Magazine article Teacher Librarian

Using the Women's March to Examine Freedom of Speech, Social Justice, and Social Action through Information Literacy

Magazine article Teacher Librarian

Using the Women's March to Examine Freedom of Speech, Social Justice, and Social Action through Information Literacy

Article excerpt

I attended the Women's March in Washington., D.C., on January 21, 2017, both as a citizen and as the editor of Teacher Librarian. My publisher asked me to cover the march, so I took pictures, talked to people, and made observations.

Upon returning home, I decided that the Women's March offers the opportunity to take a historical event and analyze it for elements related to free speech, social action, and social justice. This article offers a resource for teacher librarians to use in partnership with classroom teachers and students as a discussion starter.


A recent Knight Foundation survey (2016) reveals that "high school student support for the First Amendment is the highest it has been in the last 10 years," so, by studying various aspects of the Women's March, students will see the First Amendment in action. Students can also use the Women's March to interpret the messages conveyed by banners, posters, and signs from the march and connect them to social justice and social action issues (see definitions). In addition, through this learning process, students will be using valuable information literacy skills.

School librarian, professor, and author Bush contributes to school library literature on the topic of social justice and social action. She promotes it as a core responsibility for teacher librarians and educators to provide learning opportunities for students related to social action and social justice. She asks, "How do we move toward a more humane and socially just world?" (2008, p. 25).

Bush (2006) writes, "The curriculum of social action ... is one that revises itself with every headline. " She goes on to say, "Providing real-world opportunities for students to engage information literacy strategies fosters the development of skills necessary to form judgments" (p. 38). More now than ever, school librarians, in partnership with other educators, can and should provide opportunities, resources, and an environment where students are given learning experiences that develop their information literacy skills so they can become adept at finding and interpreting information and contribute in a positive and constructive way to society and democracy. This can be linked to one of the Common Core Anchor Standards for Reading, which requires students to analyze how different texts approach a similar theme or topic (CCSS, 2010).

To accomplish this type of learning requires the encouragement and support of students to contemplate social issues, broaden their horizons, become better informed, build empathy, and, ultimately, to use these experiences to make a difference. According to Bush (2006), "At the end of the day, we need to know why we strive to relate schooling to the real world and why we need informed citizens in control of our democratic society" (p. 38). At a beginning level, this exposure can be accomplished by taking a look at the mission of the Women's March and the messages chosen by the marchers.


The first step in understanding the march is to have students examine the Women's March website and interpret its mission and vision (see

Suggested questions to ask:

What was the central purpose of the march?

What were the issues of concern for the march organizers? Which individuals and groups were primary focuses for the march? Why is the statement "Women's Rights are Human Rights" central to the mission of the march?

The march organizers referenced the "principles of Kingian nonviolence." Have students learn more and discuss each of the principles listed. Have them pose questions of their own about each and summarize important points derived from their conversations.

Suggested questions to ask:

What is "Kingian nonviolence"? Why did the march organizers choose to feature this for their guiding principles? …

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