Policy dictates what occurs in education; now more than ever. Schools are cutting programming that is essential to children developing a well-rounded education. Music, art, and PE are on the chopping block. When the rigors of test taking demand more time spend in the classroom and dwindling funds require making difficult decisions, the arts are often the first to go. This is partly to do with the fact that for some policy makers, the arts don’t equal the technology-rich education that is being purported as essential to being a worker of the future.
Not only are the arts in peril, but libraries are as well. My uncle recently retired as superintendent of schools in the rural Midwest. During a recent visit, were discussing libraries and the role of the librarian in the school. He said that he had to lay off nearly every librarian in his school district because they simply could not afford it. The libraries languished; schools were left without librarians to manage collections, teach kids research and tech skills, and help kids find books for pleasure reading. Although these may sound like small things, for some children the school library is the only access that they have to print media and technology. Yes, there are public libraries, but often these children can’t get to them because of family circumstances. And standardized testing advocates rejoice: pleasure reading among kids leads actually to better test scores. I believe it also makes you a more well rounded human, but that’s just me.
Now imagine that your school is one that is lucky enough to be able to afford a full time librarian. As a teacher, you can send your students to the library to check out books, you can collaborate with the amazing librarian to come up with lessons that are inquiry based and help your students delve deeper into a subject, and your students have the opportunity to use some seriously cool tech—courtesy of the library. Now picture that the librarian has to come up with the funds to purchase the books that line the shelves. Imagine that he or she is spending a good portion of their time raising money for books because it simply isn’t in the school’s budget. Those kids that only get books from the school library might be limited if the librarian isn’t able to fundraise adequately. Yikes.
Last week, I had the opportunity to interview a middle school librarian for another class I am taking. Simply put, she loves what she does. Except for the nerve-racking job of having to fundraise. Lucky for her, she managed to secure a Donors Choose grant of $700. The collection in this particular library is aging and there are a lot of books to weed and replace with new copies; there are also new books that students and teachers want to have in the collection. $700 seems like a lot, but it honestly doesn’t buy very many books—and it is certainly not enough to reinvigorate the aging collection. She continues to limp along on the grant and tries to raise money each year with a book fair. There simply isn’t enough money in the budget for what is needed.
I would ask then, who gets to decide what is most important to students? And which students will suffer most when budget items deemed ‘extras’ or ‘frivolous’ are eliminated? It’s those who already have less. A prime example of inequity in our schools is when those students who need the ‘extras’ simply can’t get them. What good is an education if it is lopsided and continues to disadvantage those who need support the most?