can libraries do for homeschoolers?
Hoosier Homeschooler #1.000 | September, 2007
days of Marian the Librarian are long gone. Today, it seems we
have two kinds of libraries... and librarians:
1. Either we have public libraries that are
vibrant, busy, focal points of their community, where there are
usually more children than adults milling about, working on a
variety of independent and corporate activities; librarians on
the prowl for parents needing help with book selections, reading
lists and project ideas. Or...
2. ...not so much.
Good libraries aren't what they used to be.
Today, the good ones are more like Learning Centers. More often
than not, well used (meaning successful) libraries exist because
of the willingness of the people who run them, to be flexible
and creative about how patrons use them.
One more sign of a successful library? The staff
of a good library loves working with homeschoolers. And like any
enterprise that wants to grow, libraries want to find new ways
of serving their customers.
Because I am a home based educator -- homeschooler,
but the kids just call me Dad -- I was recently asked for my opinion
on what homeschoolers might desire from their libraries. Something
"inexpensive/easy" that the libraries could do for its
unconventional, yet loyal patrons.
It was a tough question, actually. After all,
I'm a publicly schooled person suddenly confronted with a pop
quiz, and I totally skipped the lecture! No notes! I'm flying
solo here. What if I fail?
Then I realized... this is real life we're
talking about, not school. In spite of the talk about how public
schools are supposed to socialize children and get them ready
for the real world, nothing schools teach today is remotely close
to what Americans call, Real Life. Ahah! An answer is brewing.
For most people, libraries and public schools
have always been linked. Maybe because they're both publicly funded
and books are involved; I don't know. But they shouldn't be associated.
For one, libraries don't require mandatory attendance. And for
two, libraries are really about voluntary, free range, self education.
In my experience, schools are more about attendance
first. Schools don't educate children so much as they socially
engineer them. The education part seems optional these days. You
are required by law to attend a school, but you aren't required
to learn. Since the agenda is more social than academic, schools
have become micro societies, working under the pretext of schooling.
Libraries, on the other hand, are perfect,
Real Life focal points for everyone else NOT in school. And when
the school bound DO visit their library, they aren't much interested
in reading or studying or doing anything important. And who could
blame them? They've been getting socialized all day at public
Libraries and Public Schools are mutually exclusive.
Why am I telling you this in an essay about libraries? Because
everything I've ever learned in my Real Life has been outside
of public school, on my own or in my local library! My philosophical
point of view magically turns the concept of musty, stale libraries
into "Real Life Learning Centers."
So part of my suggestion to libraries is this:
Whatever you decide to do to reach the homeschooling community,
don't become schools.
Anyway: This point of view was gained (learned)
not from schooling or by being taught, but by reading. I assigned
myself the task of reading from a dictionary. Dictionaries are
big books full of words, found in most libraries. And now I have
the answer to the pop quiz!
Q: What is an inexpensive and easy thing libraries
can do to better serve the homeschooling community?
A: Library boards should all check out -- and
read -- books about and by Plato (including The Republic). Read
Socrates too. These classics will no doubt affect the board's
philosophies on education, learning, government, politics and
ethics. The result: great new ideas for serving the entire community.
Maybe you'd rather have a three point plan with a budget, but
you'd be missing the point.
Socrates invented the Socratic Method of teaching
-- involving questions and answers as opposed to lecture -- handily
named after himself. Most homeschooling families teach and learn
this way even though they were never taught this pedagogy by any
public school. Libraries that adopt Socratic methods and incorporate
his ideas into how they operate, will find they will quickly become
natural magnets, attracting the iron ore called independent learners.
Independent learner is code for homeschooler.
Alas, I feel I still may have failed this pop
quiz. The question asked for inexpensive AND easy. This "Change
Your Philosophy" thing is certainly cheap, but it is not
easy. It will involve not only a lot of reading, but also the
changing of minds from the top to the bottom of the bureaucratic
food chain. Minds hardest to change will be the ones that are
"This-and-such is what a library is and
what it does! We're not schools," Mr. Bigwig will say.
That second part is right. And a good thing
too. All the more reason to do something different. Think different,
to quote the famous Apple Computer commercial.
So think different. Adapt. If you want to better
serve a clientele that acts like Socrates, you'll need to read
some old books and start thinking like Socrates. I hear philosophy
can do that kind of thing to a person, a community, a nation.
Even a library.
The beauty of this idea is, by simply changing
one's philosophy about how one does things, options become limitless.
Suddenly you go from a hand full of weak suggestions for a little
program here, a special workshop there, a contest or special book
purchase over there, to an entire new way of thinking, a new way
of operating, greater reasons for being. Homeschoolers will tell
you what they want. And because of your new outlook on learning,
you'll more likely say yes!
Would Socrates want to come and hang out at
YOUR library? If he wanted to teach a class, would you let him?
Thinking big was what Socrates, then Plato, then Aristotle were
all about. Libraries need to start realizing their potential as
the future free range, free market knowledge centers for independent
learners of all ages. When parents decide to homeschool, where
else in the community can they go where independent thought, reading,
learning, investigation and discourse are common and encouraged?
What's the price tag on this new program? Zilch!
My only concern is that those old books by old dead people might
have already been replaced by mile high shelves of new fiction
and DVD's. But you'll work that out. After all, you are librarians!
Awesome, resourceful people.
Oh, I have one other concern I learned from
my reading. It turns out that, well... to quote my dictionary:
"When Socrates was an old man, the citizens of Athens condemned
him to death, alleging that he denied the reality of the gods
and corrupted the youth of Athens."
So, support home education as a lifestyle (like
parenting) or a philosophy, not a pedagogy, but watch your back.
We'll see you at the library.