Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Privilege of Books

Once upon a time, I was at a conference attending a session on managing diversity. The hour began with a talk about privilege. The speaker asked us a bunch of questions that proved what a bunch of lily-white-collared folks we all were. A few of those questions were about books:

In your childhood home, were there more than 10 books?
More than 20?
Did your neighborhood have a library?
Did your school?

The questions blew me away. I never thought of books as a privilege.

I have a friend that grew up in a small rural town. She says that her family never had much money, but that books were in the “Need” budget, as opposed to the “Want”. She wondered, in all seriousness, if her mother had to choose between books and groceries…

That friend now teaches Literature to middle schoolers and has personally funded a classroom library for her students. So when I saw this article in the Trib, about Chicago Public Schools and their utter lack of libraries and librarians, I wondered how many other teachers are spending their own money trying to get things for kids to read.

Check this out:

At Durkin Park Elementary School on the Southwest Side, half of a dank and windowless supply room doubles as a library. Only a few children can squeeze into the 12-foot-by-15-foot space, with barely any room to sit down to browse through a book.

"Yeah, I'm frustrated," says Durkin Park Principal Dan Redmond. "I know we're better off than most schools, but when I go to other schools (with better libraries) and I see what they have, it breaks my heart. It doesn't seem fair."

There was another big story in Chicago recently about a group of parents squatting in a fieldhouse that had actually been condemned, because they wanted to use it as a library for their kids. One of those parents was quoted:

Araceli Gonzalez, who helped organize the sit-in, said she began fighting for a library because her 10-year-old daughter is a voracious reader.

Halfway through last year, the girl had already exhausted the offerings of her small classroom library.

"Their reading grades are low," she said of the school, which has not met reading standards set by the federal No Child Left Behind Act since 2008. "What does that tell you? They need books."

The good news is that with this story, the parents received bunches of donated books. Which is good because with state funding gone to hell, CPS isn’t likely to get them from Illinois any time soon.

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