Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Activist Alert!
Only 35 percent of 12th graders are proficient in reading.

This morning The New York Times wrote an editorial related to the latest test results published by the National Assessment of Educational Progress-commonly referred to as the national report card. It is interesting that every major newspaper in the country published these results in the front pages of the paper, but few national news broadcasts covered the story. The findings, as noted in previous NCBLA blog posts, are dismal. Twelfth graders are not only performing worse in reading than twelfth graders did in 1992, but reading performance has been distressingly flat since 2002.
(see: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/02/27/opinion/27tue3.html?pagewanted=print)

This information provides an opportunity for all of us who care about kids, reading, education, books, and libraries- an opportunity to say to those who are in a position of power and influence in the media and the government, “WE CARE! DO SOMETHING!”

Right now our nation is perched at the precipice of change. Legislators and leaders in both parties are worried about the next election; very few can assume votes. In other words, power has shifted to the voter, the individual citizen- us!

If you care about young people, if you care about education, literacy, writing, literature, libraries, and the arts, if you care about the direction we are headed nationally, now is the time to contact the media, write to your legislators and tell them what you think, how you feel. Do you think educational issues should be a top priority on our national agenda along with health care and the environment? H0w do you feel about the Leave No Child Behind Act? Should our nation’s libraries get increased funding on a state, national and local level?

Isn’t it time that we stop focusing on one age of child development – like preschool education, high school illiteracy, etc., and take a holistic approach to educational reform? As the parent of three kids, now grown to young adulthood, I would never state that one stage of their development was of any more importance than another. All parents have to be concerned and caring through every age of their child's development, constantly vigilant. Physicians and healthy care providers do not treat any one age as more important in either preventative measures or ongoing treatments.

We have learned from studying our global environment that what happens in any one place on the planet influences the rest of the ecosystem and that is true of education, too. We can no longer focus only on reforming preschool education as we did a few years back, or middle grade education- it is time we take a much broader look, a lifelong look at educational reform in this country and ask some huge questions.

In an age when the average person will not only have 3-5 job changes, but 3-5 career changes, isn’t it time that we expand educational avenues rethinking arbitrary distinctions of age and grade levels and address lifelong education in a serious and committed manner? Shouldn't we have an educational system that meets the needs of all citizens from birth to old age? Shouldn't libraries be an equal partner in our educational system? Public libraries are the only place that anyone in this country can education him or herself throughout life; libraries are also the hub of every community in our nation.

Business and corporate America constantly complain about our nation's schools, but no one wants to spend the money it will take to create a first class educational system. Many people in this nation believe that putting major funding into education is not the answer, yet would any major corporation say that an influx of new capital into their business is a bad thing? We live in the most capitalist society on the planet; in our culture money talks, money reveals priorities. Any assessment of our nation’s priority yardstick reveals that education and kids are not a high priority- not even close. The amount of the federal dollar that goes into education is less than a penny. We say kids and education are important, but when it comes time to putting our money where our mouths are, our lips are sealed shut.

Charter schools and vouchers are inadequate band-aids on a system in which every major blood vessel and organ is hemorrhaging. We need to make a response to this national emergency on a grand scale, to question and rethink, and build our educational structure from the ground up.

Sometimes a barn can be rebuilt, but sometimes the roof has too many holes, the framing is too worm-eaten, the foundation is crumbling, and you just have to take it down and build anew. And when you have a barn raising you bring in the whole community. And we need to do that, too. We need to bring in teachers, administrators, and academics, but we also need to bring in parents, and grandparents, sociologists and health specialists, artists and creative thinkers, business people, union people-representatives from all walks of life because schools and libraries touch each and everyone of us, often every day. In America, schools and libraries are part of every person's past, and they are the real institutions that will determine all of our futures.

Please take the time to write to the media and your local, state, and national government legislators and officials. Write a personal note on a piece of paper- for that piece of paper will have far more impact than an email or phone call. And yes, if there is pending legislation or time is a problem, email and phone calls are best. But right now, when you have some time and a little leeway- writing a short, clear, concise letter can make you a powerful agent of change. Write and tell these people in power what you think and how you feel, and tell them to act. Tell them you will withhold your vote, your dollar, and in the case of the media, your viewer or readership if they do not cover the issues you care about.

And throw you cynicism out the window. You are a free citizen in a democracy; you have extraordinary power, especially if you work with others and raise your voices together. Change is not the exception; it is the norm. And things can change for good. In this country child labor is practically nonexistent. Civil rights for all citizens are not only a legal reality; every day civil rights are more and more a social reality. There is a huge difference in the limited opportunities that our mothers had compared to the wide opportunities that our daughters have now. There may be people who are hungry in America, but no one is starving to death. Change is inevitable, and in America each of us can become a powerful agent of change. Each of us can also choose to sit back, watch, and complain. And instead of shaping that inevitable change in a positive direction for ourselves and our children your choice of complacency will allow others-- others who may not have all of our interests at heart--to take over and enact change that promotes their self-interest. We will then suffer the deadly repercussions of our inaction, as will our children.

Write that letter now, today!
If you need help finding contact information for your local, state, and national legislators go to the activist basic pages on the NCBLA website at:

Write letters and email your local newspapers and television stations and bombard national media outlets. And if you live outside of New York and write to The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, USA Today, or any media outlet that has more of a national profile, your chances of being heard and getting published go up if you live outside of New York.

Thank You!

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