Does schooling equal educating?

…and are we truly educating anyone anymore?

I have to pick my kids up from class in 30 minutes, so we’ll see if I can eke this out quickly while also inducing curiosity and conversation.

One of my children, recently 13, shared with me a video that a fellow homeschooled friend shared with her. It’s about 8 minutes long, but he’s engaging enough that you won’t get bored. Well, I didn’t get bored.

I don’t agree with every point this young man makes, but he does make a few excellent points that are rarely questioned in the current educational climate. The powers that be spend so much time clamoring for more money to education, no one stops to ask if money is the cure for what ails our education system. Meanwhile, the parents who have the time, money, and life margin to do so opt out of the system, leaving it mostly filled with students from families without the time, money and life margin to exercise alternative options.

It is easy to dismiss the “roll call of the uneducated” that this guy rattles off in defense of his condemnation of school. After all, most of the contemporary drop-outs he mentions were college drop-outs, not secondary school drop-outs. The older names he mentions carry much more weight. As a homeschooling parent, it resonates. It resonates because I recognize that “schooling” and “education” are not synonymous. That is why men such as Abraham Lincoln was sharp of mind and intellect despite a lack of formal schooling.

Right before I watched this video, I read this very insightful piece by Joshua Gibbs. We are heavily invested in the classical education model, including its ideals, so Gibbs’ ideas speak to me even as I recognize that present practical realities mean you have to tick off some boxes for the sake of expediency and legality.

In the ideal world of the passionate classical educator, however, grades, grade levels and all that jazz fade away into obsolescence as education returns to a focus on the good, the true and the beautiful:

Gibbs: As a conservative who generally sides with tradition, I don’t care a fig about progress, but I do care quite a bit about stability and sustainability. What most modern people call “progress,” I call “instability.” The changes this school has made over the last several years have not been accomplished in the name of “progress.” It would be fairer to say the changes are regressive, because they’re aimed at the past, not the future.

Parent: “Regressive” doesn’t sound good, though.

Gibbs: It doesn’t sound good to ears accustomed to hearing the word “progress” used as an unqualified good. Most progressive things are relatively new and based on theories, but conservatives are interested in what has worked and progressives are interested in what might work better.

Parent: So, will using catechisms work better than not using catechisms?

Gibbs: I believe catechisms have worked in the past. Catechisms aren’t something I dreamed up. They don’t work in theory, but in fact. The catechism is one of the most traditional forms of transmitting knowledge there is. Catechisms were abandoned some time ago to make room for progressive models of education, so in returning to catechisms, this school is actually removing what was unsustainable and unstable. A return to stability always involves change—not change for the sake of change but change for the sake of changelessness. I would say the same of the other changes the school has made lately, as well.

Parent: If catechisms and Greek are so traditional, why weren’t they put in place years ago when this school started?

Gibbs: I’ve been reading Ecclesiastes for many years and one of the most important lessons Solomon offers in that book is that no one gets everything they want. Not even the king gets everything he wants. To be frank, I would love to do away with grades entirely. You would be surprised how many teachers at classical schools would love to snap their fingers and make grades disappear. But I know how that would look to many parents. It would look like capitulation to the zeitgeist. It would look like this school was bowing to relativism or forsaking the objectivity of truth. I tend to think that in 20 years, grades are going to be so obviously broken and meaningless that everyone will see it, but I’m content to wait until then.

Go read the whole thing and if inclined, share your thoughts.

None of this is to say that practical things can’t be a part of formal education. By practical I mean the things mentioned in the above linked video: financial education and money management, cooking, practical hands-on skills in order to handle fundamental household needs, and  basic technological skills. To those, I would add statistics and bare bones, no frills studies of the U.S. Constitution. Young people need to know these things and for everything else they need to be equipped with the tools to teach themselves.

Our classical education revolves around studies of writing, literature, logic, history, Latin, and contemplation. Math and science are handled in a more standard educational format for now. We’re not particularly interested in state standards and metrics for where my kid should be, but that doesn’t mean we disregard assessments and measuring progress. We simply know that those are not the principle things, and that at the end of the day, they aren’t the determining factor of success in life.

I’ve learned exponentially more about nearly every subject over the past ten years (except math) than I learned throughout my entire K-12 education plus college years. I have had to actively unlearn many things, in fact.

