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Ellen Bees: Don't.

Simple and to the point. It was the statement put out by the University of Brandon when Brandon School Division trustees heard from a local delegation’s call to remove 2SLGBTQ+ and sexual education resources from the school libraries. Our Humans, on Rights podcast guest, Ellen Bees is a middle school teacher and is a member of People for Public Education who believe that public education should be universally accessible, be publicly funded and free for families, provide equal opportunities for students, engage in public decision making and serve the public interest. Ellen Bees talks about her passion to become a teacher because a teacher had a profound impact on her life as a young student. It was at that moment Ellen realized that teaching and helping others was her professional calling. She created a blog called where she reviews books and posts lessons for other educators. So, you can appreciate and understand her deep disappointment when a delegation proposed a ban on certain books form the schools’ libraries. Ellen’s views on this attempt to censor certain books are clear and to the point. But she also wanted to be clear that all the comments in this podcast are her personal views. I think you will agree that Manitoba is very fortunate to have teachers like Ellen Bees.

Episode Transcript:

Stuart Murray 0:00

This podcast was recorded on the ancestral lands on Treaty One Territory, their traditional territory of the Anishinaabe, Cree, Oji-Cree, Dakota and the Dene peoples and on the homeland of the Métis nation.

Amanda Logan (Voiceover) 0:19

This is Humans, On Rights. A podcast advocating for the education of human rights. Here's your host, Stuart Murray,

Stuart Murray 0:29

Censorship in schools is a complicated situation because there are many variables involved that can impact the way children learn and the way schools serve to educate. Censorship in schools usually exists in the form of the removal, or manipulation of materials, or learning processes. These materials might range from that which officials and parents have generally decided is inappropriate for our children, such as nudity, to teaching subjects that find objectionable, or some find objectionable such as the evolution versus creationism. Our censorship often comes in the form of concern parents who do not want their children exposed to a worldwide view other than their own. A particularly popular topic in schools today is book censorship. Now learning about Darwin might be construed as offensive because of the possible conflict with the religious beliefs of the parents. Sexual education is watered down until it is practically worthless because parents might be offended at sexual references in school. And classic books like The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, are being banned in some areas because they have racial references that might offend some. While the attempt to keep children pure for as long as possible is admirable, itt takes the form of leaving gaping holes in their education, if not academically, then about life. big topic, and I am delighted to have a conversation today with Ellen Bees. Ellen is a middle school teacher who teaches English language arts and social studies. And she has a blog, a book blog, which is very interesting called, where she reviews books and posts lessons for other educators. And she is and that is why I've asked her to come on this podcast. She is a member of the People For Public Education and so Ellen Bees, welcome to humans on rates.

Ellen Bees 2:29

Hi, it's great to be here. Thanks for having me.

Stuart Murray 2:31

Tell me a little bit about People For Public Education. What is that organization and why does it exist, please?

Ellen Bees 2:37

So people for public education is a public advocacy group in Manitoba and it's seeking to protect public education in Manitoba, because we're increasingly concerned with underfunding that's been happening within our system in poor public schools. And we're concerned about the creeping influences of privatization that have, we're noticing in our school systems. And we're also wanting to make sure that public schools are places that are inclusive and safe for all learners and making sure that we can not only protect public education, but also try to make sure that we can make it better for everyone, right, so that everybody can be included in public schools in a way that is fair and just for them.

Stuart Murray 3:18

I want to get to know you a little bit, Ellen, but just what we're talking about People For Public Education. Is that an organization that is specific to Manitoba, or are there other organizations across Canada that will be quite similar?

Ellen Bees 3:30

There are lots of different organizations across Canada that have kind of just emerged grassroots style in different provinces that have similar mandates. Ours, I think, emerged just about a year ago, just in response to some of the education reform measures that have been discussed and over the past couple of years. So ours is fairly, a fairly new organization, but organization that I'm really happy to be a part of. Yeah,

Stuart Murray 3:54

No, sounds great and obviously, the reason that you're on this podcast is to talk about the issue that is happening around the banning of certain books in schools. But before we get to that, Ellen, tell me a little bit about how do you get passionate about education? What's your background? Where do you are you a Bradonite, a Manitboan? How did you kind of wind yourself into being so passionate about public education?

