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Nonfiction Matters
Inside Nonfiction Matters

What Part of 18 Million Don’t We Understand?

Did You Catch the Piece About the Money General Electric is Donating to NYC Public Middle Schools?

cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/06/30/ge-foundation-gives-179-million-to-schools/

GE is concerned at how few engineers we are training in America — I heard a spokesman for the firm say that fully 90% of the engineers in the world will be in Asia by 2010! So the company made a brilliant investment — I bet that they recognize that in a hustling city like New York there are many kids who would be in interested in engineering, but who somehow get lost in the middle school gap. So they are trying to help.

Well folks, where do we fit in to the problem — or the solution? Do you have a middle grade section in your library filled with books for kids interested in engineering? How many books on the Brooklyn Bridge that focus on John Roebling’s life story, and how many that analyze the weight-bearing requirements of suspension bridges? I hear someone objecting — the life story is the hook, the facts come later. Really? What about the kids for whom the bridge is the hook, and the character is a minor extra? I then hear someone objecting that our mission is to broaden kids minds, to make them lifetime learners. To which I say — step one would be to have materials that match their interests — just as YA libraries have plenty of novels for firls who like to cry. We don’t make sure Lurlene McDaniel smuggles some math in with her melodramas. 

You may object that upper elementary/middle grade engineering books hardly exist. That may well be so. I don’t know what comes after cross-sections and The Way Things Work. But there is also a matter of attitude, of point of view. A major corporation has identified the lack of engineers-in-training as a key problem. Yes, they want to be able to hire more American workers — this is a business decision. But it is a national need. And if we think of the poverty and racial gaps that disturb us, surely pointing more kids towards a job track that is right there for them to take is a mission we can all support. Yet while I see endless discussions of the decline in reading, or why boys don’t read, I have never seen a group of librarians demanding more middle grade engineering books for their libraries. Instead, I hear the negative view of math, of cold science, and the endless favoritism towards fiction that we often talk about here. 

Enough grousing. Based on the Times article, the NYC schools are not sure how to spend the GE gift. Well friends why don’t we use this space to suggest some model math/engineering/science sections for the middle school years. What books, computer games, other materials should every school that gets GE money have in its library? What should an ideal engineering/science section for middle grade look like?