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Nonfiction Matters
Inside Nonfiction Matters

Read This Article — And Think About What It Means

This headline article in today’s Times is a must read: The very short precis is the headline — the education gap today is more one of class than of race. As one Stanford professor put it, “We have moved from a society in the 1950s and 1960s, in which race was more consequential than family income, to one today in which family income appears more determinative of educational success than race.” This is a very personal issue for me because our town is truly black-white integrated in population — while in the past many suburban towns whose black population crossed a tipping point experienced white flight, that did not happen here. So the racial achievement gap is a huge issue here, one that has recently caused a serious and controversial re-examination of middle school, in which Marina and I have both played a part. But as we look at the racial achievement gap here, it has been clear, clear, clear that what the study says is true — we are looking at a class gap. And the heart of that class gap is what a parent can provide for a child beyond the school doors.

Here’s what the article says, “wealthy parents invest more time and money than ever before in their children (in weekend sports, ballet, music lessons, math tutors, and in overall involvement in their children’s schools), while lower-income families, which are now more likely than ever to be headed by a single parent, are increasingly stretched for time and resources.” Now friends, think about what this means — especially if you are a school or public librarian: your library may be the only place for kids to find versions of the cultural richness that wealthier kids are being led to in person, on tablets, through vacations, tutors, and fun-filled afternoon spent exploring everything from Google Earth to A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Those kids, who need to stay in the library because their single parent is working and there is no money for child care and they are not old enough to be latch-key kids, or there is no transportation right after school — have you. And you have the books and sites to open their eyes to the universe.

Now I realize you already offer those resources, this is not easy, and a library alone cannot fix the intersecting and complex problems the experts quoted in the article found so daunting. But what Marina and I keep seeing is that school can do only so much, especially because classrooms are between the Scylla of testing (and thus teaching focusing on names and dates and testable information), and the Charybdis of the “readers and writers” teaching program which places endless emphasis on the self: what do I feel, my personal essay, my friendly letter to a famous person, me, me, and more me. Neither the tests nor the focus-on-self offer exactly what kids who don’t have resources at home need: culture, depth, enrichment, a sense of a world totally beyond and outside them that both has demands and offers new horizons of opportunity. The library, then, is the one resource that exists already, is in kids’ lives, is filled with resources that transcend the classroom, and is staffed by you.

It would be insane to imagine that librarians alone could solve the economic education gap; but it is just simple truth that you see that gap right in front of your eyes, you have resources, and your rooms are a place to start. Indeed as we debate what do about the gap, libraries need to step forward and the demand new resources they need. Just when some claim we don’t need librarians, you need to show your are more needed than every before.


  1. Shirley Budhos says:

    The dirty word in America is “class” and this war has been going on for a very long time. Perhaps living in an urban environment, New York City, composed of 5 boroughs makes it clear, as it does in major cities throughout the USA. And city schools, their teachers, administrators, budgets, culture, and achievements/failures reflect those differences.This is not a Christopher Columbus moment.

    Moving to the suburbs used to be based on the illusion that families would escape the effects of a class society. but such differences and tensions exist everywhere. There are many differences in suburbs, as well. Maplewood does not appear to resemble Levitown, does it? The L.I. north shore and south shore reveal class differences and always have.

    The focus on race may have overshadowed what has always existed: class divisions . The world began before 1950.

  2. Sue Bartle says:

    From California to the New York Island, here is the critical piece that is being shattered across our country. “Staffed by You!”

    Libraries everyone are facing budget issues and thus it leads to staffing issues.
    It is important that a professionally trained librarian (school, public, and academic) staff that library which is going to be able to truly help these students!

    This country has invested in the library infrastructure and we put together great school libraries and then as soon as the going gets tough we take away the golden opportunities that a library staffed by a professional librarian offers.

    Librarians might be the only role model that a student will see outside their instructional day that is not making serious achievement demands of them.

    Let’s all remember that – “This library is your library, this library is my library – From California, to the New York Island.”

    Start speaking up that you support libraries and be proactive to stop the destruction of all types of libraries. If you don’t know what to do – call your school library, call your public library, call your academic library and ask them, “what can I do to support you?” “Who should I write to?” Trust me, each library will tell you who to call and who to write to. Go to your school board meeting and just say – I support the school library and stop the cuts!

    I am glad the article mentioned Charles Murray and his new book
    Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010.
    If you really want to see how wide the gap is take this quiz.

    There is a longer quiz in the book but this sample is a starting point. I believe many we find this an eye opening experience. I took the quiz and found out that I am part of that gap who is out of touch. What to do? I can make an effort to engage all types of people I interact with during a regular day – not just those people that are “just like me.” I can make a point to know the support staff – that “wear uniforms” – this means knowing their name and recognizing them with a hello and say their name – not just a nod or wave.

  3. Marc Aronson says:

    neat survey, though a bit skewed — that list of high profile managerial parental occupations entirely left out the arts, indeed creativity of any sort; and if they added bowling to hunting and fishing the scores might shift a bit.