Lastly, I was conversing with a friend lately and she asked the question: If a high school diploma and 13 years of school cannot even secure a young person a decent job, why are we constantly being asked to pay more and more money in taxes to prop up K-12 education? The short, pat answer of course, is to get our students college ready so that they can pay tens of thousands more dollars to earn a degree and still not necessarily obtain lucrative employment.  But now I just sound cynical when I don’t mean to. The real issue here is:

Can mass schooling produce a genuinely useful, valuable education? And if it can, how do we fix the systemic problems within it which currently prohibit that outcome?

By the way, I wasn’t able to crank this post out in the allotted time. I decided it was more important to peel and dice the sweet potatoes for dinner before picking up the kids. Such is the nature of homeschool life.

 

Back to homeschool (or whatever this is) has arrived.

After attending an orientation last night and rush ordering a few textbooks with expedited shipping, it is official. Summer may not end formally until September 21st (some consider Labor Day summer’s official end), but symbolically, our summer is over. School’s beginning signals a massive shift from the way we’ve been doing things the past four months.

As homeschoolers -technically speaking- our summer starts in mid-May and ends in mid-August, hence the four months of down time. Most of the ancillary schools which support homeschooling families call it quits fairly early compared to traditional school structure. At home, we continue to work diligently into June, but by then we’re only operating at maintenance levels, tying up the academic loose ends of the recently completed school year.

As school starts, my reading queue shifts accordingly. In addition to reading whatever I happen to be interested in at a given moment, I also read whatever my kids have been assigned by their literature teachers. This semester’s list offers me lots of opportunity to revisit old friends that I haven’t read in decades. Titles such as Animal Farm and The Scarlet Pimpernel are on this year’s list, among others. I’m looking forward to seeing these books through my kids’ eyes.

After the orientation and meet and greet so reminiscent of the days when our older kids went through the government school system, I was struck by how the reality of homeschooling (at least how we do it) is so different from the perception most people have when I answer their queries with, “They’re homeschooled”.

We do have friends who have been homeschooling for a quarter century or more and are still at it. That’s one of the great things about homeschooling when you have a large family; so many other people have large families that not only are you not unusual, your family may even be small by comparison to many. Our five kids is no big deal. But I digress.

The point, which I was so easily distracted from, is that homeschooling in 2019 is very different from what homeschooling was in 1994, which was when several of my homeschooling friends started out. The vast number of co-ops, support networks, ancillary schools and opportunities to homeschool in community were far fewer and much farther between than they are today. Those ladies were doing almost all of the heavy lifting on their own, and from what I can tell, most have done an incredible job of it.

Even with all the publicity, resources, and information available related to homeschooling, I still get the same kinds of questions; even from people to whom I’ve answered them several times!

  • Who are you accountable to for your curriculum?
  • How do you know they’ve passed to the next grade?
  • The state allows you to do that?
  • And lastly…

Can you guess, dear reader, what the final and most often posed question is when we mention homeschooling?

I bet you’ll have no trouble coming up with the answer.

All of this left me wondering if homeschooling is even an appropriate description of what many of us are doing now. While our kids’ education is parent directed, we’re not the only teachers, and our kids aren’t at home with us all day, every day. One critical distinction is that what we delegate in time as we outsource some of the instruction, we pay for in treasure, because it’s not cheap, and no one is giving our kids their books as they would in the government school system.

So… if our kids do some of their learning at home, some of it in school, and some of it independently, what would be the proper term for such an education? I for one, believe it’s far more sane and reality-based than the traditional model. A model, I might add, which is only providing optimal results for the children whose family have the time or treasure to properly supplement with home learning and extracurricular support, which sounds eerily like what we’re doing.

We’ve chosen religious rather than secular instruction, but that’s the major difference.

A la carte education is here to stay, unless and until someone decides that is too harmful to the political status quo. I am of the opinion that proper acknowledgment of the a la carte educational model would be a very good thing.

For now, we’re homeschoolers.

What is Classic Enough to Be Classical?

I already know the answer to my own question, but as usual, Mr. Joshua Gibbs has offered me educational food for thought. In his article Classical: A Word in Need of a Common Sense Definition, Gibbs uses his trademark -hypothetical?- conversation to demonstrate that we have woefully complicated a term that most people innately understand. Namely, what we mean when we identify our selves as classical educators or classical homeschoolers:

I would like to argue that classical educators should own up to a common understanding of what the word “classical” and “classic” mean. Rather than explaining classical education in terms of Dorothy Sayers and three stages of learning— which makes Sayers out to be little different from Freud, Piaget, or any of the other 20th century theorists who were always reducing childhood to a sequence of stages— classical educators should happily admit that “classical” connotes “old things” and not be embarrassed by it.

