If you follow the news, you’re probably aware that the public school teachers in one of my favorite cities recently went on strike. And since the children of the fine city of Chicago (and let’s face it, the entire nation) are sorely lacking their own union representative, I am happy to volunteer my services as Gilda Joyce: Children’s Union Representative.
I put forward an important item of the Children’s Union of America position as follows:
First, let up with so many standardized tests already. I guess we agree with the teachers on that one.
Thank you. Now that you don’t have to funnel so much cash into the educational testing company pipeline, you might be able to rehire the school librarian who got laid off (assuming she was the sort of librarian who teaches actual research skills and connects readers with books, and not the type who just notices kids when they’re talking too loud or chewing gum while keeping the really good books locked up in her own private stash). Look, I’m not naming names, but you ladies know who you are. We at the Children’s Union do not believe that seniority necessarily implies expertise, although they certainly can go hand-in-hand.
People who argue for slashing public school district budgets might not be aware that principals across the nation have to choose between keeping the new kindergarten teacher, stuffing more than thirty little kids into a classroom, or letting the school librarian go. Guess who often gets the axe? That’s right, the librarian.
Now, while you’re rehiring that librarian, how about getting some actual books back into the school? Yes, we know there will be iPads for every kid in our school “very soon,” and that a room filled with books about science and history and art and yes, even picture books is just so passé. But just try giving the average kindergartener an iPad and see how long it takes before it gets broken. Just watch the average teenager give up on researching a topic for her paper when the evidence she needs can’t be found in the first ten hits of a Google search. That’s where that “old-fashioned,” school librarian comes in – to teach kids how to explore their personal interests in books and how to actually tell the difference between a blog written by an eleven year old and an article in the New York Times.
In the humble opinion of this Children’s Union Representative, the average American has no clue that the school librarian is becoming an endangered species these days – at exactly the time he or she is most needed to prepare kids to navigate the so-called “information age.”
And in case you think that a weekly opportunity to check out a book from the school library is a frivolous, “extracurricular” activity, consider conclusions of recent research linking access to books and reading for enjoyment with educational success regardless of socio-economic status.
Look, I’ve had a few great teachers and more than my share of so-so teachers. Luckily, I’ve always had my stack of favorite books to keep me reading and thinking even during the most pointless school days.
Lots of kids aren’t so lucky. We at the Children’s Union support our teachers, but we know that we’ll never guarantee that they will all be great. Let’s at least keep those books and librarians around, so that kids like me have a chance to find their own way to the books that are sometimes our best teachers.
–Gilda Joyce: Children’s Union Rep.