based. You would think that. Okay, we've been awakened to that for decades. What is happening still in public schools prompts the need for Read 2 Succeed and what you're trying to change.

What is happening on the ground, both in terms of material, how does the material look, should look different, and what should teachers be doing that they're not doing? 

Ashley Allen: I want to start by saying that lessons are only learned when we have access to those lessons. Even though we have this great history of all the things that have happened, where things started, where they're built, we're not giving people access to that in a public sphere.

We see that with banned books, we see that with a lack of rhetoric around, critical race theories, and discussing, like, how does... where we started, impact where we are now, influence the way, what we bring to certain situations. So I would say that even though that those quote unquote lessons are out there as far as how teachers show up, as far as how instructors bring their own bias, we're not actually doing a lot of the work to engage and unpack and then

Um, And then as far as what read to succeed does is we are very intentional about making sure that representation happens because it is so impactful when you don't see people who look like you doing the things that you want to do. What narratives do we start to internalize when we see a lack of black instructors, when we see a lack of black people reading, when we see a lack of black people engaging with the sciences, right?

There are all sorts of studies in every field that say representation matters. And we see that in our schools, it's often built around white centered character. So even when you're reading books, you don't get to see if you're a black student, a ton of people who look like you and are doing amazing.

things and are getting out of their comfort zones. So why would you believe that you can do it as a student? And then you don't have a lot of instructors intentionally naming, stepping into that gap and saying, Hey, you don't see this, but that's by design. And it's not because you aren't doing this.

Matt Peiken: Do you think some of this in terms of let's talk about the material in schools and in libraries, do you think some of it is just. A blindness, not necessarily intentional, but that white administrators just are not thinking about having a more broad based what's the bibliography the totality of books in the library systems in their schools and the assigned readings.

Is it willful or is it just that they're coming from their vantage and they're just not thinking about it. 

Ashley Allen: As a black woman, I don't care. I don't care one bit where it comes from. I don't care if it is a lack of information because Google is free and the information is out there and you can sit down with me and listen to me at any point.

The resources are out there. So if you are ignorant to it, that's still a choice. It's a choice to remain ignorant. Disengagement It is still a choice, right? Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. has talked about the white moderate and how dangerous that is to sit back and say that my work is done and I can't perpetuate harm because I know about this is just as harmful as deliberately depriving students of the opportunity.

So I don't care where it comes from. 

Matt Peiken: I suppose one difference would be perhaps, and I don't know, I'm not in position to change things other than this show and the work I do. But if there are people who just. Are open to it, but hadn't thought about it like that change could come easier, right? That the systemic change would be much more clean, if it was just people, I just didn't know about these authors, this kind of perspective I just wasn't thinking when I stocked this library full of white centered characters, white centered narratives.

And I can imagine that's also generational, you probably have administrators Teachers who've been in this industry who are now in their nearing retirement, who are leaders, they are tasked with being leaders and that they're doing the same things they were doing 20, 30, 40 years ago. Not that excuses it, but I do see a difference between that kind of white.

Leader and authority figure versus somebody who is saying we don't want these narratives and these kinds of pieces of literature in schools and that's actually I want you to comment on this a little bit because Now, in North Carolina, and other states are doing this too, there, that there are some legislators, not educators, but legislators, working to remove texts that could make white students or their families uncomfortable with certain narratives of history, and particularly slavery.

And other facets and facts of American history that don't make white America shine in the brightest light. And that plays out in terms of what is in our libraries, am I incorrect about that? 

Ashley Allen: I think that speaks, and I'll take the

I think that directly plays into what I had spoken about a little earlier where the lessons are out there, the lessons are accessible, and it's just a matter of are we learning from them. Are we critically looking at them and looking at the way they show up currently? And as far as the two ways that you can perpetuate harm deliberately or from ignorance, I think that each one of us has a moral obligation to ask ourselves who's in our circle.