Ellen Bees 4:17

I am a teacher. And I don't know I when I was in school, I just had some teachers that were really did just amazing job of supporting different friends I had who are going through different things. And it was just really amazing to see the difference they could make in students lives and the way that they made schools safe place for their students and I just decided that's something that I wanted to do. So I got into teaching for that reason. And it's been something that I've been really, really passionate about recently finished my master's in education, focusing on curriculum studies, particularly for social studies and just looking at how particularly Indigenous education actually which is maybe not related to the topic we're talking about today. But yeah, just I'm really interested and just how can we make schools better? How can we make schools socially adjusted places? How can we make sure that everybody can be included in a way that's culturally responsive and good for them?

Stuart Murray 5:09

Ellen, did you grow up in and around the Brandon area?

Ellen Bees 5:12

Nope. I actually live in Winnipeg. But-

Stuart Murray 5:16

Okay. Did you do your schooling in Winnipeg then?

Ellen Bees 5:18

That's right.

Stuart Murray 5:19

And so high schooling and your, your university?

Ellen Bees 5:22

Yeah, I did my undergrad at UW and then my graduate studies at University of Manitoba.

Stuart Murray 5:29

Oh, and just want to kind of get a sense for you. I mean, you're obviously passionate about diversity and, you know, inclusivity, and ensuring that, you know, there are safe places for all students of all walks of life in schools. Did you see anything? When you were, you mentioned, some really good experiences that you had some teachers had powerful influences on you or friends of yours and you watch them grow, did you see any other parts of this conversation that weren't so great, that also compelled you to say like, I want to be a part of something that can make change there.

Ellen Bees 6:04

That's telling somebody else's story and I don't know that I feel comfortable doing that in this.

Stuart Murray 6:07

Fair enough.

Ellen Bees 6:08

Yeah, sorry.

Stuart Murray 6:09

No, no, don't be sorry. That's fine. Just wondering, you know, because I mean, you know, the whole topic of that I sort of focus on with my podcast is human rights. And quite often, you I have conversations with people who have seen things happen in their lifetime, whether it's racial discrimination, or other elements of racism that have caused them to try to be proactive, to be more involved to try to make change to sort of see how they can make other people's lives behind them better.

Ellen Bees 6:41

That makes sense.

Stuart Murray 6:42

Yeah. So that's fair comment. I mean, I, you know, just we just wanted to get a sense, but I appreciate that. So Ellen, one of the things that you are involved in now is there is an issue around potential banning of some books in schools and libraries. Can you just talk a little bit about that? And then what what I would love to get and again, this is the perspective from you, as a teacher, is, you know, your perspective on why that's happening. But where does it start? Like, what how did you these, how do these things start to happen? In a process that it gets to a point where you're now having to be involved through people for public education and other ways to ensure that there are safe places for all students in school?

Ellen Bees 7:26

Well, it's kind of interesting, because over the past couple of years, you kind of see it's creeping closer and closer to our home here, Manitoba. But like, I think it started more in the United States, right, where there was a lot of pushes, like, for instance, they Don't Say Gay bill in Florida, right, that made it difficult for teachers to discuss LGBTQ + identity with their students in the classroom, that punish them for doing so. Right. And that just seemed really, really far away last year, but it just keeps creeping closer, right, where it's just moving north further and further north. Until suddenly, there are libraries in southern Manitoba, where people are challenging some of the books to do to, you know, there's characters in them that are 2SLGBTQZ+, right. And then suddenly, in Brandon, the similar thing, right, and a couple a couple of weeks ago, we there was a presentation to the school board of somebody who wanted to set up a committee to investigate some of these books, right. And the books that she was talking about, were largely books that had transgender people, transgender authors in them, as well as other books that are, you would probably categorize as sexual education, right, which is important, first, important things for students to know about. So her idea was that they should have a committee to ban some of these books or to look at them and just take some of them out of the school system. So it's something that's creeping closer and closer and closer. And I think it's something that we need to be concerned about. And I think people are using their voices to speak out against that, right? Because I think lots of people realize just why it's so important to make sure these books, stay in our school libraries and make sure kids have access to books that show up show that show different identities.

Stuart Murray 9:06

And is there a sense, Ellen, in this conversation, that there's an age relation to some of the books that people may or may not have access to? Like, is there a sense that a grade one student could have the same access to a book that say a grade 12 student could have. I'm just trying to get a sense of, you know, what that ability or what that accessibility looks like.

