Today is my last day in the Buffalo region meeting with school librarians and teachers to talk about the CC. As always I learn a lot from meeting people who are dealing with the school realities, even as I hope to give them some insights from my perch as an author and professor. I am getting a sense of their local reality — the city of Buffalo itself, for example: in some respects almost the definition of rust belt as steel is long gone, and the Polish and Irish immigrants who had lived there and worked those factory jobs have moved out. It is increasingly a poor African-American and immigrant city — immigrant now from anywhere and everywhere, Burma (Myanmar), Yemen, Nepal, and beyond. Why have they come here? Very inexpensive living — so while there are not many local opportunities for work or advancement, and the winter/snow can be really daunting — you can get more for your dollar. And, as my host Sue Bartle, pointed out — you are in an interesting hub with Toronto a couple of hours away, as are cities in Pennsylvania. So there is an active world of culture, ideas — and shopping — not far away.
I see the challenges for the librarians and teachers in the inner city and first ring suburb schools — they are being asked to shift to the CC, while working with kids who are often very poorly prepared for school, apparently unmotivated, and all too often their school employs a scripted program where they all need to be on the same page and in the same place on the same day. That is simply not possible. As one librarian put it to (and I did not catch his full name) — he tells the kids that for 16 years they are playing the game of school — they have to learn to win that game. Because if they do not, the state will control their lives — they will be in prison, on welfare, or perhaps in the service — where their choices are limited and their future locked down. It is possible, perhaps even probable, that the CC done right will help that librarian help the kids he serves beat the game. But there is no getting around the real challenge he faces every day.
All of the teachers and librarians, even those from wealtheir regions and more upscale schools, face the crunch between the limited time they have with kids, rigid programs for teaching, and the long-standing lack of contact among the departments within the school. In one sense, though, that is what is good about the CC: it absolutely cannot work unless librarians work with ELA and content area teachers. It simply cannot happen. Great. Because those teachers and librarians have been out of touch and out of synch for way too long. If the push to CC does nothing more than to begin to establish a collaborative culture in schools, it will be a success. I see librarians and teachers ready to work in this new framework — but eager for practical guidance in how to do so. The first step is for them to work together, sharing their knowledge, insights, and planning. I suspect I will return here in 2012, and it will be interesting to see how that process is going — I’ll let you all know.