The Importance of Latinx Literature for Youth


This blog is written by former CNV Fellow Marilisa Jiménez Garcia.


I recently had the honor of participating in a writing workshop led by award-winning author Meg Medina at the Highlights Foundation in Honesdale, Pennsylvania. Previously, I shared my research on Latinx literature with Meg when she came to my Cultivating New Voices Among Scholars of Color (CNV) poster presentation at NCTE 2015 in Minneapolis. During my presentation, I was delighted when Meg, Sonia Nieto, a mentor and renowned professor emeritus of multicultural education, and Tracey Flores, a Ph.D. candidate in literacy at Arizona State (now a 2016-2018 CNV Fellow), partook in an impromptu session on the importance of Latinx-centered stories. However, at the Highlights workshop, I was able to sit down with Meg and share my work with fellow writers, Alison Green Myers and Ernesto Cisneros. I presented an article I had been working on for a long time; the article analyzes the development of Latinx literature for youth, particularly the recent trend in which Latinx authors, such as Lila Quintero Weaver, Sonia Manzano, Ashley Hope Perez, Daniel Jose Older, and Marjorie Agosin, recover historical traumas for Latinx youth.Marilisa&Poster - Copy

We began a conversation about how Latinx communities had long been left out of U.S. and Latin American histories. Indeed, Cisneros, also a teacher in California, emphasized that as Latinos in the U.S, we often don’t know our histories because Latinx history and literature is often not part of our schooling experiences. As a group, we began thinking about the ways literature for youth functions as a way of recovering those lost histories and keeping them in view of young audiences, who may not hear them otherwise.

Beyond our personal schooling, reading, or research experiences, when we consider the reality that ethnic and Latinx Studies as recently as 2012 have recently been banned in states in the Southwest and continue to struggle for representation throughout the U.S. educational pipeline, the historical erasure of Latinx literatures and histories—along with indigenous and African American—seems particularly prevalent. This Banned Books Week, I encourage you to get acquainted with Latinx literature, a tradition of depth and breath which generations of Latinx authors, publishers, educators, researchers, and librarians have made possible for us to read, reflect on, and remember. One takeaway from the workshop with Meg and the other writers was how much we need the various voices in the literary world to move Latino literature beyond ethnic, national, and even geographical borders in order to present young people with stories reflecting their histories and lives.

Marilisa Jiménez Garcia, a former fellow in the NCTE Research Foundation’s Cultivating New Voices Among Scholars of Color Program, is an assistant professor in the English Department and Latin American Studies Program at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Find her on Twitter @MarilisaJimenez.

On the Menu: Quinoa and Cervantes

This post is written by NCTE member Michael Guevara. 


Before it became all the rage as a super grain for hipsters and people who drop the names Terry Gross and Ari Shapiro like they were childhood friends, my wife and I discovered a recipe for a black bean and lime quinoa salad in the now tragically defunct Gourmet magazine.

Up to the point of finding that recipe, we had no idea what quinoa was. We would have, like most of those who saw our salad at a pot luck, called it couscous.

We knew not. We were uninformed. We were inexperienced.

We now love quinoa.

As is often the case, when we try new things, we find new loves.

Sadly, we also know not and are uninformed and inexperienced on one of the greatest writers to ever live—Miguel de Cervantes.

Born 469 years ago today in Spain, Cervantes is widely regarded as a writer so consequential and influential on Western literature that Spanish is often called the language of Cervantes. But we know Shakespeare, not Cervantes.

A few weeks ago, right around the beginning of a new school year, Crest toothpaste ran a Shakespeare commercial without any doubt that audiences would recognize the ubiquitous bard. In 2017, TNT will introduce a bawdy bard in the new drama Will, which examines Shakespeare as someone no one knows—yet.

And now Miguel.

Not recognizing Cervantes beyond what is found in The Wit and Wisdom of Don Quixote de la Mancha is a crime against humanities, and we are diminished for it.

In a world of turmoil and terrorism, how do we not gnaw on the words of Cervantes in his poem “A la guerra me lleva”:

A la guerra me lleva
mi necesidad;
si tuviera dineros
no fuera en verdad
To war I’m called
And I must go;
If I had money
It wouldn’t be so

And how in a society where pooches parade through life in designer bags and pet owners are now pet parents do we not acknowledge the author who gave us the first talking dog story in Western literature? In The Dialogue of Dogs, Cervantes gives us a raucous tale within a tale where the better-than-humans dogs recount the tribulations of their lives at the hands of a flawed humankind.

Even the life of Cervantes merits our merit.

He was a man who participated in duels, a man sold into slavery by pirates, a man who lost his arm in battle, and a man who conceived his most iconic work while locked away in prison.

