This isn’t going to win me any friends in my chosen profession, but anyone reading this blog or who knows me personally will realize that’s never been a big deal. If I was just a little bit easier to get along with and used just a tiny bit more tact, I’d probably be making a lot more money doing something much easier, but what fun would that be. Someone has to go through life kicking fire ant mounds and throwing rocks at wasps’ nest and since it seems no one is lining up for that job, I may as well be the one.
Having said that, here’s the sentence that will likely get me banned from librarianship for life . . . I’ll be the Pete Rose of media centers. School librarians are unnecessary in more schools than they are necessary regardless of how much we want to think otherwise.
Oh my gosh, I’ve sent a tremor through the Force now. Since I’ve tied myself to the stake, I may as well stand the course. Here’s what I mean. Under the present educational paradigm, which worships at the altar of testing with all the zeal of a new convert, school librarians aren’t needed because few teachers have time to come to the library and still “cover” all the standards needed for the almighty AYP garnering or losing TEST (cue ominous music).
Now I know that people out there can bury me in copies of Information Power and the vaunted Colorado Study by Keith Curry Lance and I’m not going to argue. I’m not going to change my point of view, but I’m not going to argue either. See, we all want to believe that libraries are essential to the school. We all want to believe that we librarians can help improve test scores. We want to believe in the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, and Santa Claus. Unfortunately, belief counts for nothing in education.
Fire will burn you whether you believe it or not. Water will drown you whether you believe it or not. Stand in front of a train and shout “I don’t believe in you” and they will bury what they can find of you in a Ziploc baggie. The hard fact is that, once again, under the present educational regime, testing is king. Specifically, testing in ELA is king and testing in Math is the co-regent. Libraries don’t contribute MEASURABLY to either discipline. Sure, we can teach phenomenal lessons in research skills, information literacy, and comparing information sources. Unfortunately, none of that is on THE TEST (cue the Vader music.)
I know people will argue this and write me ugly comments and maybe emails, but research skills and information literacy as they are defined in sacred library Scripture like Information Power ARE NOT ON A STATE BUBBLE IN TEST! You simply cannot reduce the art of research to a multiple choice question and if you can, it won’t take an MLIS institutionally trained, card carrying ALA member to teach it. ELA teachers can do just fine and it will take fewer minutes out of prime instructional time if they do. All libraries, or rather the computer labs formerly known as libraries, are good for in this educational climate of winner take all testing is for providing a place to boot up drill and practice software masquerading as video games.
Now, I made all those audacious statements to get everyone’s attention and now that I have it, what smart cookie out there can tell me the point I’m trying to make? Do we need to get rid of libraries in order to focus on better testing? Wrong, you go to the back of the class.
What I’m trying to say is we need to quit wasting energy fighting FOR libraries and redirect our energy fighting AGAINST testing as the end all and be all that it is now.
Folks, I’m not making this crap up. I know what the books say and what “the studies” say. I know what the “advocates” say. Then I know what I SEE when I walk in to my so-called underperforming middle school every day. I see a slew of students who cannot READ on anything that approaches grade level. What good is trying to do a “Non-Bird Unit” research project going to do their teachers? That time can’t be spent in the library. It has to go towards remediation in basic reading skills. My ELA teachers can’t come to the library except to check out books for Sustained Silent Reading because they are MANDATED by our administration (who are very supportive of me, by the way) to cover every standard in the state guide just so we as a school can at least say “well, they’ve ‘seen’ everything that will be on the test.” To ensure this happens, each teacher has a copy of his or her subject’s standards turned into a pacing guide with a checkoff system for each standard taught.
I heard that gasp and see those shaking heads, but if I’m lying I’m dying. It’s the truth with my hand up.
The spectre of AYP is causing administrators all over my state to LOSE THEIR MINDS. The apparent dictate is “all that matters is that damn test.” Therefore, the mindset has become “raise test scores AT ANY COST.” One of the costs is the expanded research project of any kind, bird unit or no bird unit.
Y’all, this breaks my heart on many levels. First, my heart goes out to my principals who are getting so much pressure from the top to raise test scores or find new jobs. I ache inside for the teachers who are having to abandon many of the techniques and much of the content that they enjoyed teaching and THAT REALLY MATTERED so they can devote more time to remediation, “covering” standards, and slowly burning out in the process. Most of all, however, I feel the pain of a generation of students who have been born into one of the richest periods in educational potential in all of history and yet are forced to bend all their energy to passing one god-forsaken test in one week of one month of their year.
I realize this may not be a problem in affluent districts where the students come to school reading and who have vast educational resources at home, but it’s an elephantine problem in Title I schools and other poor districts that are serving the underfunded, underfed, and misunderstood. The students who could benefit most from a rich educational experience complete with extensive library activities like I see modeled every year at conferences are the fartherest behind THE TEST measurements so they have to pay for what they did not seek to purchase by being force fed test taking strategies and rote skills that will help them pass THE TEST while at the same time burning out at the roots ANY love of learning and literacy they may have had at one time.
So, to close, libraries aren’t needed as long as THE TEST is all that matters. So, if you are dead set on advocating for something, please, quit begging the legislature for a million dollars for more books for students who can’t read. Instead, focus all the letter writing and representative calling on overthrowing the dictatorship of THE TEST and free our students to learn again.