Ellen Bees 9:29

I listen to the presentation for the brand and school division, and there's a lot of focus on books in elementary school classrooms, but and I think there's like also some discussion of like high school books, but they're definitely like different books that they're talking about. But the thing is, like a lot of the books that are being discussed, like they are age appropriate, right? They are folks that are appropriate for students, and they talk about the people who are complaining about them or just talking about like different gender identities and how that's not an appropriate thing to discuss with kids who are in elementary school and it absolutely is it Something that's appropriate to discuss with kids from elementary school. I think it's also important to note that like, just because one family has an issue with a particular book doesn't necessarily mean that they have the right to withhold that book from all the other families that are in the classroom, right? Because that's not how schools work. It's kind of a movement that's, again, started in the States and is moving up here. And I know when the previous school board elections that were happening here, in Winnipeg, there was some discussion of parental rights, right, and how parents have rights and they have a right to, you know, know what there's children are learning in the classroom and have a right to have a say in that. And, yeah, of course, they have a right to have that communication and to understand what's happening in the classrooms, but they don't necessarily have a right to veto things, right. And that's actually something that's happening, you know, come up in the Supreme Court of Canada cases, not necessarily looking specifically at books, right. But looking at parents rights, in terms of education, they have a right to be involved, and they have a right to understand what's happening, but they don't have a right to veto what's happening necessarily in that classroom, particularly for all the other families. So. So I think that's kind of a lot of what's people are discussing right now and what's something you have to kind of grapple with.

Stuart Murray 11:10

Sure. Yeah. So Ellen, talk a little bit about if you can on the notion about, you know, from you, or you're a teacher, but so you're obviously very concerned about all of your students, when you talk about the term age appropriation help, you know, just explain from your perspective, how do you sort of see that when it comes to some of this, so called, you know, these books that may or may not be perceived, from a parent perspective, to say that I don't think that that is that material is appropriate for my son or daughter, whoever it may be? Because of their age? It? Can you just kind of walk me through kind of the age appropriation conversation?

Ellen Bees 11:50

Well, I teach middle years. So I would really just focus on for instance, if the issue is like focusing on gay characters in a book, if this was happening between two straight characters, would I be okay with that in the book? And then if the answer is yes, then yeah, that's right. I think that's more or less how I would categorize that.

Stuart Murray 12:10

Yeah. And I And again, I'm just saying there's it, you know, one of the things about this conversation is that, that, you know, you have have such a variety of opinions that are emotionally driven. And sometimes, you know, the emotion makes it difficult to, you know, for people to I mean, I saw, I think there was a picture, and that was, you know, on one of the newspapers that talked about open books, open minds, you know, so that, you know, you want to make sure that you're, you're allowing books to be there for all children, to keep their minds open, without sort of giving the sense that somehow the argument that, that it may be driving students in a certain direction, which is, you know, maybe it's an argument, but it doesn't seem to be an argument that has, you know, much validity to it, it's much more of an emotional response.

Ellen Bees 13:02

And, I mean, there's academics who have studied this right, and talked about just the importance of representation in books, right. So, like, I, Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop

, for instance, come has come up with the idea of like, books being mirrors and books being windows, right, and how you need books that are both right, you need books that are mirrors for yourself, that show you your own experiences, so that you can better understand your own experiences, so that you feel like your identities, you know, important. So you can see that expressed in literature. And you also need books that are windows, right. And it's like, teach you about how other people live, right? Other people's identities, other people's struggles, other people's, you know, joys and victories, right? Like, they need both types of books, and we live in an inclusive society where, really, we need to understand ourselves, we also need to understand other people. So I think both are really, really essential.

Stuart Murray 13:53

When I was at the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, you know, one of the big conversations we were having was always about the other and understanding what the other is. And you know, there was a conversation that people were saying, you know, why don't you take the other to lunch? And it was like, well, what is the other? Well, you know, I mean, it says, use this explain, I mean, it's somebody who may not think or look like you, but you know, they have every right to be in the same space as you do. I mean, we're all supposedly created equally. That's what the the Universal Declaration of Human Rights says. So how do you sort of engage that versus saying, because there's something that may be different between us that's bad versus saying, what a great opportunity to learn. So can you sort of give your, your, from a, you know, a teacher's perspective to people that may be listening to this podcast that saying, you know, as a parent, you know, I really want my child to just sort of see the world that I live in, whether it's from their religious standpoint, or how they feel, from their simple perspective shouldn't say simple but from their perspective, so that it it, it really doesn't allow the child To explore a broader universe, which is what the world is, how would you have that conversation with a parent that said, you know, Ellen, I hear you, but I really am concerned that my child is going to be have different experiences than I did, or that I would like them to have.