Everyone has blind spots. But if I don't have a trans individual in my circle, I'm going to make sure that I have a trans individual in my circle, that I'm reading perspectives from a trans individual, so that blind spot is compensated for, so that I make sure I am considering, because all of those resources are out there.

So if you're a white administrator, and you don't have a black individual on your admin team, and you don't have a circle of close black friends, not for their labor, but for their perspective and their lived experience. And that is your moral obligation to make sure that you are reading, that you are accessing text, that you are reading books with black centered characters written by black authors because we know that reading also gives us access to different lived experiences and perspectives.

And so that's your work. That's your labor. And 

Matt Peiken: let's be clear about this. Having literature from Different perspectives, race based nationality. It also benefits everybody. It's not just for the benefit of one particular race or ethnicity, nationality. So just to be clear on that, that absolutely.

So Jess, you were going to talk a little bit about the politicizing of this and how that's playing out and where read to succeed is coming from an advocacy standpoint in this. 

Jess McLean: To ditto what Ashley was saying, and now speaking as a white woman, white educators and white people who are devoting their lives to supporting students do not have the luxury of saying, this is how I did it 20 years ago, especially in a city Where black families live in the highest concentrations of poverty.

They live in food deserts. We have 87 percent of black students not reading on grade level. That is not a luxury that we get to eat up as white people in Asheville and in Western North Carolina. So that's number one. As far as the legislation goes, what I've heard from black community members, black friends, black people in our spheres and with the partners in schools that we work with.

Is that when we are overly concerned about white students feeling guilty, we absolutely do away with any feeling a black student has showing up in predominantly white spaces that were designed not only to benefit white families, white institutions, but that benefit is directly dependent on the oppression of black people.

So imagine how black students, Latinx students, and then as we get into more gender identity, trans students, how they are feeling when they come into these spaces. We're saying these feelings matter more over here because we're choosing. Not to learn and unlearn things that will bring us closer together as a community and uplift all of us 

Matt Peiken: together.

How has the situation on the ground in the schools evolved in the now 14 years that Read 2 Succeed has existed? I imagine you had a lay of the land. Your founders had a lay of the landscape and what the need was back in 2009. Is it still the same need? Is it more pronounced? Has it evolved? What's 

Jess McLean: changed? Our founder was actually Isaac Coleman, Catherine Alter, and a group of community activists. Isaac Coleman was a property manager, and I think a big part, going back to your first question about also how we came about in partnership with housing, was because Isaac Coleman, in addition to being a property manager, in addition to being an activist, a civil rights movement activist he was involved with the Housing Authority.

And so they said, hey, we see this opportunity gap in, Asheville, especially, and that's between largely black and white students. So let's look at how we can support black students through a literacy lens. That opportunity gap is worse today than it was then. And Read to Succeed has been around a long time.

A lot of service organizations in Asheville and Buncombe County have been around a long time, and we still see these gaps persist for various reasons. I think ground was being made. COVID definitely exacerbated a lot of issues that black families were already facing. They bore the brunt of the pandemic, and we still see the effects of that today.

But what changed a couple years ago, like many organizations around the United States and North Carolina, Read to Succeed did a lot of self reflection. And they got together, and the board said, Whoa, we have major mission drift. We've gotten away from that focus and support to help close the opportunity gap to a very whitewashed board, white staff, white tutors, pulling black kids out of classrooms saying, Hey, I'm going to come here and I'm going to help you learn how to read. 

Matt Peiken: Can you expound on that a little bit? Explain a little more of that mission drift and 

Jess McLean: how it happened. Definitely. And this is really common with nonprofits because nonprofits are largely institutionally and traditionally white and white people like being saviors when it comes to addressing the fact that you get to.

thrive in a world and build generational wealth while other people literally are dying. And so white institutions like nonprofits, we had started with a black founder. We had this mission to help close the opportunity gap and then literally the mission got changed by the board and it became much brighter, broader, much more whitewash was to inspire.