Our lives are broadened, enriched when we dare to break away from the familiarity of what we’ve always been fed. In an earlier post this year about Cervantes, I wrote: “I want students to recognize, appreciate, understand that people all over the world write. I want them to understand that wondrous literature happens in a multitude of languages. I want teachers to examine their lesson plans and their own biases, and challenge themselves to fire the canon they are so accustomed to teaching.”

And I still believe this.

But I also believe something else: maybe we need to stop thinking about ourselves as English teachers. Maybe it’s time to think of ourselves as teachers of great works, as tour guides to the wonders of words—our own and those of others—awaiting discovery.

A few weeks ago, I heard a wonderful interview with the writer Laia Jufresa about her debut novel Umami, which was originally written in Spanish. As Jufresa discussed the relationship she had with the woman who translated her novel to English, I was struck by these words: “It’s such a treat to have someone translating your work because no one ever will read your work as closely as a translator does.” This gives me a hope as I seek to discover more Cervantes.

My own Spanish doesn’t rise too far above the ability to order off the menu at my favorite Mexican restaurant, Lee’s El Taco Garage, without need of a translator, but the language of Cervantes is too rich to let language get in the way. Earlier I debated whether I should say “To war I’m called” or “The war takes me” (thanks, Mom for your input), but the more salient point isn’t whether I went too literal or too interpretive with my translation. No, the point is that I’m still gnawing on the words and ideas of Cervantes, a man who knew war.

Our students need more gnawing in their lives.

If you want the recipe to our black bean and lime quinoa salad, I’m happy to share it with you. If you want to add some Cervantes to your literary menu that you may just grow to love, I’m simply happy.

And to Miguel de Cervantes: feliz cumpleaños.

Michael M. Guevara is a former high school English teacher and former district English language arts and reading coordinator. Most recently he served on the 2016 Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills review committee. Michael is a writer and an independent educational consultant.

Marginalizing the Marginalized with Internet Filtering


NCTE, along with ALA and AASL, are intellectual freedom advocates. In honor of Banned Websites Awareness Day,  here is a post from Doug Johnson, on the filtering of educational websites in schools.


High school student Rachel is increasingly concerned over racial issues in her community and plans to write her senior thesis on this topic. There is an active “Black Lives Matter” movement organization in her community that uses Facebook to communicate. Her school blocks Facebook and she does not have Internet access at home.

Middle-schooler Diego and his friends are having a great time using the iPad to create and edit videos. They think their last production about school bullying would be helpful to other students, but their school blocks YouTube. Diego shares the computer and dial-up Internet connection in his home with both his parents and two siblings.

Fifth-grade teacher Ms. Dickens uses GoogleDocs in her class to facilitate peer-editing online, so she was pleased to learn about a program that would allow students from families with low incomes to check out computers and wifi “hot spots” for use at home. But she was told that GoogleApps was blocked by the hotspot’s filter.

Scholar Henry Jenkins has long expressed a concern that students who do not master collaboration-enabling technologies will not be able to fully engage in modern cultural and political life. About “participatory culture”, he writes:

“Our goals should be to encourage youth to develop the skills, knowledge, ethical frameworks, and self-confidence needed to be full participants in contemporary culture. … A growing body of scholarship suggests potential benefits of these forms of participatory culture, including opportunities for peer-to-peer learning, a changed attitude toward intellectual property, the diversification of cultural expression, the development of skills valued in the modern workplace, and a more empowered conception of citizenship.”1

Or as is more commonly expressed in political circles, if you aren’t at the table you’re probably on the menu. People who are not able to be at the digital table where discussions are held and opinions are influenced are very likely not to have their interests factored into big decisions.

Yet many schools make great efforts to keep students (and staff) from using social networking tools that enable sharing ideas online. These schools consider blocking blogs, wikis, social networking venues, collaborative-editing tools, and photo/video sharing tools necessary if children are to be “protected.” Many educators view social networking sites as frivolous distractions that prevent students from paying attention in class or focusing on other school work.

Much of the intellectual freedom work on which ALA and other well-meaning organizations have focused has been about the censorship of professionally written materials. As I opined in 2013:

“My concern is that in our professional efforts to prevent censorship, we are focusing so completely on assuring access to the ideas of others that we neglect the other side of intellectual freedom: the right for all to express their own ideas, information, and art.
Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states: Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers. Intellectual freedom includes having the right to create and disseminate information and opinions as well as having the right to access the intellectual products of others.”2

I called this “the neglected side of intellectual freedom” and this neglect becomes especially egregious when looking at education through the lens of cultural proficiency and equity.

