2005-03-11 / Columnists

School Scope

Of LIBRARIES and libraries
By Norman Scott

Michael Winerip’s NY Times article on Feb. 23, “New Libraries Make the City’s Schools Come Alive” featured the library at PS 105 and the librarian, Helen Feldman. For those who did not read it, this excerpt captures the essence: “The new library at P.S. 105 has a full-time certified librarian and a full-time aide, meaning it can be open before school, every period during school and even after school, for parents to come in with children and check out books. It is big enough that two classes can use the library each period.

“Throughout the day, children leave their classrooms to visit and get books. The single-day circulation record at P.S. 105’s new library is 167 - meaning 30 percent of students checked out a book that day.”

WOW! Sounds fabulous. The Robin Hood Foundation covers a third of the cost of building and stocking the library and the city the rest. They also require the school to commit to a full-time librarian. (It wasn’t clear if the aide is also required.) Winerip illustrated the difference between a full-time librarian and a cluster teacher who has to cover preps and all kinds of other emergencies.

“A five-minute drive from P.S. 105’s new library is P.S. 183, near Rockaway Beach. The library room there is run by a “cluster” teacher, who supervises students while their teacher takes a planning period. When I visited, the cluster teacher was at lunch, the library was locked and the principal, Renee Peart, had to find a key. The room was a quarter the size of P.S. 105’s library. The card catalog was in disarray. Many shelves had books stacked randomly. Though it was Black History Month, atop the biography section sat a book on Tom Cruise. Ms. Peart said only two of the four computers worked and they were not suitable for research. When I asked a second grade teacher if she coordinated lessons with the library, she said no, but it was a good idea.”

A full-time librarian is expensive and some principals are very reluctant to spend their resources that way. Some schools keep a full-timer only long enough to fulfill the agreement with Robin Hood and then find some way to go back to a traditional cluster or no library teacher at all, a situation that exists in all too many elementary schools in spite of being mandated by the state. Some people running schools are more interested in getting a cluster teacher who can do lunch duty than in the wonders of a library.

I was a computer cluster for years and clusters are designed to cover teacher preps and cover for other teachers and not to develop a comprehensive program in their specialty. Cluster library teachers are so overloaded that the job can become undoable. One of the very best librarians I know, who teaches in Brooklyn, is about to abandon the library she built from scratch on her own time – summers and after school even while teaching a full-time special ed class – because her principal has made the job impossible. You see, this library was closed for at least ten years because the school administration did not believe keeping it open was as important as spending school resources on test preparation. Now, here was a far-sighted principal way ahead of the times who discovered the essence of education in the New York City school system even before BloomKlein came on the scene. Why let reading in a library get in the way of practicing to get good scores on reading tests?

Educators to Stop the War

The March 5th East Coast Regional Conference of Educators to Stop the War at Hunter College HS was attended by 750 people, 250 of them students from NYC high schools. Spearheaded by college teachers from New York City (CUNY) and New York State (SUNY), members of the American Federation of Teachers, they were joined by close to 100 members of the UFT, the AFT local here in NYC. In a lunchtime meeting, the NYC teachers, which consisted of members of ICE (Independent Community of Educators, TJC (Teachers for a Just Contract), New Action, Unity Caucus, NYCORE (New York Collective of Radical Educators), Radical Teachers and other organizations, in addition to independents, a decision was made to form an umbrella group called “UFT’ers Against the War.” The new group will march under that banner as part of nationwide demonstrations against the war that will be taking place on March 19th, the 2nd anniversary of the war in Iraq.

Why are educators at all levels increasingly getting involved in anti-war work?

The most obvious is that the war budget (some estimates are $80 million an hour), leading to massive deficits bloated by tax cuts, is affecting, and is going to affect, funding for schools. Questioning how so much money can be found for war but is never available to provide adequate funding for schools has almost become humdrum. Enormous sums are being put into firming up the education system of Iraq while schools in this country are neglected – ho hum.

Michael Hoffman, co-founder of “Iraq Veterans Against the War”, spoke passionately of his work in high schools and colleges talking to students about the reality of the war. As pointed out in Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11, military recruiters have targeted kids in the poorest neighborhoods as recruits, promising a free education and all sorts of other goodies, while downplaying the bad stuff. The fact that the No Child Left Behind law had a provision allowing entry of military programs into the public schools through JRROTC programs is one sidelight. (I was in a high school recently and was startled to see kids walking around with rifles.) Hoffman pointed out that the antiwar movement will be portrayed as not supporting the troops in Iraq but in reality was offering the ultimate support of the troops by calling for them to be brought home. Should teachers be concerned when students who do not have the resources to receive an adequate education or job feel that joining the military is their only option, especially when money that could be used to make up the education gap is being drained away?

Principals meet in a retreat, has a nice beat. I give it a 10.

Regional meetings of principals seem to take place on a regular basis – often at some catering hall. There is always lots of food and refreshments. And the cost? – the envelope please. Well, actually we don’t have these numbers and getting them would probably require using the Jaws of Life to pry the information out. But all is not lost. Various vendors looking to sell lots of good stuff are always willing to pick up all or part of the tab. One large book company recently went in for over 7 grand but got to put on a nice snow –er – show. But don’t worry – they were more than amply repaid by having a captive audience of 150 principals forced to listen to their presentations.

So let’s follow the bouncing ball. Pull principals from their schools for an entire day. Let them wine and dine on some company looking to sell them their goodies.

What’s going on back at the farm? Not to worry. Some AP must be taking care of it. Even though the DOE talks about how a principal is the most important person in a school, they are pulled often enough to fulfill the more important principle of making sure well connected corporations get their due.

JHS 198Q request UFT HELP!!!

Teachers at JHS 198Q have been complaining to the UFT about the actions of the principal. Apparently a worse situation is getting worser. It might even reach the stage of worsest in Rockaway. Rumors are that UFT Middle Schools VP Richard Farkas and company are being sent by UFT President Randi Weingarten to interview the staff.

Dissolving Evolution

In our continuing series of commentary on the controversy surrounding the teaching of evolution I will jump into the Howie Schwack/religious schools debate by wondering whether the anti-evolution people who insist public schools be “fair” and teach children the alternative theory of intelligent design are also calling for religious schools to give evolution equal treatment to the theories they present, often some interpretation of the bible. (Do they view something in the bible as a theory or a fact?) How is the “Big Bang” theory presented in religious schools? I don’t want to speak for Schwach, but to me he seems to be saying it is not a good thing when a portion of our population never learns about important mainstream theories in a significant way.

Not that this is related to the above, but here are interesting factoids about America from The Week , Jan. 7, 2005.

*Twenty percent of Americans think the sun orbits the earth. It’s great to see Aristotle’s earth-centered theories making a comeback.

*Seventeen percent believe the earth revolves around the sun once a day. Time really does fly when you’re having fun.

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