I agree, because while the whole grammar, logic and rhetoric thing speaks to me as a nerd type, it’s really not revolutionary. For example, we all *get* that you teach kids their multiplication tables when they are very young so as to prepare them for more complicated math later. Internalizing the multiplication facts makes it much easier to solve complex equations which also include a knowledge of multiplication facts.

This principle can be applied to phonics, the scientific method, historical dates, or myriad other subjects. You fill the stufdent with the basic knowledge while they are young and spongelike (the grammar stage) to prepare them for later stages. Even educators who have no frame of reference for the classical education model intuitively know this.

We also know that the spirit of postmodernism tries desperately to assert that there may be new, better, more fashionable ways to transport a child from the grammar stage to the rhetoric stage. They never give up the fight to discard the tried and true no matter how well it works, and  no matter how much cultural or educational carnage their experiments leave in their wake. We all see how it is turning out, which is the reason for this current revival of classical education.

The fact that the basic stages of a child’s mental development are widely understood, even if only intuitively, is why Gibbs is inviting those of us involved in the movement to consider embracing a common sense, common man’s approach of describing to others what it is we mean by classical education. In this conversation, he invites us to listen in to one such explanation, one which proves the statement I made above. Most people basically already know what classical means:

Fellow on a train: What line of work are you in?

Gibbs: I’m a classical educator.

Fellow: What’s that mean?

Gibbs: Well, when you hear the word “classical,” what are the first things which come to mind?

Fellow: I suppose classical things are usually old things. Ancient Rome. Statues. I also think of classical music, which is old music, and I’ve heard that classical music is really good— and it probably is— but I’m not really into it, even though I probably should be. Or maybe “classical” is related to “classic,” as in “classic cars” or “classic rock.” So perhaps “classic” means something which is old, but still kind of good.

Gibbs: To be quite frank, I could not have defined the word “classical” any better myself. Would you mind humoring me by answering another question?

Fellow: Why not?

Gibbs: Supposing your understanding of the word “classical” is spot on, what do you suppose a classical education is?

Fellow: I suppose it’s an education that centers around old things and old music.

As the conversation unfolds, Gibbs explains to the fellow traveler why we esteem the old things as “good”. You can read the rest here, but there was one bit that jumped out at me precisely because it hits me where I live:

Gibbs: A moment ago, you said that you’ve heard “classical music is really good,” and that this judgement was probably true, but that you nonetheless don’t like classical music. And then you said something really fascinating. You said, “I probably should” like classical music. How come?

Fellow: If everyone says it’s good, it probably is.

Gibbs: Lots of people say Post Malone’s music is good, though. There are songs of his which have well over a billion streams on Spotify.

Fellow: That’s true, but Post Malone doesn’t seem much like Beethoven.

Gibbs: Agreed. How come?

Fellow: Because when I hear a song by Beethoven or Mozart or whoever, I always think, “I should probably like this.” But no one has ever heard a Post Malone song and said, “I should probably like this.” People like Post Malone’s music immediately, but if they don’t like it immediately, they would never say, “I should probably like this.”

Gibbs: Why not?

Fellow: By the time you learn to like Post Malone, everyone will have moved on to something else. However, if it took you ten years to learn to love Beethoven, at the end of it all, everyone would still be listening to Beethoven.

Gibbs: So, if you learned to love Beethoven, there would be a community of Beethoven lovers waiting for you in the end?

Confession: With the exception of a few of his piano somata’s, I’m not a huge fan of Beethoven. This is despite the fact that my children attend, and I teach at, a classical school.  In fact, some of my taste in music is pretty base by comparison. I really enjoy music that makes me want to move. I’ve matured enough in the years since we began our classical journey that popular music has lost most of its appeal, but I have developed an interest in Latin music because I like to dance. In my house, only. I have even considered joining a Zumba class just so I can indugle my hip gyrations guilt free.