All children to develop a love of reading. Also more vague. More vague, and it was, and we do, as an organization, we still very much do envision a world where all children are strong readers who can succeed in life, who can succeed academically, who can find careers and grow families and live really purposeful, meaningful, driven lives.

We still believe that all children can be readers and science shows us that 95 percent of all children can learn to read proficiently, but as we whitewashed, it became more palatable. For folks that we wanted to volunteer. We wanted to grow. We wanted more schools. We wanted more numbers. I am speaking as someone who's been with the organization for about three years.

I started as a tutor. So I wasn't there back in this day as this process was happening. But I was there when our board in 2020 said, Let's get back to our original mandate. Let's focus on supporting Black communities, and let's not do it like a lot of organizations like to do, which is diversify, just hire a Black person, get a DEI program going, and let's just go into Black communities and do this.

It became much more intentional about how are we starting to build relationship with Black partners, Black run organizations, Black churches, Black afterschools, you name it. How are we starting to build relationship, understand more the landscape of how racism is. consistently affecting folks, what that means when it comes to student reading, and how can we start working together in community.

And that did mean growing more black representation on our board authentically and intentionally as well as on our staff. And so over the past two years we've done that, but that also meant we shifted towards instruction based in the science of reading and really thinking about how do we equip our tutors, teachers, and partners to support students.

And Ashley can tell you a little bit about how we expanded our work in the past couple years. 

Ashley Allen: Absolutely, so I cannot speak to Read to Succeed's evolution, because I just came on July 1st. I'm so happy to be here, but I came from a decade with Asheville City Schools. So I came from the other side of teaching and instruction.

I was a bus driver, I was an instructional assistant, and I taught. And I taught kindergarten and first grade, which means I got to do the early part of those foundational reading skills, and I got to really see.

So I also got to see how public education works and disenfranchises certain groups, whether intentionally or unintentionally. So a lot of the shifts we are making now with Read to Succeed is just from my lens. in the classroom, knowing what works, seeing how students feel most supported, most seen, most honored, and trying to bring that into our 

Matt Peiken: programs.

That speaks a lot to your board in a way. It's so easy in the non profit world to just be complicit. You have your mission and you might rewrite. Something every couple of years and get a consultant to help you go through a retreat that leads to a Renewed refreshed mission statement, but nothing ever changes.

It sounds like you went through a real institutional audit to really Kind of self assess and we're self critical about what you guys are doing talk about you mentioned you were in ACS and I know you both that your organization works with ACS and Buncombe County Schools I think that's really interesting that both school districts are I would imagine they know we can't do it alone.

We aren't doing it alone how do you supplement and support what ACS and BCS do at their core 

Ashley Allen: like any great community based? Anything initiative. It happens with conversation. It happens with intentional communication. It happens with sharing. I think a lot of times we treat equity like a pie Oh, if they get a little bit more than that means I have less.

And I think we see that anytime an organization has a black centered mission, then all of a sudden there's a group coming along with A lawsuit or a, Oh, that's not fair because like there's enough for all of us to come together, work together and have these conversations. And we've been able to do that with Buncombe County and Asheville City Schools without any sort of competition, without any sort of, Oh, we want the credit.

Oh, we're going to do it this way. How can y'all fall in line? We're gonna, it's just a conversation of this is what we see the students doing. This is what we feel the students need. How do we loop the students into that conversation so that they're accountable and tracking their own learning? And so it really is bringing all voices to the table and giving equal weight and measure to all of these voices so that everyone feels empowered to ask for what they need to pivot to change.

And so part of that starts with. Knowing what you're talking about, knowing the curriculum teachers are using, being in there. We have a lot of people who speak to what teachers are and are not doing without ever having seen the way a classroom operates and definitely having no idea what teachers deal with day to day, saying that from a decade.

So having those conversations and saying, Oh, that's the curriculum you use? Do you want us to use this curriculum? Or, what's the best way we can supplement? They're not asking us at Read to Succeed to be teachers, right? We didn't put in the four years, we've never managed a classroom, a lot of us coming.