Ellen Bees 15:16

I don't know, I think I would talk to the parent. I think it's important that we understand that, like, you might want to instill your own sets of values, whatever those happen to be in your child. But if your child is unaware of just other people, you're, it's not. It's not a that's you're doing your child a disservice right? Like they need to understand their other people in the world. And they need to learn how to get along with other people, and just understanding other people's lives and other people's experiences is one important step to doing that.

Stuart Murray 15:46

Yeah. And, and, you know, from again, obviously, wanting to put this in perspective, Ellen, from, from a teacher's perspective, when you when you see a school board, who are elected officials, when you see them taking an approach, as is happening in Brandon, to put an organization or put a group together that will start to decide what books should or shouldn't be allowed in classrooms. You know, how do you react to that, as a teacher? I mean, you your whole, your whole profession, is education about, you know, your whole profession is to teach children. And, you know, I just wondering, from your perspective, when somebody who, I'm not trying to demean school boards, I think they have a great role. But if a school board starts to come in to give you instruction, as a teacher, how do you feel about that?

Ellen Bees 16:45

I think there needs to be some trust from the community that for instance, like this is this issue that Brandon is talking about school libraries, right. And librarians have training to select what is appropriate literature for students, right. And they have a significant amount of training in that right. And just the idea that a parent who maybe doesn't have that background can come in and make those decisions is maybe questionable, I would say. I think it's really interesting, though, in the Brandon school division case, because I was just looking at, they're having their meeting tonight, actually. So they're having responses from the community in response to this presentation that took place. And not too long ago, the government was actually like, willing to just take away school boards, right to eliminate school boards and to reorganize education. And there was a really big backlash against that, right. So they hold back on my idea, and they said, no, okay, well, we'll keep school boards. And right now, I think there was 289 letters that were sent on this issue to the Grandin School Board, six of them, were saying, yes, we need to have this committee that's going to look at which books to you know, not having classrooms. And I think the rest of them, were saying, no, we don't like that, and giving lots of, you know, reasons, right. And it's just really heartening to see people taking that's using their voice, right, because we are a democracy, it's important to listen to what the community has to say. And I think the community has really strongly rejected that idea. And I'll be interested in hearing what the school board's responses. But in a democratic system, people's voices are important. And it's just really good to see people voicing their support of the LGBTQ+ community and being democratically active, right, because that's something that maybe in the past, we didn't see necessarily as much. And this is something that people are, you know, acting in a way that we really want to see in a democracy.

Stuart Murray 18:40

Yeah, and, you know, it's a fascination, because to your point, when there's issues that are, you know, come up, whether they're community or what have you. Typically, the people that are opposed are quite vocal, quite loud, and may not have the numbers, but it's just the the tone and the volume of which they, they are able to sort of speak to, and, you know, for people to take a stand in, in support of something, you know, I mean, life is full of people who are against this, they're opposed to that they're against this. But when you start to look at something that you feel positively feel very strongly about, that you positively want to support. And sometimes those people's voices don't always get heard, or they just maybe don't take part. But the example that you gave is quite the opposite. The voices that are in strong support, to not have these books removed, seems to be quite quite loud.

Ellen Bees 19:38

Yeah, and I really am happy to hear it see that. I know something else that I was concerned about, like just seeing that, you know, really, really strong response against the idea of banning books is wonderful. Because one thing I'm concerned about is if you hear like these loud, negative voices saying like this book is not appropriate. We shouldn't have this in school and that those are the only voices you're hearing even If not necessarily the most don't get me to actually ban those books within the classroom, there's a huge concern about like, well, is that going to result in soft censorship? Right? Are teachers going to start like not choosing certain books because they're concerned about the reaction or get or they're concerned, there's going to be some backlash or that type of thing. And I think that does a huge disservice to students, right? Especially, for instance, transgender students who really do need to see themselves in the curriculum, right, who need to see themselves in these stories, right and need to see that their own existence is important and that they're supported. Right. And I think soft center soft censorship in that way is a problem. And I'm really glad to see that there's so many strong voices saying that no, we need to support, you know, the this community, we need to speak out against book banning, because I think that's such an important thing to hear as a teacher that oh, actually the community does is in support of what you're doing. Right?

Stuart Murray 20:52

Yeah, for sure. Ellen, how, how are the students reacting to this whole conversation?

