This headline article in today’s Times is a must read: http://tinyurl.com/7jhsxbq 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.