But it's like, what can we do to undergird the amazing work you're already doing? What can I do to undergird the individual I'm working with so that they feel empowered and honored so that They have the self worth and the confidence to reach for something a little out of their zone of proximal development, to reach for that little challenge and know that they can come back better, stronger, and they can tackle it.

Because that's another thing that we do to black students in public education, is we devalue them and then we're surprised when they don't want to try something, when they don't want to take the leap of faith, right? We tore them down. 

Matt Peiken: You talked about curricula and you mentioned phonics and Jess, when you first wrote to me about this, I had been listening to a podcast called sold a story and it talks about a predominant way of teaching. Reading that was based around visuals and making connections with illustrations in books which on the very surface of it seemed counterintuitive to me But it's from the way this report this great series laid it out that many school districts were using this methodology It seems like that was not, based on what you're telling me, not at all happening in Asheville City Schools and Buncombe County Schools, that they were coming from a phonics vantage point as well?

Or were they coming from the Marie Clay, who was the founder of this other method? I don't even remember the name of this method, but it was based Whole language. Whole language. That was The whole language was Marie 

Jess McLean: Clay's method? Whole language and yes, largely that was like that camp, was in the whole language idea where you learn whole words at a time and we just celebrate and develop a love of reading and build literature rich spaces and you're magically going to pick it up.

And that 

Matt Peiken: you can guess what the next word is going to be, that's what, I found that just stunning, that okay, you're reading a sentence and this problematic word, well look at the picture and guess what that word is saying, which. How did that fly anywhere? 

Jess McLean: Because people believe that reading was a natural process.

Ashley Allen: And that's really what it comes down to, right? We can't do it all. We can't do the research and teach the curriculum and write the curriculums. So in Asheville city schools, they started with their writing and reading curriculum. was whole word reading based. It was Lucy Calkins, it was talking about how you guess at the next thing based on the first sound, or how you use the illustration to figure out the word.

So that was like reading and writing, and we still had Fundations, a research based, evidence based curriculum that hits at phonics and letter sounds. Aren't they counterintuitive 

Matt Peiken: to each 

Ashley Allen: other? It was both and depending on which school and what location you're at and what you do in your classroom as a teacher, you are hearing different narratives and you see your students and a great teacher responds to the needs of their students.

That means when you see that a student is struggling, you pull them aside and you teach explicitly because we know that good instruction is explicit, multi sensory, and also systematic, so you introduce things in a certain way. So speaking as a teacher who was teaching kids to read ten years ago in kindergarten, I had to do what I had to do.

And the instructional facilitator who does study those curriculums, who does study the research, who is up to date, because that's their job, said, Hey, we know this isn't going to get all the needs of your student because we see that right here. You can do what you need to do. We also have our multi tiered system of supports where if a student needs to be pulled out for even more explicit instruction, they're getting that as well.

So it was one of those things where it's like, we know sometimes we have to check boxes in education as teachers, and we also prioritize the student. So they were getting phonics instruction through foundations, and for reading, some of that guesswork you implemented it as you saw it needed to be, or as, because some kids do naturally get it.

It's naturally do pick it up. So some kids, sure, Lucy Calkins wasn't harmful. And then for our other 92%, right? We are doing what teachers always do. Bridging the gaps in curricula, showing up in different ways, thinking outside the box, pulling in other resources. 

Matt Peiken: From what I understood, Read to Succeed is primarily Tutoring kids. Talk about what you do on the ground with 

Ashley Allen: students. So the science of reading has shown us five big areas for foundational reading skills, right?

Vocabulary. Reading comprehension, we talk about fluency, we talk about phonics, we talk about phonological awareness. I would say that Read to Succeed's tutoring program from years ago, before all of this push with science of reading, focused on reading comprehension and having rich discussion around stories.

Because they were taught, sit down with a book, let's talk about the stories. That's still a crucial pillar as far as our five components of strong readers. And we realized we could do more. So in the last couple of years, we've made sure that we can intentionally and explicitly implement those other five areas to build strong, fluent readers.