An old, if not classical music art form that I have begun to enjoy a great deal over the past year is jazz. In particular, Duke Ellington’s compositions from the 1930s and 1940s. It’s old, it’s birth is unquestionably Western, but I know that it isn’t classical. As I read Gibbs’ piece, I wondered if a day might come when someone might consider it classical. And I wondered if I will ever, in my heart of hearts be what one might call a truly classical educator. If nothing else, I do love old books.

This is one of my favorite Duke Ellington recordings, In a Sentimental Mood, recorded in 1935:

 

Another confession: I have absolutely no idea who Post Malone is either.

 

Continuing Education Adjustments- Writer’s Edition

Juggling the student ball with wife and motherhood balls is a delicate balancing act. I assumed that enrolling in Local U. via online classes would significantly reduce the need to carefully schedule my life. I was mistaken. I thought having done this before, I knew what it would be like, but my life is much different now than it was the first time I went back to college.

Back then, I had three children rather than five, and those kids were in school from 8AM-3PM, freeing up many hours to take care of everything that needed to be taken care of, without much interruption. Even when I accounted for my school volunteer time, I had at least 20 solo hours a week to dedicate to studying, housework, and self-care without missing very many beats.

This time, I have two children with me all day, every day, and I am responsible for their education as well as my own. It’s summer, so the demand is significantly less, which is why chose a summer session, but there are still demands to be met alongside the time I spend doing class work and participating on class discussion boards. My husband, the driving force behind me finally taking the plunge and hitting the books again, has been extremely helpful, as have our older children, but at the end of the day, I’m still the mistress of this little domain. As such, I always feel the pressure to make sure that I get done what needs to get done. Overall, it’s going quite well.

As an aspiring writer, I decided that current knowledge of industry information was paramount to accomplishing my goal. I’m not particularly interested in typing out my random thoughts, checking the grammar, and then self-publishing. There are millions upon millions of books out there which meet minimum standards of readability, but I desire to do more than that. And while I have heartfelt appreciation for the many people who have encouraged me over the years that I write well, and have something worth saying, even the roughest diamond needs a lot of polishing. When I write what is in my heart, I want it to shine.

One area of knowledge I believe is important is a thorough, working knowledge of current copy editing standards. The first round of classes I am taking will leave me with the certifications I need to be proficient as a professional copy editor. Anyone who has read my blog for any length of time has noticed that my writing is often riddled with typos. Training my eye to see mistakes quickly, to notice deficiencies in syntax, and to make the most of my writing style can only help me as I combine my thoughts into something worthwhile.

The surprising thing about this new excursion has been discovering that I know much more than I realized. There have been moments, even in the scant three weeks since I started the first class, when I have felt woefully over prepared. I did well on my pre-assessment, when I expected to do much worse considering the years I’ve been out of the classroom- as a student. I haven’t run into any major difficulties yet. The temptation is rising in me to coast and not put in the effort to excel. I’m not sure if any real effort will even be required for me to excel. The area which has required the most mental diligence is the study of specific publishing indutry standards, of which I am woefully ignorant. This experience is teaching me something valuable.

My years out of the classroom (as a student) and at home, haven’t been void of learning, growth, or intellectual stimulation. Homeschooling my cildren, as well as teaching the children of other homeschooling families, has kept me sharp and up to speed on a lot of things I may have otherwise lost along the way.

Investing the time and treasure to pursue this continuing education is worth the shuffle. Whether I succeed at writing an inspiring tome, or simply make a few bucks as a freelance editor, this will, I pray, prove to be a rewarding encounter for years to come.

A Logophile’s Educational Musings

I really enjoy word games. Whether Words with Friends, Word Cookies, or Word Cross, they can keep me entangled and unproductive for longer than I care to admit. I love words in general, and my children have inherited many of my logophile ways. Grammar, turns of phrases, and puns are regular sources of conversation for us; as well as the origins of many idioms and axioms. Words fascinate me. More than fun or even useful, words are also powerful.

We throw them around far too carelessly, forgetting that words can be agents of uncommon inspiration or destructive demoralization. I am among the aforementioned we.  I’m not always careful with my words either. I’d like to think that as a lover of words, I’m more careful than most, but a subjective analysis isn’t worth much.

In a culture where nearly everything is dumbed down to its base level, is it any wonder that great ideas, expressed in beautiful prose, are lacking? Where does the ability to express ourselves and encourage others come from, whether verbally or in written form? If “intellectual stimulation” is gathered mostly through Twitter, television, YA fiction and Facebook blurbs, it doesn’t offer much to draw on for discussing big ideas.

