Friday, October 06, 2017

Librarian Returns Books To Mrs. Trump

I admit I am torn on this teacher librarian's response to the White House gift of Dr. Seuss books via First Lady Melania Trump.

I am honored that you recognized my students and our school. I can think of no better gift for children than books; it was a wonderful gesture, if one that could have been better thought out.

That sentence - which appears late in Ms. Soeiro's letter - is the crux of the matter.  Books are a great gift for students but yes, the target of this largess AND the books themselves could have been better thought out.  It does seem like lazy thinking on the part of the White House on both scores.

 On who received the books:

According to the White House website, you selected one school per state by “working with the Department of Education to identify schools with programs that have achieved high standards of excellence, recognized by State and National awards and Blue Ribbon Awards…” 

The librarian's school IS a Title One school but:
I work in a district that has plenty of resources, which contributes directly to “excellence.” Cambridge, Massachusetts, is an amazing city with robust social programming, a responsive city government, free all-day kindergarten, and well-paid teachers (relatively speaking — many of us can’t afford to live in the city in which we teach). My students have access to a school library with over nine thousand volumes and a librarian with a graduate degree in library science.  

Yearly per-pupil spending in Cambridge is well over $20,000; our city’s values are such that given a HUGE range in the socioeconomic status of our residents, we believe that each and every child deserves the best free education possible and are working hard to make that a reality (most classrooms maintain a 60/40 split between free/reduced lunch and paid lunch). This offers our Title I school and the district a lot of privilege and room for programming and pedagogy to foster “high standards of excellence.”
Note to those who think money doesn't count.

She also makes this observation:
Meanwhile, school libraries around the country are being shuttered. Cities like Philadelphia, Chicago, and Detroit are suffering through expansion, privatization, and school “choice” with no interest in outcomes of children, their families, their teachers, and their schools. Are those kids any less deserving of books simply because of circumstances beyond their control? Why not go out of your way to gift books to underfunded and underprivileged communities that continue to be marginalized and maligned by policies put in place by Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos? Why not reflect on those “high standards of excellence” beyond only what the numbers suggest? 
She's right there on the number of schools that have underserved libraries AND basing the gift solely on test scores.

On the books:
You may not be aware of this, but Dr. Seuss is a bit of a cliché, a tired and worn ambassador for children’s literature. As First Lady of the United States, you have an incredible platform with world-class resources at your fingertips. Just down the street you have access to a phenomenal children’s librarian: Dr. Carla Hayden, the current Librarian of Congress. I have no doubt Dr. Hayden would have given you some stellar recommendations.

Another fact that many people are unaware of is that Dr. Seuss’s illustrations are steeped in racist propaganda, caricatures, and harmful stereotypes.
I would agree with Ms. Soeiro that children's literature is so diverse today that to send 10 books from one author seems a shame.

However, Ms. Soeiro's letter also has sarcasm and swearing which I don't believe are helpful in a true interaction.  She also seems to try to graciously needle the First Lady and again, I don't think that was the best course of action.  But Ms. Soeiro may have been writing for a larger audience and so her letter seems to not be so much directed to Mrs. Trump.


Anonymous said...

It's sad that we live in such a politicized world that the simple gift of a book elicits a political rant from the recipient. Can't we all just get along?

Good grief

Anonymous said...

I have to agree with the librarian. Though she may have gone too far (for some) and thus inadvertently weakened her argument, the fact remains that the gift was extremely short-sighted, and blind to the real needs of suffering school districts. I think the gift was received as an insult, though not a deliberate one by the First Lady.

I also question the choice of all-Dr. Seuss books as opposed to a mix of other, more valuable children's literature. One Dr. Seuss book in the mix would have been acceptable and natural (since the author meant so much to mother and son), but an all-Seuss gift to (what sounds to be) an already richly-resourced school smacks of the Trump Administration itself - entirely self-focussed and callous to the needs of the country as a whole, and people from diverse SES backgrounds in particular.