Public libraries have been around since Benjamin Franklin donated over a hundred books to the town of Franklin, MA, about forty minutes away from me. I grew up around libraries, even worked in one, studied in many, and built my classroom library through constant scrounging as well as donations from families.
One of my earliest memories is of my mother taking me to the library, a weekly pilgrimage to a squat brick building downtown. Inside, opaque glass block windows cast a creepy gray-green light that I’ve never forgotten.
Children weren’t allowed in the adult stacks back then, which presented a problem for fluent readers. I wasn’t the only child who reached a no-man’s-land when I finished reading the children’s books. But my mother, who’d been a teacher, spoke to the head librarian, who reluctantly granted permission for me to borrow from the adult collection. My love of reading blossomed from there.
What role have libraries played in your life?
In December, 2013, Time published a list of the 100 most significant figures in history. Number one is Jesus, number thirty-six is George W. Bush, and number 100 is John Locke.
And the women? Only three names place among the hundred. Number 13 is Elizabeth I. Queen Victoria ranks 16. Joan of Arc comes in at 95. No American women made this list, which the authors (two men) acknowledge is primarily white and Eurocentric.
At school and home, are we doing any better than 3%? Are we ensuring that our girls and boys learn about the significance of Elizabeth Blackwell, Frances Perkins, Marian Anderson, Maya Lin, Sally Ride, and Sonja Sotomayor (and these are just from the last one hundred seventy years)? We can’t ignore half of humanity any longer.
Change begins by noticing even the smallest things and then collecting data, so here’s a challenge to try throughout March. Count the number of male and female pictures you see on the front page of the daily newspaper. At the end of the week (or month), look at your results.
Do your results reflect your beliefs about the world in which you hope your students will thrive?
Or do you see that the world needs your help? If so, how will you effect change?
Are you a teacher or parent scrambling to make the most of every second before the holiday break? Have you had enough of malls and stores? Sounds like you need an Education Spring-style restorative gift.
Two kindred blogs, Musing off the Mat and Jenny’s Lark, inspired me to adapt their idea.
Relax comfortably. Allow your mind to wander over the array of happy experiences you’ve had this year. Write them down and number as you go.
Widen your spectrum to include peaceful decisions and happy coincidences. Keep going as long as you want. It didn’t take me long to reach 76 .
Add richness by including moments of all sizes. While writing my list, I found small moments that were easily overlooked. It was simple to add a visit to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. Inside that large moment, though, was a smaller one in the inner courtyard.
When we list the gifts we’ve given to ourselves, several things happen. We see our blessings in black and white. We recognize what we have cultivated in our world.
And we realize that by noticing our gifts to self that we’ve been good enough teachers and good enough parents.
I face the sun, which we share. It warms the familiar brown envelope in my hands, which contains news of Silantoi, who lives half a world away.
A small photo shows her beautiful, round face beaming a huge smile. Not only is she taller, but her posture conveys confidence. A friend peeps over her shoulder and laughs as a photographer snaps the picture. Both girls stand in front of a rough wall at their Rombo boarding school in the wondrous Rift Valley in Kenya.
I read Silantoi’s letter next. She likes science and wants to go to university to become a doctor. “I want to complete [high school] with good grades which will take me to a university around America…that is my dream.”
I’m astonished at Silantoi’s perseverance. Rote learning, no technology, a library consisting of old test booklets shoved on a shelf. I began sponsoring Silantoi’s education when I met the founder of BEADS for Education, Debby Rooney, in a Newburyport, MA, bookstore. Now Debby has opened Tembea High School to give more girls a quality education.
Silantoi graduated 8th grade with high enough test scores to continue on to the Rombo high school, if she chose to—and she did! The significance of this is hard to overstate. Many girls in Kenya don’t go to school, severely limiting their options. When I sent Silantoi a modest watch for a graduation present, she replied, “I really treasure the watch and take care of it…it is really helping me to keep time while studying.”
Education for social justice often begins one child at a time. The gift for me is watching Silantoi grow and reveal her gifts and talents to the world.
What issues in our world fill you with passion?
Perhaps you’re working to gain freedom for the children in Tibet. Maybe fracking issues make you crazy or you are a member of Veterans for Peace. Or your focus might be more local, like saving a silver maple forest in a cherished reservation.
Do you care enough to grab your tuba or push yourself down the street with a couple of plungers?
Because that’s what people did at the 2014 HONK! Festival of Activist Street Bands in Somerville and Cambridge, MA. The parade mixed zeal with fun and educated the spectators, providing welcome relief from the litany of terrible world problems in the news. Not that the HONK! groups didn’t make their points. They did. And they used larger-than-life sized puppets and funky costumes to do it.
Making the usual, unusual gives messages a fresh emphasis. Everyone in this parade found a personal and artistic perspective in community with others. That’s a valuable set of life lessons for all of us, accompanied by a dash of AfroBrazilian percussion.
I love to see parents and grandparents teaching children how to help change a larger world than their own. When learning starts in the family, it settles into childrens’ souls. And when it’s lodged there, you’ve given children tools that no one else but you can give. Add in some glitter and an orange feather boa–who knew that changing the world could be so much fun?