Lindsay Brigham Knott examines what this means for helping students to develop as writers in her recent offering at Circe Institute’s Apiary blog.

Amongst the greatest gifts a classical school can bestow upon its students is the opportunity to become skilled in the use of words.

“Opportunity,” not “ability,” for no institution nor teacher nor curriculum can make good writers any more than one man can convert another: the student himself must labor to train his hands for the task, and pray for the Muse to animate them. But it is incumbent upon classical schools—which aim to make students more human, tend all their natural capacities into full blossom, unshackle their desires and discipline their wills towards the wise use of leisure time, and enable them to know and live “the good life,” all by nurturing them in wisdom and virtue—to commit a large portion of their and their students’ energies to word-training.

In other words, words and their usage are vitally important. A cursory glance or slightly perked ear easily reveals how words can be used to manipulate everything from our spending habit to political policies to social and cultural mores. She adds:

It’s in attempt to communicate this vision that I often begin writing classes by asking students to consider all the parts of their lives that involve words. By words we commune with family and friends who give our days meaning; by words we decree the rules and call the plays of sports that delight our bodies and imaginations; by words we advertise the commodities that flood the markets and saturate our desires; by words we scribble out daily lists of chores, assignments, groceries, goals, dreams that form us down the years; by words we struggle to illumine the murky impulses of our own mysterious souls; by words we receive God’s scriptural self-revelation and respond in prayer and praise.

The question this author poses is whether or not those of us committed to classical education are seeing the fruits of our labor as graduates from classical schools and programs are launched into the world. Do the students reflect a level of thoughtfulness in their use of language which reflects years of studying St. Augustine, Homer, or Spenser? She determines that the answer is negative, but that most of us barely notice or see this as a problem. After all:

…they made good grades in their classical schools. Their college professors compliment their uncommon ability to express individual opinions and formulate intriguing thesis statements. Their essays ruin the curve for the rest of the class. They do in fact use words well . . . in the supremely limited context of academic writing and speaking.

This dichotomy suggests that classical school students are, in fact, mastering what their schools give them opportunity to learn about using words—but that schools themselves may not be shaping those opportunities as holistically as they could. Consider: most classical schools do prioritize training in language. Indeed, many schools of the Classical Renewal so emphasize the subjects and sequence of the Trivium (grammar, logic, and rhetoric) that some onlookers may equate “classical education” with “linguistic and literary education,” consisting of lots of Latin, lots of old books, and lots of essays. But by and large, curricula and classroom instruction suggests that skill with words means merely correct grammar, proper essay structure, varied diction and syntax, and a tasteful sprinkling of rhetorical flourishes, for that is what they teach and assess.

In other words:

I wonder whether classical schools, in their laudable zeal to train students to write well, have unconsciously adopted a model of writing instruction that does not in fact cohere with their larger aims for students—humanness, rightly-formed desires, the good life, wisdom and virtue. Too often they have taken the best of the writing instruction that non-classical schools use, focusing exclusively on academic writing like persuasive essays, literary analysis, or research papers, and married it to classically-influenced content of old books and rhetorical terminology. The fruit of the union is a program that is more college preparatory than classical, and graduates whose skill with words differs from that of their peers only in the classroom.

You should read the whole thing.

What Mrs. Knott describes is the perpetual challenge homeschoolers of every stripe must overcome. For those of us who were traditionally educated, the tendency to transfer the strategies, pace and benchmarks to our kitchen tables –while using better literature- is a constant temptation. Old habits die hard and all that.

These habits, coupled with unhealthy media consumption and reading habit, don’t only create writers with less appreciation for using words well, they also fail to inoculate emerging adults with the foundational ideals necessary to counter the onslaught of propaganda and clever use of words they’ll encounter throughout their lives.

Words, read, spoken, and written, are powerful. We forget this to our peril.

The Ever-Evolving Summer Break

flip flops

When I was a kid in school, the sound of the last school bell on the last day of school was a clear and crisp break from all things school related. Alice Cooper’s screechy anthem about school being out for summer is an apt description of how we felt.

One of the things I’ve noticed as we move away from homeschooling at the elementary grade level is that summer breaks are not the same as summer breaks when I was a kid. I was of course, educated in government schools, which played a large part in the way I experienced summer breaks. After spending time this week with other homeschool mothers, I realized that there are several differences contributing to the way our kids experience summer break today, regardless of how they are being educated.

