Posted in Chicago, library, Public Ed

A School Loses its Library

Can you remember the school library in your elementary school? Csn you remember the rows and rows of books…the tables and chairs…the check-out desk…the card catalog (if you’re old enough!) and computers?

What would you do if your child’s school had no library? Imagine, if you can, an elementary school without a library. Imagine a school where the only books for students were the ones in their classrooms.

Imagine no shelves full of picture books for kindergartners and first graders, no fiction section filled with Beverly Cleary or Roald Dahl, no poetry corner with Jack Prelutsky or Shel Silverstein, no baseball or football books, no books about dinosaurs, space and animals, no biographies or atlases.

I don’t know about you, but I can’t imagine a school without a library…

…yet there are over 150 such elementary schools in Chicago.

At one of them, Whittier Elementary School, parents, teachers and community members used an old fieldhouse near the school as a library. Over the past few years they took donations of books from all over the world so that their children would have a school library. In 2010, the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) claimed that the building was unsafe and wanted it demolished. Parents camped in the building and fought to save it until CPS finally agreed to renovate the building so it would be safe.

The renovation never happened.

The parents at Whittier Elementary School may not have been aware of research which shows that access to books is one of the most important factors in a child’s achievement level. They may not have been aware that access to books is one of the most important ways to fight the effects of poverty. They just knew that books were important at school…and that CPS didn’t care enough to provide their school with a school library. So they fought for and built one themselves.

On Friday evening, August 16, 2013, CPS brought in bulldozers to destroy the building. Since the school system reneged on its promise to renovate the building, it was still unsafe.

A handful of protesters blocked the demolition until they were arrested on Saturday morning. [Read about it here, here, here and here. See videos of the arrests and demolition here.]

Can you imagine an elementary school without a school library?

Can you imagine a public school system destroying a school’s library instead of repairing it?

What if this school had been in a wealthy, white neighborhood? What if this was a school that Mayor Emanuel’s children attended…or a school that a school board member’s child attended?

[UPDATE: CPS skips permit in demolition of Whittier school fieldhouse.]

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All who envision a more just, progressive and fair society cannot ignore the battle for our nation’s educational future. Principals fighting for better schools, teachers fighting for better classrooms, students fighting for greater opportunities, parents fighting for a future worthy of their child’s promise: their fight is our fight. We must all join in.

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Stop the Testing Insanity!
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Author:

Retired after 35 years in public education.

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