On Saturday Mr. J and I went to the Camden County Courthouse in Camden, NJ, to see some of my students compete in a thing called "Mock Trial." Mock Trial is hard to describe, but I'll try: Every year, school teams get a "case" that is fictitious but on a timely topic. The students have to be attorneys and witnesses -- they have roles to learn, but it's not a drama: It's a court case. The competition is held over two weekends in the courthouse and is presided over by real judges who accord points to each team. The team with the most points at the end goes on to a state-level competition.
I went because four of my eleven Freshman Honors students are on the mock trial team. When I got there I found out which opposing team my freshmen would be facing: Our county's most expensive and exclusive parochial school, Bishop Eustace Prep.
So here are my minority kids from Camden, who collect their free lunches every day, going up against kids whose parents can fork over $16,000 a year in high school tuition, knowing that college is just around the corner.
My students acquitted themselves very well, under the circumstances. Given that they are freshmen, if they stick with it they could really contend in a year or two.
It was what I saw when I left the courthouse that made me want to cry.
Right across the street from the Camden courthouse is a branch of the Camden City Library. The building was vacant and boarded up. No books there!
Our American government has sunk millions upon millions into a standardized test that is based upon the notion that students are only ready for college and careers if they are literate and critical thinkers. The coffers of Pearson, Inc. are brimming with taxpayer ducats that have been used to develop this test.
On top of that, our sitting president just told us, in his State of the Union Address, that he wants to make community college free. Everyone needs two years of community college to get a good job in this modern world, and four-year institutions are way too expensive.
So we have money that has been spent developing a national standardized test for grades 3 through 11. And ostensibly we will spend more taxpayer money on free college.
And the public library in Camden sits shuttered and empty.
Billionaire Bill Gates want to influence our national educational curriculum to better reflect the way he learned. To his way of thinking, school teachers are enemy number one, because they aren't all like the professors he admires.
Did I mention that the public library in Camden is shuttered and empty?
I'm not Bill Gates, not by a long shot. But I did comport myself well at Johns Hopkins University. I graduated 15th in my class. To me, that makes me as much an expert on education as he is. Quite.
Mr. Gates, open the libraries! President Obama, open the libraries! Get every one of those public libraries open, warm, well-lit, and filled to the brim with books! Have a whole floor just for ages one through six -- books, toys, computers, fish tanks, guinea pigs, toddler time, movie night! Have another floor for elementary school. Another for high school. Another for adults who need to use computers to take online classes. Open the goddamn libraries!
Our country will never meet its literacy and critical thinking objectives by designing fancier tests. Our students will never become great readers just through the efforts of school teachers. WE NEED LIBRARIES, AND WE NEED THEM NOW.
Take that free community college earmark and use it to re-open, refurbish, and re-stock all the shuttered libraries in all the poor communities across this wide nation!
I learned to read at the public library.
I got all my reading material, growing up, from the public library.
I did my homework in a public library.
I researched my family history in a public library.
I wrote encyclopedia entries -- hundreds and hundreds of them -- using public library resources.
My imagination caught fire within the walls of a public library.
Do you want to know why America lags behind many other nations in its education scores? Look no farther than the SHUTTERED LIBRARIES. There's no root under the tree.