Ellen Bees 20:58

I don't know if I've had conversations with them specifically. Yeah, I don't know. I can't answer that question, I'm afraid. Yeah.

Stuart Murray 21:04

Yeah. No, I'm just curious. Because they're, you know, they're the ones that are ultimately being impacted. And it would just be interesting to see kind of, you know, I mean, there may be, I presume there would be diverse opinions also, with students, just they're part of society. And it's interesting to see, and you know, where that where that all goes? Is it your sense, Ellen, that, again, always want to make sure that we're preference you're you're speaking to me as a as a teacher, and you talk about some of these elements that have come from United States south of the border? Do you think that that from your perspective, are you seeing it as a bit of a religious overtone? Or do you think it's completely something separate?

Ellen Bees 21:44

I think historically it has had religious overtones. I can't speak specifically to the people who have like approached the brand and school division because they don't know exactly what their motivations are. I know that, looking at the discourses that have emerged, like, I know that the Supreme Court of Canada when you're looking at the competing rights of LGBTQ+ rights versus religion, I'm very much like shown that yes, you have the right to a religion, but your right to a religion doesn't, doesn't give you the right to, you know, squash somebody else's identity or doesn't give you a right to, you know, veto that in the classroom and that type of thing. Like, that's pretty clear in terms of the legislation, and that legislation in terms of like Supreme Court decisions, right. So. So I don't know if now that seems to be and this is me, just like looking at your articles coming out of the States, it seems to be that they're not necessarily talking religion, as much as they're talking about just the kind of other weird ideas of what some of these books are doing, that are just offensive, and very much like, not true, I don't really want to get into them because they're just -

Stuart Murray 21:44

Yeah and it and, you know, the one observation that I would have element of this whole discussion is that, I know, we we make reference to sort of the, the 2SLGBTQ+ community, but it seems that one of the focuses seems to be on sort of the whole transgendered movement. And, you know, that's, you know, I mean, it's something that is very much alive and very much real. And yet, it seems to have become a bit of a sort of a flashpoint for a lot of people. You know, from your perspective, again, as a teacher, you know, I mean, you look at some of these students and goodness, you know, to try to sort of come to terms with who you are, and know that, you know, where do you turn to? Or where's their safe space for you? You know, that's got to be from a teacher's perspective, a very emotional experience.

Ellen Bees 23:45

Yeah, like, just looking again, south of the border, right, because all that stuff tends to start to come up here. Some of the legislation that's come up in like Florida, for instance, right, that saying that, you know, children who are transgender can be taken away from their parents, right, that they're not allowed to have gender affirming health care, right? Just, they're not allowed to participate in sports, right? And just so much discriminatory acts that I just don't understand. I can imagine for people who are living down there who might be transgender, who have kids who are transgender, and how they are handling that situation, because it just seems so dystopian to me that that could be happening. I'm really happy that in Canada, like we have human rights codes, right, like, gender identity is protected as a protected identity here. Right. So that's so that I think here people will, you know, as evidence tonight, like people are using their voices to support rather than targets, which I am happy to see.

Stuart Murray 24:40

And I mean, again, just this is just your perspective. You're not at the meeting, Ellen, which I know, but I mean, you would have to assume when you look at a democratic process where people are allowed to speak in favor or against that if in this case, if the vast, vast majority already voices come out against having a book ban that the school trustees or the school board would hear that and basically say, Okay, next item.

Ellen Bees 25:13


Stuart Murray 25:15

So I guess we'll you know, we'll get a sense and see where that where that all goes. So So Ellen, I love to just explore a little bit about your, your, you know, your People For Public Education. You wrote a letter. It's very public, of course, an open letter to the Brandon school Division Board of Trustees. And when I say you, I mean, I know your name is kind of at the top there, but there's I think about 60 people that are were part of that. Did you were you able to get parents also involved? I know, there's a lot of academics, teachers, and that sort of thing, we able to get some some parents involved in the process?

Ellen Bees 25:47

Well I mean, I'm a parent. Yeah. And I think there's like, well, two other people I know who signed the letter, also our parents, I think it was primarily people who are part of people for public ed, and like a good number of people for public ed are also parents, right. So and then also, we're affiliated like, some of our membership are a part of the Faculty of Education at the University of Manitoba, as well as the University of Winnipeg. So they circulated the letter as well among the faculty, just to get people to sign the letter as well, because I think we wanted to really show that this is something that has a lot of they are the idea in the letter has a lot of support within the education community both at U of M and UFW. But yeah, in terms of your question about parents, like, yeah, there was a number of people who have signed the letter who are parents, so for sure, yeah.

