Monday, June 3, 2019

Lesson from Smokey and the Bandit

I wrote the following post in 2013.  The advice given is still, I believe, important, even though I look at the source material through a different lens.  When I was younger Smokey and the Bandit was a fun, action-filled adventure with high speed automobile chases, C-B lingo, and country music. Watching it now is almost painful.  I see racism, sexism and misogyny.  Still, I stand by my assertion that we all have something to learn from the Bandit's sidekick, Cledus Snow.  I hope you agree.

I will be the first to admit that my taste in movies is of the fast food variety.  

Smokey and the Bandit is one of my all-time favorites.  While it may not have won critical acclaim, I find  the wisdom in this film helpful in troubling times. This is especially true in regard to our plight of disappearing school libraries.

For those unfamiliar with the film, two millionaires dare the Bandit (Burt Reynolds) to truck a trailer-load of Coors beer from Texarkana to Atlanta.  This is considered bootlegging. Bandit enlists the help of his friend, the Snowman, also known as Cledus Snow.  The Snowman drives the tractor trailer while the Bandit runs blocker in a black TransAm.  When the Bandit picks up a runaway bride, he attracts the attention of the law, in the form of the would-be father-in-law, the aforementioned Smokey (Jackie Gleason), a Texas sheriff with "over 30 years seniority." High speed chases over several southern states ensue, until roadblocks and aerial pursuit bears down on the Bandit.

Towards the end of the film, when the law is closing in and Bandit sees no way out, the Bandit tells Cledus, "l don't like  this any more than you do, but we ain't gonna make it, son. We're gonna hang it up."

Cledus is morally outraged.  "Negatory. Negatory.  We say we're doing a job, we're doing a job!"

The Bandit tells the Snowman.  "It's me they want.  They don't even know Cledus Snow exists." Cledus replies, "Oh, they don't? Well, I'll tell ya what we'll do. We'll just introduce them to the boy!"

With that, Cledus shifts into high and blazes past the ensuing police cars, the Bandit and through a police car barricade.


There have been many times, especially in the last few school years, when many of us have felt like the Bandit.  We have done a remarkable job against incredible odds (without benefit of the black Trans Am), and we feel we just can't do anymore to help our profession.

When someone like the Bandit says it's time to hang it up, that no one knows we exist - or that our importance to the general education picture is ignored, how fortunate we are for the Cleduses of our profession who boldly proclaim that it's time to "introduce 'em to the boy!"  Like the Bandit and the Snowman making it to the Fairgrounds in time and saving their hides, these library heroes break their silence and champion school libraries everywhere.

We need more Cleduses, and I am urging all school librarians or friends of school libraries to be one.  I realize that because of our isolation within our schools we are often too intimidated to draw attention to ourselves.  But when all we library media specialists band together and tell our collective stories, our value and prestige will be difficult to ignore.

Be a Cledus.  Here's how:

  1. Never miss a chance to blow your own horn.  No one else will do it, because no one else has a clue what our jobs entail.  Talk information literacy standards and how you are helping your students be ethical and savvy users of information.
  2. Blog about your daily experiences.  And keep blogging.  Your blogs may be sporadic, but when you have something to say about a day in our profession, say it.  You may think no one cares: it could be that no one cares until you tell them what they need to care about. Blog.  And blog some more.
  3. Connect with other school librarians via Nings, Twitter, conferences and any other medium available.  Don't stop connecting.  We all have different challenges, even within the same counties, even within the same states.  We need to know what is happening with each other, so that hopefully we can all devise meaningful ways to help.
  4. Never miss a chance to impress your supervisor and his supervisors.  I recently was troubleshooting a laptop/tv setup for an administrators' meeting in the library.  Once I had everything connected, I said, "Oh, while you're here, let me tell you about the ebook bundles the PreK-5 librarians selected to support the Common Core."  
  5. Be recognizable by your school community.  I have a library Facebook page.  I use it to post about curriculum, as well as to advertise upcoming events.  
  6. Give back.  Seth Godin calls this generosity.  Doug Johnson calls it being indispensable   Whatever it is, give back to the community you serve in a professional capacity.  I have open library nights every Wednesday, where the parents are welcome to come in, read with their children and supervise their taking of Reading Counts quizzes.  Do I get paid for this?  Well, my parents generously support our two book fairs each year.  The least I can do is let them experience the library in action.  If I am ever involved in another staff cut situation, you can bet your last dollar I will have plenty of parents that come to my defense.
  7. Collaborate with teachers at least on a monthly basis.  Seek them out.  Go to them rather than expecting them to come to you.  Ask what you can do to help them meet their goals and standards.  Be willing to teach from their classrooms rather that relying on their classes to come to you.  Reach out!
  8. If you are faced with staff cuts, don't stand in front of the Board and cite the research.  The only people who care about the research are those who have money to spend.  If a school board wants to cut your job, they don't have that kind of money.  So, what should you do?  Tell them about how you use evidence-based practice in your school to contribute to student achievement.  Show them the data.  Get testimonials from parents. Show how your library actually saves the district money.  Stay positive and focused.
I challenge us all to be Cledus Snows.  Start by responding to this blog and contributing to (or challenging) the conversation.  There is no need to be shy. We all have professional experiences to share.