Summer is often when we catch up on subjects that we didn’t finish during the school year while managing life. Dealing with the plumber, caring for aging parents, or even simple things like making dinner early in preparation for mid-week church activities cuts into time that might have been spent doing more school work. This is not an issue when kids are in school all day, leaving Mom the margin to tackle all those tasks without worrying that education is being diminished. Someone else is doing the heavy lifting of setting the pace and disseminating the instruction.

Even when we’re taking breaks for fun activities and summer vacations, preparation for the upcoming school year is always on our minds. Courses at the most popular tutoring and private schools which offer classes in partnership with homeschoolers fill up fast in the spring. There’s also the push to shop for the best curriculums at the best prices.

Another reason summer breaks of yesteryear were a lot freer is that for most of us, both parents were at work, so unless a kid was naturally an avid reader, summer could be pretty void of intellectual pursuits. In our house, there were more chores to do, such as yard work, cleaning house, and hanging laundry on the clothesline, and there is a lot of value in those things. Our culture underestimates the dimension it adds to a young person’s life when they contribute to the life of the family.  Additionally, we usually had activities in our immediate area to participate in; sports and camps at local schools which we could walk to rather than being stuck in the house because we couldn’t go anywhere without a ride from our parents.

The memory of walking to local activities reminds me of yet another difference between summer break then and now. We walked to these activities with other kids from the neighborhood. Friends were always nearby. We had time outside, exercise and a healthier overall environment than kids today. Our kids are spending a lot of time with their friends this summer. But they are only able to do it becuase their mothers, acting as social secretaries, carve out the time to make sure they get to one another. My closest playmates, however, lived on my street. None of this includes consideration of how many kids are more content staying inside playing on computers, video games, and smart phones than going outside.

Our kids have a lot of fun times to look forward to this summer. They’ll be learning new things in a fun environment, swimming with friends, and taking a few short trips; when they aren’t catching up on mathematics.

If this sounds like a lament that our homeschooled kids are not enjoying the identical flavor of summer break that I did, it isn’t. While things are unquestionably less idyllic than my summer breaks, there are many things that are much better.

First of all, they get to learn in a safe envirnonment.  I get to know them, for better or worse, in ways I wouldn’t if they were gone 7 hours a day. They have opportunities to develop life skills beyond things you can learn in a book. They also engage a wide variety of people -including kids across a wide age range- which is much more preferable to spending the entirety of their days sitting cheek to jowl with kids who are the exact same age as they are, a situation which offers very little opportunity to learn deep truths about love, life, and faith.

So while I’m noting that summer break is not as unstructured, school free, and carefree for my kids as it was for me, it’s still a great time of relaxation and fun. It’s not just a tme of relaxation and fun. Truthfully, continuing math and setting reading goals throughout the summer costs a little time while paying huge dividends. Things just aren’t as simple as they used to be, and you hardly see any suburban kids out and about, regardless of school type.

Maybe the unencumbered summer break is going the way of so many other relics of times past.

Is what it is.

 

 

 

 

The Mysterious Case of the Vanishing School Library

A quiet trend is emerging in many schools as our culture has shifted almost completely towards technology as the main source of information: the demise of the school library.

Our youngest children have never attended a traditional school. They have been exclusively home educated, with additional supplemental instructions provided through enrollment in educational programs and cooperatives which we pay tuition and fees for them to attend.

Our oldest children, however, attended traditional school from Kindergarten through 12th grade, and the school library as well as its librarian, was a large part of the life of their schools. Because we have been disconnected from the happenings at our local schools for most of the past 7 years, I was quite surprised to read this by Krysta at Pages Unbound:

Years ago, my school library closed. The administration declared that no one was using the library and that it had become “obsolete” with the age of the Internet. The room that was once a library is now a computer lab. And the administration probably still feels proud that they are being “innovative” and keeping up with modern technology. The irony, however, is that the school library was only ever as obsolete as the administration and faculty made it. And, if they had wanted to, they could have saved the school library within a few months.

My school library closed because no students ever used it. No students used the library because it was primarily open during school hours and briefly after–and no teacher ever seemed to think about bringing their classes to the library. Students were not allowed out of class for essentially any reason (except, of course, sports), so could not go to the library by themselves. In short, the school itself prevented students from using the library because they blocked access to it.