In families that can afford technology and Internet access in their homes, evenings, weekends, summer breaks, and holidays are times students can practice social networking skills and engage fully in our participatory culture. Yet not every student, especially those who come from economically disadvantaged homes, has the opportunity outside of school to use social media.

Schools have begun to address the need for all students to not just have a device that can be used to access school resources, but the need for all students to have Internet connectivity outside of regular school hours as well.3  By providing wifi hotspots for checkout, by opening computer labs before and after schools, and by working with other community organizations such as the public libraries and community centers, some schools are making real attempts to bridge the online learning opportunity gap among students.

But in these efforts, are schools providing not just access to educational resources such as learning management systems, e-books, digital textbooks, and online reference materials – materials written by others – but are they also providing the means for all children to express opinions, engage in social dialogue, and work collaboratively with their peers?

This is the intellectual freedom issue of today.


1Jenkins, Henry. “Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture” MacArthur Foundation, 2006
2Johnson, Doug. “The Neglected Side of Intellectual Freedom” LMC, March/April 2013
3 Johnson, Doug. “Helping to Close the Digital Divide” Educational Leadership, February 2015.

Doug Johnson is the Director of Technology for the Burnsville-Eagan-Savage (MN) Public Schools. His teaching experience has included work in grades K-12. He is the author of nine books, columns in Educational Leadership and Library Media Connection, the Blue Skunk Blog, and articles published in over forty books and periodicals. Doug has worked with over 200 organizations around the world and has held leadership positions in state and national organizations, including ISTE and AASL. You can reach Doug at

Why Are All the Teachers White?

This blog written by NCTE member Christina Berchini was originally printed in the April 28, 2015 edition of Education Week Teacher.

I am a white teacher.

Growing up in the ’80s and ’90s in Brooklyn, N.Y., I do not remember having a single teacher who did not look like me. Every teacher I’ve ever had represented “me” in some way or another.

By virtue of being born a white child who spoke English as her first (and only) language, I was fortunate. I had my pick of mentors, my race was represented in most—if not all—curricular texts, and I excelled in school year after year. My academic fate was sealed in the most predictable of ways.

Not only were my teachers homogenously white, but in my 13 years of compulsory schooling, I do not remember being assigned a single text authored by a person of color.

Indeed, I was already at a social advantage long before my teachers even knew my name. My family and I were not tasked with learning what Lisa Delpit has famously coined the “culture of power”; as a typical neighborhood white kid, I was not ignorantly considered a cultural anomaly, nor was I a threat to the tried, “true,” and impenetrable pedagogies, practices, and policies of my teachers’ classrooms and those of the schools I attended.
My parents never, not once, not for a nanosecond, would have to worry about how my teachers and administrators chose to relate to me—or worse yet, treat me—because of my race, culture, or primary language. My parents did not have to worry about the potential for racist policies and practices to impact my outcomes.

As a white child, I would not have to endure a single micro-aggression by some adult who should have a) kept their mouth shut, and b) read a book by Lisa Delpit, bell hooks, Tim Wise, or other brilliant thinkers who have made it their life’s mission to understand how race—including whiteness and white privilege—and the dominant culture impact day-to-day life in this country and its schools.

I may have been from a working-class community, but I had it easy. The fact of the matter is that schools were set up by people who looked like me for people who looked like me. And as Motoko Rich illustrates in her recent article, “Where Are the Teachers of Color?,” despite an ever-increasing racially, culturally, and linguistically diverse student population, not much has changed in the racial makeup of the teaching force.

Different Experiences of School
Indeed, the important quest to develop more teachers of color is not new. Education leaders and researchers from a variety of camps have been asking the same questions about this for quite some time. However, it is a question that seems to skirt, if not outright ignore, the system of racialized privilege that is historically embedded in, and endemic to, the public school system writ large.

As a researcher, I study white teachers, their words, and their practices. As a university professor, I teach education courses where, most semesters, each and every one of my teacher-education students is white. Berchiniteaching

I have yet to meet a student in my college courses who did not claim to excel in school, or at the very least to do exceptionally well. My students, for the most part, fondly recall their experiences as K-12 students.

Such fondness, to be sure, is part and parcel to why students go into teaching, and it is not far-fetched to assume that they look back fondly on their experiences because schools were set up by people who look like us for people who look like us.
Current politics, initiatives, and institutionalized madness aside, is it really any wonder that we’d want to return? Indeed, most of us who desire to return to school as teachers are returning to the very institutions that have been set up to benefit us all along.

Conversely, why would historically marginalized populations elect to eventually become teachers for the very system that (likely) underserved them in some way? Why would minority populations elect to serve a system that will (likely) continue to underserve minority students if the current discourse of “accountability” has its way?

