Measure the Library, Burn the Books!

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Consider a rural school district, so supported by its property owners, that within a ten-year span the community votes for a lovely addition to, and renovation of, its elementary school; a large and beautiful library, six additional classrooms, a hugely expensive football field and track, surrounded by concession stand, toilets, weight room, baseball fields and other activity areas, for its high school.

Picture a new-new principal who fails to appreciate scholarship; who appears to feel antagonistic towards literacy and knowledge, towards the means for achieving these goals, towards those staff members possessing them; a principal who seems intent upon destroying the library and its purpose. Picture such a principal continually measuring the library; considering ways to divide it into classrooms and offices, as he assigns the certified librarian to teach, first one English class, then three the following year, thereby causing the library to spend ever more time locked and unused, in violation of NCA rules and regulations.

Note that this all occurs at a time when the district is not short of personnel in the English department, does not need the librarian to teach any classes, and this decision does nothing to ease any financial strain on the district. As other districts are cutting non-required class offerings in order to save money on books, materials and staff, this district’s media center is being pushed almost to the point of closure so that favorite teachers will be free to teach new, non-required courses; courses which require additional expenditures for books and materials. Such decisions are probably not what the taxpayers expected when they voted to pay higher property taxes; when they voted for ‘a new library'; when they entrusted the school administration with better serving the students and the community.

Picture such a principal expecting the librarian to record the number of books checked out each day, but to ignore the number of students, teachers and classes that use the media center space, materials or reference sources. One can only suspect that a case is being made to ‘prove’ that ‘the library isn’t being used enough to keep it open,’ thus setting the stage for final measurements and plans — possibly new offices for the ever-expanding cadre of social workers; maybe a book-burning bonfire for homecoming.

If an administrator can live with the pretense that it is only a library and maintain that only book check-out records (rather than Media Center usage statistics) are of import — one can envision him doing just about anything to harm that which should be the vital hub in any educational setting. In truth, the library might have been destroyed already, had not one taxpayer requested to see the exact wording of the proposal on the ballot that was put before the voters, wondering if it read “library and six classrooms” or if taxpayers voted simply for…”space, area, square footage.”

The time of that vote has now passed, and this new principal is at the helm. Should a simple change of administration mean that the wishes of the voters can now be ignored? Probably the voters still expect to receive that which they voted to financially support. Many would expect an honorable leader to put a priority on school excellence and educational scholarship — as a ‘thank you’ to the community property owners for being so financially generous. Many would feel dismay should they ever suspect or discover that an anti-scholarship principal makes decisions and take actions, which would, in essence, say of the people, “Let them eat cake!”

Voters should be alert for similar situations developing in their own districts. Concerns have been expressed from many areas of the country. Often the libraries are left intact, but serve only as a façade to fool the taxpayers. Unnoticed, the focus of a district’s curriculum may actually serve to demean the value of books; to shun literacy; to discount wisdom; to discourage use of the library.

To those of us who strongly believe in the merits of literacy, scholarship and knowledge, this is a very disturbing trend. More and more often our modern schools are failing to even turn out readers, let alone scholars. Across the country we seem to be witnessing what Thomas F. Bertonneau, English professor at SUNY Oswego, describes as “an ideological hostility to literacy…seeping down from the university humanities, through schools of education, to K-12.” (Declining Standards at Michigan Public Universities: How the Changes in the Undergraduate Curriculum Affect K-12.)

For a person like me, these trends are not only disturbing, they are truly frightening. I believe that many administrators and teachers not only lack a solid educational foundation based on breadth and quality of study, but actually feel and convey disdain for true scholarship; actually feel and show disrespect for the heart of our liberty and freedom — educated citizens and libraries.

This is not simply a sad turn of events in American education; it is an alarm, a warning, of the impending death of our way of life. Intelligent, knowledgeable people know, absolutely, that schools must educate children towards literacy, knowledge and ability to lead a republic. A republic, especially, needs strong individuals who will reclaim powers stolen by the State; refuse to bow to the desires of the State; refuse to use taxpayer resources for shaping sheeple and worker drones — drones who might dutifully follow those vocational pathways foisted upon them as eighth graders in hopes of preparing them for socialistic “School to Work” service to the State and to a Global ‘community.’

Thomas Jefferson felt that without his books he would die. I share his feelings, and could never be a ‘snowbird’ and leave my books behind while I spend warmer months in southern climates. Already I am stressed at having to choose which of my 4,000 books to pack for our coming vacation, and I will feel fragmented until I return to my personal collection of literature, philosophy, history, economics, theology, linguistics, word origins…

What if we get to Dannebrog and I need the other book on linguistics in order to understand a certain step in the reading process? What if, driving across Texas, headed for Odessa, I feel like studying Latin to better correct my son’s assignments, but the Latin books were left at home? Consider — while I worry about which books to pack for a vacation, our universities turn out ‘educators’ who not only fail to serve as role models for a literate society, but fail to be teachers capable of educating students towards becoming literate, independent, responsible, free-thinking citizens who can lead this nation away from its wrong turn, and steer it back in the direction that supports individual liberty and the Constitution.

Since I was a teenager, I have been haunted by the memory of a certain Twilight Zone episode: while a nagged husband hid inside a bank vault to spend his lunch hour reading in peace, a bomb destroys the community, killing everyone except the reader.

Before panic took full control of his senses, however, he found the public library. With ecstasy on his features, he realized that he possessed both books, and time to read. His joy soon turned to terror, though, as he stumbled over rubble and broke his thick, irreplaceable glasses.

I dread the twilight zone that is engulfing America and destroying literacy, scholarship, and support for our Constitution’s plan for life within this nation. Our twilight zone is more terrifying than the TV show for this one is real, and in this one the people will face the future with glasses, but without books, literacy and knowledge; and certainly without any comprehension of the devastation that will come in the wake of their loss.

Linda Schrock Taylor [send her mail] lives in Michigan. She is a free-lance writer and the owner of “The Learning Clinic,” where real reading, and real math, are taught effectively and efficiently.

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