Stuart Murray 26:35

Yeah, yeah, no, no, because I mean, part of that is, you know, people that want to look at signatories to a document who are supporting it. I mean, part of it is always to see is there, you know, can you pick apart the names? Are they kind of the typical names? Or can you pick them apart? I mean, people, they're always looking for the other side of the argument, you know, we'll look at that. And I was gonna say that, that one of the things that you'd mentioned was both the Faculty of Education at the University, Winnipeg University, Manitoba, you there are members that are involved in that. The fact that this is sort of happening in Brandon. I'm going to ask you, but I want you to, if you can, because I think the University of Brandon came out with a very, and it was on Twitter, it was on everywhere. You know, so tell, tell me a little bit about that talk to talk about how that came about. What did that mean? And what did it look like for those that didn't see it?

Ellen Bees 27:23

Yeah. So that the letter I just it's been really interesting seeing the different responses. I've been posted on social media, but just yeah, from some Faculty of Education members at Brown University, Brandon was just like in response to book banning. And then just one word, just don't. And I loved it, because I just was on social media just before hopping on to this discuss this interview. And I just saw they were handing out like, a little don't pins at the board meetings. So like, yeah, yeah, it's just it's this very simple idea of right. Just don't do that. Don't.

Stuart Murray 27:56

Always. Yeah, always. Yeah, for sure. Would you? Would you say that, you know, when you when you look at what you do, as a teacher, you know, when you got your degree to become a teacher, now you're getting your master's degree. Did it ever occur to you that you might get involved in a conversation that would involve book banning in schools?

Ellen Bees 28:18

I don't know. Like, I started my book, blog just because I was, it wasn't necessarily a concern about banning at that point. But it was just it looked, I wanted to do something productive to try to promote literature that I think is good for students. And I know me, like I was trying to find different books by LGBTQ+ authors. And maybe it was a little bit challenging sometimes to find stuff that like is kind of hitting the right spot for middle years, right? So something that's not too young and babyish. And something that's not you know, having kids off in high school who are preparing for college, right? And sometimes it's hard to find books that are a little bit in the middle. So I decided, well, I could you know, if I'm, if I'm having trouble with this, maybe other people are too so I'll just start a blog, right. And I'll start like listing and I focus on other things, too, obviously, like other types of books, but just yeah, and I've come up with a decently sized list at this point and focusing on some of them are, you know, it's good because I'm from Canada, right, and a lot of books in the publishing world kind of center around the States. So I get to also like pick out books that are maybe in a Canadian context, that kind of speak to kids up here, which is nice. But yeah, I never necessarily thought I'd be like, back when I started my blog, the censorship was not really much on my radar it was more just like let's promote books and help people find them and get a better access to them that type of thing. They don't like the fact that censorship is now something that is on our radar and there's something that we need to worry about, but hopefully with you know, a strong response against that we can you know, try to make sure that access to books remains something that's possible for all kids.

Stuart Murray 29:53

Right. And again, I'll put these into the the the show notes, Ellen but your your blog is called, B E S S,, right?

Ellen Bees 30:04


Stuart Murray 30:05

Yeah, good. Okay, well, then we'll make sure because I think, you know, people that are listening to this, if they want to either follow you or go on to your blog and look at different books by different authors, if that's something that's important to them, I think that's a, that's a great service that you're providing. So you know, it's worth, it's worth mentioning.

Ellen Bees 30:21

Yeah. I mean, I probably am not on it as much as I'd like to. Yeah, life gets busy.

Stuart Murray 30:29

So okay, so Ellen, let me just explore a couple things with you, when, you know, we obviously the notion of reading and access to books and the importance of what that has to do with students learning. How do you feel in today's world, with the you and I both referenced social media, I saw the piece on the University of Brandon putting on Twitter, I thought it was brilliant, you know, just that word 'don't'. And it's obviously become a thing now, which is great. But but, you know, I'd love your thoughts about how you see the difference between getting immersed in reading books, and social media.

