Libraries without books? A school in the USA called the Cushing Academy just gave away 20,000 books for lack of space and, it claims, demand, setting off an astonishing debate in the NTY.

Kids use the internet now, the argument goes. And we've got the ebook! Paper books take up so much space!

Do schools need libraries with books? Of course they do! Perhaps not so much for research which, it is true, has moved to the internet, but for real reading: novels, plays, essays, short stories, poetry. Good books create good readers. And the school library is, I believe, a place where children of all backgrounds should be able to find good books.

I remember fondly the large, well-stocked, open-stack school libraries of my childhood. I grew up in Arizona,not the most intellectual-friendly state in the Union, and I attended public schools. And yet, each one of wmy schools HAD GREAT LIBRARIES. Open all day, confortable and welcoming. Teachers gave us lists of recommended books. Sometimes, if we were lucky, the teacher would let us put our heads on the desks and close our eyes, and she would read to us....

This got me to thinking about France. My girls have attended public school from kindergarten (ECOLE MATERNELLE) to high sc hool (LYCEE) in the Academy of CRETEIL. One thing that struck me from the start was the incredible lack of books. In the USA, Cushing Academy threw out 20,000 books? INone of my girls' French public schools had even one twentieth that number to begin with!

I have written frequently about the school system and inequality (see L'enseignement de l'anglais et l'inégalité en France) .French public schools no longer encourage social mobility (see today's article in Le Monde on this subject.)

But this is the first time I have given any serious thought to books. And yet it is so obvious! No books. The most basic, simple and inexpensive way to level the playing field is being neglected: Books. Wonderful books!

Available to the children --all the children--in the school library. (Not the multimedia, usually- closed-because-no-adult-is-available-to-supervise-it, too small, unfriendly CDI).

There is much talk of equality in France right now. Quotas for HEC, POLYTECHNIQUE and other elite shools. Fine.

But if you want to encourage equal opportunity, start with books. Good books and a place to read them. All day long. For everybody. In every public school in France.

Laurel Zuckerman







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