Well, that’s a slight mischaracterization—one tale involves an entire province’s schools rather than a local school board. But please indulge me in my shameless Dickens-parroting cliche, since I’m about to go on a “think of the children” rant and there will be a happy ending.
First, meet Paul Picard, the director of the Windsor-Essex District Catholic School Board* in Windsor, Ontario. He is a man with a vision, and his vision is this: a modernized role for libraries in his schools, with readier access to computers and the internet and with teachers assisting students with their online research. No doubt some good would come of this arrangement, for skill using online media is absolutely essential for many careers these days.
But he’s also fired nearly all of the school board’s librarians.
He wants, instead, teachers to spend time manning the libraries. Where this time will come from no one seems to know—they won’t be teaching less, so it must count as part of their extracurricular activity/club supervision (which I think Ontario teachers are required to do?).
Oh, and these technitastic libraries won’t have any books.
The books aren’t being destroyed or anything; they’ll be put directly into classrooms (at all levels from elementary to high school). But there won’t be a central place where students can browse books for fun or research, and there won’t be dedicated librarians to guide them through such a search.
I’m all in favour of students learning some basic computer/online research skills. It’s actually important that they get such opportunities in school because some, perhaps many, of them won’t have access to a computer at home. But that this should come at the expense of paper-based research skills (at the high school level) and dedicated reading-for-fun time (at the elementary level) appalls me. It is simply the stupidest idea I’ve ever heard. The powers that be in Ontario are concerned about the failure rate on their grade 10 literacy test and this school board wants to get rid of its librarians?
This isn’t even about the “death” of print media, though that’s how Mr. Picard seems to be trying to frame it. Because there shouldn’t be a conflict between maintaining libraries with books and offering computing facilities. They would serve different, though obviously overlapping, purposes.
Now, before I get too angry about this, the second tale: meet Timothy Habinski, a luthier (that is, a maker of harps) near Bridgetown, Nova Scotia. He too has a vision, and his vision is this: a sturdy, well-made harp for every school in Nova Scotia, made locally and provided at-cost.
Perhaps some of you think that a harp is the last thing a school needs, a mere indulgence. You are wrong.
A school with a harp can give several students the opportunity to learn to play it. Perhaps some of them will become professional musicians, but most of them won’t. That doesn’t matter. Some of those kids will stay in school because they get to play that harp. Some of them won’t be at risk of dropping out, but that harp will be something they live for when other things, their grades perhaps, are making their lives miserable. I don’t have any data to justify those statements, no; but I know music teachers who can name students in exactly those situations.
It didn’t have to be harps. Harps won’t do it for every student. For some it will be clarinet, or violin, or the school choir, or the swim team. Schools providing these sorts of activities, I suspect, produce better students. The produce graduates who have something they do for fun in addition to their diploma, something that might or might not become a career, but something that makes them happy. Every time I hear about a school board cutting music programs—or other arts programs, or sports teams, etc.—I realize that some people still think schools are just for learning things that can be covered on standardized tests, and I despair a little.
But here is someone doing the opposite. Providing a musical education unasked, and solely because he knows the good it will do for so many students. So there is a little hope.
*Yes, that’s a public school board! Not only does Canada have an unelected senate (though that might change soon), it also has state-funded religious schools!