Ellen Bees 31:10

I spent a lot of time thinking the last two years, and this isn't just a completely different topic about media literacy, and just making sure students have the tools to do that. Because like reading books is one type of literacy. But reading social media and reading online information, like the you need a whole nother skill set, like related skill set, but also, just like there's a whole nother set of skills that you really need in order to, in order to engage in a critical way, right. So I have spent quite a bit of time focusing on that with students and trying to teach them different skills to engage in social media in a way that if somebody, for instance, is telling you a bunch of false information about you know, the books that we've been talking about, right, like suggest, give them some tools to be able to maybe better engage with that right to be able to do some lateral reading and check sources that are reliable and to ask critical questions and that type of thing. So I think that's important. And I think that's maybe a tool that lots of people like my age and older necessarily, we never grew up learning, because the internet wasn't really the thing it is today, right? So I'm hoping that the students these days, right, and younger people are gaining those skills in school so that they can better engage with what they're seeing online. Because, yeah, literacy in terms of reading books is important. But like, yeah, there's just a whole nother world of skills that we need in order to be active, critical citizens in the world now. Right?

Stuart Murray 32:37

Yeah, very much so and I mean, the, you know, we, you know, this, this podcast is not going to get into sort of the whole, you know, chat GPT, you know, artificial intelligence, all of those sorts of things. I mean, that's a whole other world that's out there. And, and, you know, but it's real, you know, and so, while it's real and sensitive exists, I mean, but my point is, is that, you know, to try to, you know, from a media literacy standpoint, to ensure that, you know, some people might look at it and say, well, I'm reading all these blogs online, or I'm reading all this stuff online, or I'm getting all this information online, versus, you know, old school hardcover book. Why are you, you know, what, why are you upset about that?

Ellen Bees 33:19

And it was interesting, looking at just the other list of just different things, people like the letters that people sent to the Brandon's full division, right? And they actually broke down or just like, people, actually, they broke down into categories, what different people said in terms of like support saying, no, we don't want this censorship, and one like big section in that list of just like, addressing the disinformation and misinformation that was in the original presentation to the school board, and they just like, you know, a big giant list of this is wrong. And then here's what someone's saying about that. And this was wrong. And here's what someone's saying about that. And we're just like, a huge amount of fact, checking going on there, which is really interesting to see. And, yeah, people just need to have a better understanding of how to do that in real time, right.

Stuart Murray 34:04


Ellen Bees 34:05

That's important to consider critically consider what we're reading online for sure.

Stuart Murray 34:09

Yeah. Well, and I mean, as you say, I you know, I mean, sometimes if somebody is very brassy, very loud, very articulate, but their information is false. It sometimes can carry the day, you know, people I mean, they're just listening to it and go, oh, well, okay well, I guess and then, you know, as you say, to for people to come back and do a fact check and sort of say, Can we just take that conversation and sort of unpack it and talk about where the myths are, or the myths truths are about this conversation? That's important. I mean, at the end of the day, make up your own mind, but basically make up your mind hopefully, on what is factual. So so just switching for a second you're you're a parent, you've got children. Yeah. Do you have this conversation or has it ever entered into anything about you know, your concern about what they may be looking at online or from a literacy media literacy standpoint through the internet,

Ellen Bees 35:02

My kids are still pretty little, like my son's in grade two, my daughter's starting kindergarten next year. But it's something that I'm definitely like considering and starting to have conversations, particularly with my oldest kid, just in terms of like, well, this is how we google something. And then we need to be like, oh, look at the different things you have. And does this sound like a good source? Like, what is it right? And just try to start with, like, the very most basic things that people need to know. Because, yeah, and now, it's something that if you don't, unless you're actually actively teaching some of those skills, they don't always pick it up, right? Like, it's interesting, because they still have kids who say, Oh, what's your I want to ask? What's your source for that? And they're like, Google, I'm like, Google's not source. And so like, you know, check out like, what school is sending you to? And what is that as the source? Right? So there's lots of like, very specific skills that yeah, we need to make sure we're actively teaching tickets. Yeah.

Stuart Murray 35:57

Yeah. Well, you know, you've got your you've got a double gold star, because not only are you a parent, but you're a teacher. So you know, because a lot of times, I can tell you both, you know, my wife and I would say something to our children, and, you know, they would look at us, and then they come back, and they would sort of, after a day of school, they would sort of give difference, you know, sort of sense of what's happening, and we go, okay, what, wait, why do you believe that? Well, that's what the teacher said was like, okay, all right. So, you know, you got you got both those things going on both being a parent and a teacher. Ellen, tell me a little bit just before we, before we kind of hit the off ramp on this conversation. You know, I my whole blog is all about human rights, and the importance of understanding what rights humans have when it comes to a number of issues and of course, they're all listed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. But when you look at this issue about learning, you know, from your perspective, from a human rights perspective, coming from a teacher, to those that would be listening, how would you phrase the importance of human rights learning as you're looking down the conversation of a potential censorship?