I was completely incredulous of this as a trend. I usually am when I read about the disdain supposedly smart people have for libraries. Leaving aside for the moment fiscal issues or drag queen story times, a library is useful for all kinds of things and to all kinds of people no matter what our particular ideological bent might be. Our local library branches nearly always have brisk traffic and our family’s use of its services is so frequent, the fiscal argument is lost on me anyway. My tax dollars may be wasted with regard to the public school system, but I more than make up for it with our use of the local library.

After reading the Pages Unbound post, my incredulity remained, so I decided to do a bit of clicking to find out if it was really true: Are school libraries becoming obsolete even as school districts clamor for greater and greater tax increases and gambling legislations to pump more money into education? Have we really decided, as we simultaneously learn how damaging excessive screen time is at young ages, that access to books is unimportant and the printed word is obsolete?

Unfortunately, it seems Krysta was not being Chicken Little here. (I never really thought she was!) This is a real and troubling trend. One of the most enlightening articles I found was a piece at Architecture and Education’s Disappearing School Libraries-Why?

An interesting question posed by an Australian researcher, Terry Byers, on Twitter got me thinking. He asked, “Why do architects and school leaders see them [libraries] as redundant spaces?”

Is part of the redundant libraries issue a bigger problem with teaching spaces winning ground (quite literally) from more social, perhaps less official learning spaces then?

My guess is yes. In this logic, it’s not just that space is redundant but that if that space can’t be directly and demonstrably linked to pre-established assessment-oriented learning activities it is now seen as an opportunity cost – get rid of it, use the space elsewhere.

The moral injunction that schools do all they can to improve learning when learning is tied to increasingly narrow definitional pressures and measures, and teachers’ and principals’ own careers being pegged to the visibility of student progression puts pressure on how physical space is seen. It changes what kinds of space are efficient in this logic. As Lyotard put it, “be operational (that is, commensurable) or disappear” (1984:xxiv also online here). If your library or staff space cannot be shown to contribute to the performance of the system and so its efficiency or value (within the terms of the system) remains an unknown, it loses out. This is the “terror” of which Lyotard writes. To be unvalued is to be anyway devalued. To be value-able means changing what you are.

Architecture and Education is a UK website. Interestingly enough, most of the articles I found initially were from English publications. Apparently, we’re not the only ones closing school libraries. However, this author’s point about pre-established assessment oriented activities rings true here. If there isn’t a clear connection between the use and presence of a library and the scores produced on the standardized tests, then the library occupies a space that would be much more efficient if put to use in a way that shores up the bottom line. Everything today, including education, is all about the bottom line. All the talk about doing things “for the children” is just that; cheap talk.

This cognitive dissonance is deafening to anyone who bothers to hear it.  The people who are most likely to clamor for more money to boost student achievement are also among the people to pretend to champion the plight of the poor and downtrodden: the families of children who are least able to afford to buy their children books. I’ll go back and pick up those ideological concerns that I initially laid aside because there actually is a direct link between academic achievement and library access.

The data shows that children with access to school libraries and librarians do better in school, so one has to wonder how the educational powers that be (who also primarily inhabit the political class which pretends to defend the poor) arbitrarily destroy school libraries rather than trying to revitalize them for the sake of the students. The data as present by Kappanonline:

Data from more than 34 statewide studies suggest that students tend to earn better standardized test scores in schools that have strong library programs. Further, when administrators, teachers, and librarians themselves rated the importance and frequency of various library practices associated with student learning, their ratings correlated with student test scores, further substantiating claims of libraries’ benefits. In addition, newer studies, conducted over the last several years, show that strong school libraries are also linked to other important indicators of student success, including graduation rates and mastery of academic standards.

Skeptics might assume that these benefits are associated mainly with wealthier schools, where well-resourced libraries serve affluent students. However, researchers have been careful to control for school and community socioeconomic factors, and they have found that these correlations cannot be explained away by student demographics, school funding levels, teacher-pupil ratios, or teacher qualifications. In fact, they have often found that the benefits associated with good library programs are strongest for the most vulnerable and at-risk learners, including students of color, low-income students, and students with disabilities.

Funny that I, with my conservative values and money to buy my homeschooled kids a book whenever I feel like it, care more about student access to libraries than the people whose job it is to serve those students’ interests.