The following is the opinion and analysis of the writer:
“If we cannot teach or read the true history of our nation, our education becomes fiction. Ignorance is not bliss.” — Representative Raúl Grijalva (D-Arizona)
On April 27, along with Senator Jack Reed (D-Rhode Island), Representative Grijalva introduced the “Right to Read Act of 2023.” The Act offers a counter-narrative to fears that stoke book banning and censorship. Instead, this legislation reaffirms K-12 students’ intellectual freedom. In it, Grijalva and Reed advocate for the critical importance of well-read public school students who are informed by sharing and discussing a wide range of ideas, perspectives, and opinions.
In his April 26 op-ed in the Tucson Sentinel, “Protecting our students’ right to read,” Congressman Grijalva makes a case for educators to teach the “true history of our nation” in order to prepare youth for living, working, and participating in our ever-more diverse society. As Grijalva notes in the same op-ed, “Students are most engaged when their education is relevant and empowering.” The Right to Read Act affirms students’ right to access linguistically and developmentally appropriate books on all topics related to school curricula and students’ personal interests. Having access to relevant resources increases students’ desire to learn — and elevates their reading proficiency.
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The bill also aims to increase equity for students served by district public schools. Far too many students across the country lack access to a well-resourced up-to-date school library led by a state-certified school librarian. As the bill notes, school librarians are teachers who share responsibility with colleagues to offer students a rich learning environment and help them develop foundational literacy as well as digital and information literacies.
According to research conducted by The School Librarian Investigation: Evolution or Decline? (SLIDE), students living in poverty are not receiving complete literacy learning opportunities at school. For example, a student in one of the poorest districts (based on percentages of students receiving free and reduced lunch) is almost twice as likely to have had little or no exposure to a librarian as their counterpart in one of the least poor districts. SLIDE data also shows that districts with a majority of non-white students were less likely to have had librarians. More than twice as many majority Hispanic districts as majority non-Hispanic districts were consistently without librarians.
The grant funding associated with the Right to Read Act of 2023 aims to reverse these findings by providing low-income children, minority children, children with disabilities, and English learners with effective school librarians serving in well-stocked school libraries. Students in Tucson Unified School District are likely candidates to benefit from this funding source.
Please encourage our Arizona Congressional delegation to sign on to the Right to Read Act of 2023.
Judi Moreillon, PhD, is a former Tucson-area school librarian, retired classroom teacher and librarian educator, and advocate for district public schools.