Ellen Bees 37:08

I think we live in a society where we need to be respectful of each other rights. And it is a human right that almost all kids does need have the right to education, be safe in this have a right to safety rights have a right to feel safe and included in their school, where they are. Studies have shown that's not always the case. Right? Like, I think in the letter I wrote, We referenced a study that showed that like a certain there's a large number of transgender students have like spaces in their school that just are not safe for them. Right. And when you are trying to censor books, and you're trying to actively take out voices, right, and take remove identities from your library, Right you are, it's basically a move to try to erase specific groups of people, right groups who have in the past been very marginalized. And you're not fulfilling the right to education at that point, right? Because students need to feel safe, they need to feel included in order to get that sick education. And when you are when people are actively, you know, working to erase a particular group, then that's interfering with their right to an education. So I think that's what I would say to that, right.

Stuart Murray 38:17

Yeah, no, well said, appreciate that very much. And you you had offered a couple of books. One is called 'MakingThe Case'.

Ellen Bees 38:23


Stuart Murray 38:24

Just tell us what's not about

Ellen Bees 38:27

this is me being like an education nerd. So yeah, for people who might want to know more about just LGBTQ+ rights in school, it kind of talks a little bit about censorship was talking a lot about other other ways that like the right to religion and right to, to as LGBTQ+ identity kind of sometimes come into conflict in schools. And I've read some I've referenced it a couple times throughout this podcast, but it's a really great book. It's by Don Short, Bruce McDougal and Paul T. Clark and it just yeah, talks a lot about just what the courts say about this issue, right, and how you know, the right 20 identity is really protected in school. I might also add 'Am I safe here?' by also by Don Short, and it talks a lot about LGBTQ LGBTQ teens and bullying in schools, which is another issue where if you know, we start if students are targeted, of course, like censorship, well, what's that going to say in terms of like bullying, right? How's that going to also impact students in schools? And I think it's something that we need to be concerned about, for sure.

Stuart Murray 39:29

Yeah. And then you bet you referenced it. Again, during the conversation, 'Mirrors, Windows and Sliding Glass Doors', is another book, I think that that you would suggest is worth exploring.

Ellen Bees 39:41

Yeah, it's an article, but I think it's just really central to just why we need representation in our libraries in our classes in our lessons, right. I think it's something that every single English teacher should be aware of.

Stuart Murray 39:54

Yeah, yeah. No, it's great. And and, Ellen, if if a student you know as a teacher or if a student comes forward to you, and wants to I mean, I don't know if they would or if there's other processes to say, you know, I'm struggling with the issue. I'm I'm considering, you know, my whole transgender identity or where do I want to go to teachers? Are you? Are you in a position to to counsel or do you? Can you direct, is there a toolkit or? I mean, it seems like it's, again, something that you might have your master's in education, but I'm not sure that that issue would be covered.

Ellen Bees 40:30

Let's not come up with me specifically before so I'm not sure I can talk to that specifically. Yeah.

Stuart Murray 40:35

Yeah. Yeah. No, I just wondered, you know, the, the process because I do think that when you talk a lot about creating safe spaces for all the students, you know, there's, there's roles and responsibilities, obviously, that goes with that, obviously, within the school, parents, etc. So, but we're interested to see how this unfolds, Ellen, you know, as a conversation moving forward, I really appreciate you taking the time and giving the perspective of a teacher from your perspective of some of the challenges around this notion of censorship of books in schools, and I've learned something in this conversation. And so I appreciate you taking the time to chat with me.

Ellen Bees 41:12

Oh, good. Okay. Well, thanks for having the chat. It was great talking with you.

Stuart Murray 41:15

All right. Okay. Continued success in what you're doing.

Ellen Bees 41:18

Thank you.

Stuart Murray 41:19

Okay, Ellen.

Tara Sands (Voiceover) 41:22

Thanks for listening to Humans, On Rights . A transcript of this episode is available by clicking the link in the show notes of this episode. Humans, On Rights is recorded and hosted by Stuart Murray, social media marketing by Buffy Davey, music by Doug Edmund. For more go to

Produced and distributed by the Sound Off Media Company.

Transcribed by


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