In other words, who willingly, and in their right mind, returns to a system that failed to adequately educate, represent, respect, and appropriately mentor their own student body?

An underserved schooling experience might be examined in a couple of ways. We might think about it in terms of the desperate skill-and-drill measures that Jonathan Kozol illustrated long ago, fraught measures which have been shown to impact schools inequitably.

Moreover, the guarantee of seeing your race represented positively in your daily experience, or of seeing your race reflected back at you by people in power (as with our teachers and administrators) is a core tenet of Peggy McIntosh’s iconic White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.

Ignoring Diversity
On the other hand, for your race to be underrepresented in your daily experience with others in the most meaningful of ways (e.g., while spending up to one third of your day in an educational institution surrounded by authority figures who do not look like you) is one powerful way for you to be underserved by your schooling experience.

On the curricular front, I would argue that schools’ odd, even irrational adherence to all things canonized is also an example of underserving an increasingly diverse student body. Perhaps if schools permitted their teachers to teach something other than the “required classics” from the “canon,” we might begin to scratch the surface of what it would look like to foster a culturally in-sync learning environment. A curriculum which reflects the realities of a racially and culturally diverse student body is perhaps more likely to create an environment with the potential to appeal to a more diversified teaching force.

The failure to incorporate curricular materials that, as McIntosh puts it, “testify to the existence” of racial diversity is to underserve and ignore our increasingly diverse student bodies. Perhaps if, as institutions of education, we gave some attention to what Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has famously coined “the danger of a single story,” we might begin to unravel the reasons why our teaching force has not kept up with the student populations we are tasked with educating for a better world.

The quest for more teachers of color involves a lot more than asking schools, programs of teacher education, and teachers to uncover personal biases. Becoming aware of your own personal biases requires, also, becoming aware of how and why school served you well. An examination of your relationship with your educational experiences, however long gone, might reveal unspoken insights into who schools invite back to become teachers, and who they continue to cast aside.

Christina Berchini is a member of the NCTE Standing Committee Against Censorship and an assistant professor in the department of English at the University of Wisconsin Eau Claire. Her areas of interest and specialization are secondary English education/English teacher education, critical whiteness studies, critical pedagogy, social justice, and issues in urban education. Find her on Twitter @Christina_Berch and on LinkedIN 

Resources for Banned Books Week

Banned Books Week, which runs September 25-October 1 this year, draws attention to the issue of censorship and how it can best be combated. NCTE, through its Intellectual Freedom Center offers advice, helpful documents, and other support to teachers and schools faced with challenges to texts (e.g. literary works, films and videos, drama productions) or teaching methods used in their classrooms and schools. NCTE’s work to keep texts in classrooms and libraries provides a public service to members and nonmembers alike when they are facing challenges to literary works, films, and videos. Again this year, NCTE is also a proud sponsor of Banned Books Week.

The following resources explore ways to discuss censorship issues with students as well as ways to respond to text challenges in your school.

For a general introduction, visit this calendar entry, which links to classroom activities and online resources. Be sure to check out the lesson plan “A Case for Reading – Examining Challenged and Banned Books“, which introduces students to censorship and then invites them to read a challenged book and decide for themselves what should be done with the book at their school.

The Language Arts article “Focus on Policy: Intellectual Freedom” outlines details on current banning incidents, the importance of selection, and suggestions for overcoming text challenges. The article includes sidebars that list additional resources.

The English Journal articles “Banned Books: A Study of Censorship” and “Celebrate Democracy! Teach about Censorship” include details on extended units on censorship. You’ll find a range of materials for exploring censorship in the classroom with the lesson plan “Censorship in the Classroom: Understanding Controversial Issues“.

The College English article “Deflecting the Political in the Visual Images of Execution and the Death Penalty Debate” explores the visual images that readers are and are not allowed to view and asserts that “the attempt to suppress the visual, as in any censorship of the press, is an attempt to limit debate.”

Teacher educators can share “What Do I Do Now? Where to Turn When You Face a Censor“, from the NCTE book Preserving Intellectual Freedom: Fighting Censorship in Our Schools, with preservice teachers. The chapter provides scenarios and the related resources that K-college teachers can use as the basis for discussion and problem-solving role-playing. Preservice teachers might then use the detailed instructions in the SLATE Rationales for Teaching Challenged Books for writing their own rationales.

In the 21st century, censorship in the English classroom rears its head in some familiar and some unexpected ways. Read more in the Council Chronicle article, “Defending the Right to Read: A Modern Tale“.

How do you support the students’ right to read?