Friday, February 1, 2013

Les Miserables and Courage in the Face of the End of All Things

“Not being heard is no reason for silence.” 
― Victor HugoLes Misérables

Yesterday I went to Pittsburgh Public School District professional development for Librarians. There are 50 schools in our district and around 16 folks attending. Since the Library Services Department has been obliterated, a non-Librarian former Assistant Superintendent has taken us on to watch over, advocate for and listen to. Poor lady. Dr. Barbara Rudiak is a visionary, stoic, composed, erudite and brave woman. A former Principal, her school was known for academic success and its Spanish magnet program. Highly respected, she became Assistant Superintendent for around 8 years before her imminent retirement.

As Dr. Rudiak prepared for retirement, the $1 BILLION in budget cuts from Governor Corbett took effect. The disastrous effect of these cuts to our District can not be overstated. Dr. Rudiak made the valiant and loving choice to stay with the District for another year to help it right itself. Iin doing so she agreed to take on the oversight of the Librarians...the bedraggled, unloved, mud-splattered and bloodied survivors, those who didn't flee to the classroom, other districts, early retirement or extended leaves. Those librarians still standing, facing the onslaught of 5 libraries to serve EACH. Those librarians who over the course of decades lovingly and with full intellect and talent built collections to serve their one school--the children they knew and loved, the curricular thrusts of each subject, the special interests and projects of their staffs-- these collections were boxed up, drayed out to strangers, sent into a literary diaspora. Whether they gather dust in warehouses, moulder on shelves laden with dust and spiderwebs or sit, unloved and untouched in backrooms, nobody really knows, least of all the women (and two men) who selected each and every one.

If our school district can be compared to Hugo's Les Miserables (and since this is my blog, it can) the Librarians would be played by the deserted street children and the bedraggled whores on the streets, the most low, the unloved. Please be clear. I am not calling our librarians whores. I am saying-- of all the PPS teachers on this particular stage, pouring out "Do You Hear the People Sing?" the librarians are the least regarded and have the most reason to complain. In a cowardly move that this union will never live down, the PPS librarians were robbed of their building seniority JUST BECAUSE THEY ARE LIBRARIANS. And then their jobs were "reimagined."

At the end of last year/beginning of this year, Pittsburgh Public Schools librarians had to begin to get their heads around the new "educational delivery model" envisioned by our Superintendent: 5 schools each. 5 Libraries each. 2,000 students each, and if you are lucky, 12,000 books in each library to tend. For a profession built on human relationships, on the intimacy of one librarian-one child, the loving interaction between seeker and finder-- blasted to bits like a shot from a canon. Good luck learning the names of your 2000 students, let alone what they like to read, what challenges them, what they are learning about, what they want to learn about. How can you help kids to learn to love to read if you can't know them?

To put it mildly, the Librarians were not amused. As. Dr. Rudiak discovered in her first meeting with us, those left standing were destroyed. Not in tears, but in silence they sat there-- at first. Devastation does that. 

At yesterday's meeting, Dr. Rudiak adroitly managed to listen while not allowing our meeting to turn into a bitch-fest. She is good at that. And it was at that meeting that I learned that an expert librarian will be losing his full time job at his school this year, where the Principal had managed to finagle him a full time placement with extra funds. This librarian built the collection there-- it is a classical academy, so the library has a wonderful special focus-- from the ground up, staying late to barcode and automate the system himself. Over the course of decades he created a collection to meet the needs of the school and the kids. And now he is facing the howling winds like the rest of us, abandoned in the cold. Two other librarians in similar situations shared their feelings. Beyond being empathetic, I realized that with at least three librarians with more seniority than me waiting for jobs, and with our district facing insolvency in two years, my hopes to serve Pittsburgh Public School students are dead. It is widely known that the district will have to close more schools in 2015. Fewer libraries, fewer jobs. The librarian I was subbing for is returning, so as of today, I am a sub waiting for a call. No school to report to, no library to rehab, no stories to read,  no crafts to plan, no miracles to engineer.

So: the end of all things school library. For me. Now what? Dunno. Finding school librarianship as a profession has been a long and twisting road. When I finally found it, I gave myself, body and soul to it. I am uniquely suited to it. It doesn't exist now, for me, and probably, within two or three years, for most in the Pittsburgh Public Schools. I'm a steel worker in Pittsburgh in the 1980's, except nobody thinks Japan or anywhere else is doing the work better, cheaper, stronger. The need for kids to read is there. The need for somebody to guide their reading toward quality and curricular relevance is there. The need for kids to think about what information is and how they ought to get it and use it has never been more urgent. There seems to be $1 BILLION in Pennsylvania tax incentive dollars to give away, free, to enormous natural gas conglomerates, which our Governor did this year.  But no money for books for kids, or libraries for them, or librarians. The absence of school librarians and school libraries is an engineered crisis.

Did you know that one of the first Tibetan victims of Chinese genocide were librarians? That libraries are universally burned when new regimes take over? Is it a coincidence from ancient times, when enemy take overs were begun, that libraries and librarians were the first to go? Does the destruction of libraries from Alexandria to Tibet have anything in common with the corporate take over of public education and the destruction of school libraries and librarians? I wonder.

For the next few weeks, I'm going to be finding something new to do. One thing is sure: I'll be reading, learning, fighting and speaking out. I won't be silenced. Ever. And I'll always work toward making sure that libraries in schools and outside of schools prosper, thrive, and remain connected--one child, one librarian-- at the heart, through the mind, from eye to eye, heart to hand. Want to fight alongside me? Come to Yinzercation's Rally for Public Education February 10th. Let's rally. Let's sing. Let's decide that our children are worth more than this.

Rally for Public Education

“Do you hear the people sing
Lost in the valley of the night?
It is the music of a people
Who are climbing to the light.

For the wretched of the earth
There is a flame that never dies.
Even the darkest night will end
And the sun will rise.” 
― Victor HugoLes Misérables

“Teach the ignorant as much as you can; society is culpable in not providing a free education for all and it must answer for the night which it produces. If the soul is left in darkness sins will be committed. The guilty one is not he who commits the sin, but he who causes the darkness.” 
― Victor HugoLes Misérables

Can You Hear the People Sing?
How Low Can Corporate Corbett Go?

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