Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Random thoughts

So I moved to Summit, in North New Jersey from Red Bank and yesterday I went to the Summit Public Library to get an account. It all went fine but as I as going in I noticed that the library wasn't just called the "Summit Public Library" like the Red Bank Public Library or, more famously, the New York Public Library. Instead it was called the "Summit Free Public Library". Hmmm, I am not sure why the use of the word "free" upset me a little. I mean, the whole idea behind having a public library is that it is free. Public means it's a public resource, like a park, potentially open to everyone, with perhaps special privileges for residents of that town. Why would a town insert the word "free" into the name of its public library? One explanation could be perhaps that it wants to attract more people and one way to do that is to say that something is free - e.g. in schools and colleges, events are marketed by saying there's free pizza -- it's a situation we've all experienced. Perhaps this way more young adults, teenagers etc. feel like coming to the library. Or perhaps it's a way of attracting more poor people, who may be persuaded by the word "free". All good things, in my opinion. But it seems to me a worrying indicator that the fact that a public library is free needs to be mentioned. It seems to somehow signify a breakdown in the norms governing the public sphere, that a public library is public, open to anyone free of cost. (Plus it just sounds tacky.) Thoughts, comments, anyone?

On to other things.

I talked about Paul Tough's long piece in the New York Times before. If you haven't read it, go read it now -- it really is a well-written piece about that all-pervasive problem of equality, how do you minimize the gap between middle-class children and poorer children so that both have an equal chance of succeeding in life? After all, as Tough points out, the formative years that determine whether a child succeeds or not are the formative ones, before and during elementary school and middle-class children by virtue of having parents who coach them, tutor them, engage them, almost always get a head-start. Which is why I found this interesting:
At Sixth Street we do not assign homework. Research shows that homework does not increase student achievement at the elementary level. Since many of our parents do not speak English and have had only limited schooling, we believe that assigning homework is an issue of equity. If students require additional practice to master a standard, they should have the opportunity to practice it under the watchful eye of the classroom coach who can provide feedback and reteaching immediately when it is needed.
That seems right to me although I wonder why I hadn't thought of it before. No homework means middle-class children will have less chance of asking their parents for help. I wonder if middle-class parents of the "nurturing" type will like this though.


kiran mova said...

There are some public libraries like Framingham Public Library, MA) where some movie DVDs are charged at 1$ for a week/two...

Are there fines on books that you rent from Free library? Why not ask them?

scritic said...

Yes, yes - there are fines on books. And fines on DVDs are heftier.

Yes, good point - I should just ask them why they call it the Summit Free Public Library... he he.