And that's what that tutoring program looks like now. We have a tutor training. It's six hours over the course of three weeks, where people sign on virtually. And I walk through what each one of these things means, how it shows up. up, what it could look like in students, how the schools are using curriculum to support it, and what we as tutors will come alongside and undergird with what we're using to support still those five components.

Matt Peiken: Just to be clear, is this one on one tutoring or is it small group tutoring? 

Ashley Allen: When our tutors go in, they might work with a group of two or three students or they might work one on one. It depends on the location where they're working and what that student's needs are, what that location's needs are, and what the tutor's comfortable with.

Matt Peiken: And is it also based on what the schools are asking for? Are some schools just more hungry for this than others? And does it come down to individual principals and individual teachers as to the level of involvement Read to Succeed has in any given classroom 

Ashley Allen: or school? Absolutely. I think read to succeed is very willing to partner wherever as our capacity allows because we are passionate about that mission.

And we also know that public education is under attack and that the people who work there are exhausted. So they say, this is what we have. This is our data, right? We agree to that and we share it and we go back and forth. And then sometimes read to succeed comes alongside and bears more of that workload because we are able.

But I think that all the schools are a lot like the parents. You want your kid to succeed. We want to raise a society of readers, and it's just a matter of what your capacity and workload allows you. Is there 

Matt Peiken: any cost to parents or even to individual schools in taking part in having Read to Succeed be involved?

Jess McLean: There is not. Not at all. And just piggyback off of Ashley working hand in hand with administrative teams at school. So these are the leaders, the principals, assistant principals, instructional facilitators. In addition to those teachers, we do that collaboratively to support students and it's of no cost.

To them. So read to succeed has we raise our own money through grants, through private donors, through individual contributions and sponsorships. And that is the beauty of this community powered effort. Because in doing that, we're also able to bring in and train volunteer tutors were also able to go out and black community members who are interested in working with students who have lots of lived experience and have done some of that, they're able to access economic and job opportunities with an organization that is really excited to invest in them and connect them and bridge that gap so they can be doing that work in a very fulfilling and high paying job.

Now to be clear, 

Matt Peiken: you work with pre k, is it pre k to fifth grade? Yeah, 

Jess McLean: it used to just be K 3. It was K 3 tutoring. That's it. That's it. And then part of our re envisioning in 2020 was also to think about, oh boy, what if in that time when 85 percent of brain development's happening between zeros and It's ages zero to five.

What if we were supporting students and building up some of those, that brain capacity and that neural network that needs to be together so when they got to kindergarten, they were actually primed and ready to learn how to read. So we expanded our scope of work into the pre k space and then naturally.

COVID, which had so many horrific consequences, especially for black and brown communities here in WNC and across the whole world. We saw that we wanted to continue to support students who might've been in first and second grade when COVID hit. Now they're in fourth and fifth grade going into middle school, but they were never able to acquire all the reading skills they needed to acquire, right?

They were not in school consistently. School was virtual. Ashley can speak to this. She taught school virtually for a year. 

Matt Peiken: I was going to ask you, how do you measure success? You have these numbers that talk in bulk, that X percentage of students black students are not reading at grade level versus X percentage of white students.

How do you gauge when you're working with individuals, small groups, what does success look like for your organization? 

Ashley Allen: Absolutely. We have the privilege of being able to share data with the organizations we work with, which means we are able to look at individual foundational reading scores and make sure that we are helping to support students at the level that their individual score shows them they need that level of support.

Jess McLean: Success is growth. Success is support. Success is student motivation as well, right? If a child's whole behavior and approach around reading increases, maybe they haven't come to grade level or doubled their scores on their assessment results, because we also know standardized tests are also not designed to really capture a student's ability.

But when we see a student grow in their motivation and encouragement themselves around reading, That is magical. And that's how we measure success. We'll actually do little student surveys. We'll get feedback and testimonials, but we also ask our partners, how are we doing? How's this going? What are we doing together?

