Nerdy Outrage by Elaine Fultz
Countless enlightened quotes can be found about the power of education. Here are two great ones about equity.
“Until we get equality in education, we won’t have an equal society.” ~Sonia Sotomayor
“I believe we need a national amendment which will guarantee every child in America the promise of not just an equal education but a high-quality equal education.” ~Jonathan Kozol
And here’s what was said to me at the end of this school year:
“The kids were so motivated to read after your booktalks. I’ve never seen anything like it. I’ve never had a librarian to help my class like that.”
That should have been a pat on the back, but it was a stab in the heart.
These words were spoken by a long-term sub covering a maternity leave. She is one of those saints who is subbing after retirement. She accomplished a 35+ year teaching career all in middle grade classrooms in poverty-plagued Ohio school districts. Districts with limited access to good books and no access to professional librarians.
The importance of enthusiastically and knowledgeably matching books and readers cannot be overstated. You wouldn’t be in the Nerdy Book Club tribe if you didn’t know that already. I’m preaching to the choir here. Let’s take our gospel to university department chair meetings, school board conferences, community forums, and busy street corners. We know having NO librarian can equal having NO access — nobody with the expertise to align great children’s and young adult books with curriculum. And nobody to personalize a library collection to the school community using it. No access equals limited, certainly unequal, learning.
Back to the booktalks with my very white, very small, very rural, sort of middle class but typically struggling school district population. One fifth grader was drawn to the format of manga, an outsider saw herself in Roller Girl (Jamieson), and numerous children were fascinated with the experiences of the synesthete in A Mango-Shaped Space (Mass). A group of boys passed around Crossover (Alexander). One of our very few brown girls reached out for Brown Girl Dreaming (Woodson). Upside-Down Magic (Mlynowski, Myracle and Lockhart) and its message that wonky-is-OK was shared among kids who needed to hear it. WE know this book magic right side up and upside down. Let’s transfigure all the education decision-makers into believers, too.
There is certainly a parallel between lack of access to literature expertise and lack of diverse reading opportunities for kids. Living completely different lives through reading creates compassion and, hopefully, appreciation of people unlike ourselves. We should KNOW this so why is it being repeated here? Watch the news. Read again what that substitute teacher said. A dedicated professional taught over 1,000 people in her career and could never offer her students the education well-funded, fully staffed schools provide. She surely had her children’s literature class in undergrad and then, once in the classroom, her attentions were split a gazillion different ways — math, social studies, IEPs, science, grading papers, and of course, test prep test prep test prep. Her students were lucky to have her, but she needed help to inspire readers and foster compassion. She couldn’t do all of it alone.
Education is shamefully unequal. Do we really believe some children’s books can change this? Of course we do or we wouldn’t be writing them, teaching about them, reading them, and promoting them. Pay the power of books forward. Make a scene at a school board or community meeting if any loss of library services is being considered.
Unleash your voices, fellow Nerdies, outside our comfy circle. Schools need librarians. Teachers need colleagues with literature expertise. Kids need thoughtful diverse well-written books in their hands. It is wrong to exclude teacher-librarians as essential staff. It is also wrong to pay obscenely low salaries to public library youth staff, or god forbid, employ them only part time. It is wrong to belittle or undervalue “kiddie lit” in education departments. It is wrong to eliminate school library media licensure programs in colleges and universities. We’re all on the same side. Let’s rumble. Books and libraries and librarians are just one part of the HUGE issue of inequality in schools, but it’s a point WE can kick and scream about.
An administrator once described me as “a librarian with conviction.” It’s a quick edit away from convicted librarian, but I’ll take it.
Elaine Fultz is a school library media specialist in a new school district after her former one replaced her (and all the other SLMSs) with clerical staff. She was lucky to continue as a children’s and teen librarian for a public library system and just as lucky to return to a school where she can share thoughtful diverse well-written books with students and teachers. She continues to be outraged about educational injustice.