Are we seeing this working? Where can we improve? Their feedback, especially when you have authentic and intentional relationships in the black community, them saying yes, this was great, we really enjoyed, we've had the tutors here, I can see a change in this student. We do our own diagnostic and progress monitoring too, because all of that data helps inform the lessons our tutors, and we actually even contract certified reading teachers, instructional assistants, to go into after school and summer camp spaces too.

All of the data that we collect also informs how they approach and target those lessons. Lessons you 

Matt Peiken: mentioned summertime. So this happens year round. Your programming is year round. Right now what do you need as an organization? What does Read to Succeed need to succeed? 

Ashley Allen: Absolutely. Question. We can only go so many places as we have the willing hands, so volunteers are always welcome and that's whether you can volunteer and sit down two times a week one on one with a student and make a lesson plan based on the data that we have and based on the needs that student has expressed they have or whether you just come out to a reading carnival because we also work on our community engagement.

piece. And we know that community engagement, every community is engaged, it's an accessibility piece. So going out into different communities with tables of free books, tables of activities, games, tables of prizes, making it fun, making it exciting. So if you could volunteer at one of those reading carnival events, then we love volunteers for that.

If you want to go into an early childhood space, we've got avenues for that, where you can sit and read with a child. Because, like Jess said, a lot of that brain development happens 0 to 5, So that means your context, your background knowledge, your vocabulary, it's already developing. So if you just want to sit with a child and have conversations, we partner with Peak Academy, and they've got some options for volunteering at the West Asheville Library.

So there are so many different places to plug in depending on Your time and your passions. Lots of different ways to support. We'd love volunteers. 

Matt Peiken: Is there anything we haven't talked about around your work or your advocacy that you think is important for people to know what's facing you going forward? 

Ashley Allen: I just keep going back to books and which narratives are we centering? 

I think it's so clever that a lot of the talking about banned books has been around the discomfort of students. I taught in public education for 10 years.

I'm a black woman who centers black voices and black characters in my classroom because that's my lived experience. And never once. Have I had a child say they're uncomfortable? Never once have I had a parent say my child came home in tears because I've never seen that. I've seen nothing but like stronger community.

I've seen nothing but like more perspective and more empathy. And so I think that people who are trying to ban books have done something really clever. Where they act like it is one or the other. It's either or either black children are happy and uplifted and white children are sad or white children are comfortable and black children are miserable.

And it's not a dichotomy. It's one of those things where this is intentional by people who hold power and want to disinvest in certain voices. I also think it's 

Matt Peiken: parents or people in power using. Children as a shield for their own insecurities, their own discomfort with facing their own history. It's not the kids who are complaining about this, it's the 

Jess McLean: parents.

This is also not the first time that literacy and education have been weaponized to oppress communities. We look back at poll taxes. Early, early times after civil rights, after the Civil War, right? When black men gained the ability to vote. In poll at polls literacy tests were thing, if you can't pass this literacy test, you don't get to vote.

This is back in the 18 hundreds, early 19 hundreds. But of course there was no access to education in a lot of these societies. But what black communities did, and if you look up Goldie Ham, who's also an amazing black author and educator who writes and teaches a lot about this, is they developed their own literature, rich societies.

And they would come together and they would meet and they would have. Rich discussions about everything from history to science, you name it, they involve children. We know the history of black Asheville, and if folks don't, please go on a Hood Huggers tour and learn more, go to the YMI Cultural Center.

But a lot of early public schools in this city, in this county, were started by black communities. Because literacy and education was being used as a weapon against them. So it is no surprise today that we are still living in a world where scared white community members Who are thriving in the values of white supremacy are trying to make it about the content that is in books.

That is also just a way to pull the wool over our eyes and not make it about the fact that we have children, and we have had children for decades, who cannot read proficiently. And that doesn't just mean no academic success. That means the gateway to the world is closed to them.

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