Libraries v. Schools

John Taylor Gatto's "Books: The Difference Between Library and School Editions" is a short, worthwhile essay that packs a powerful point: When you take the free will out of education students lose power to see where their own best interest lies.

An excerpt where Gatto compares public libraries with government schools:

One way to see the difference between school books and real books like Moby Dick is to examine the different procedures which separate librarians who are the custodians of real books from schoolteachers who are the custodians of school books.

To begin with, libraries are usually comfortable, clean and quiet. They are orderly places where you can read instead of just pretending to read. People of all ages are found working there together, not just a pack of age-segregated kids. For some reason libraries are never age-segregated nor do they presume to segregate readers by questionable tests of ability any more than farms or forests or oceans do.

The librarian doesn't tell me what to read, doesn't tell me what sequence of reading I have to follow, doesn't grade my reading. The librarian trusts me to have a worthwhile purpose of my own. I appreciate that and trust the library in return because it trusts me.

Some other significant differences between libraries and schools are these: The librarian lets me ask my own questions and helps me when I want help, not when she decides I need it. If I feel like reading all day long, that's okay with the librarian who doesn't compel me to stop reading at intervals by ringing a bell in my ear. The library keeps its nose out of my home, too. It doesn't send letters to my mother reporting on my library behavior, it doesn't make recommendations or issue orders how I should use my time at home.

The library doesn't play favorites, it's a very democratic place as seems proper in a democracy. If the books I want are available I get them even if that democratic decision deprives someone even more gifted and talented than I am of the books.

The library never humiliates me by posting ranked lists of good readers for all to see; it presumes that good reading is its own reward and doesn't need to be held up as an object lesson to bad readers. One of the strangest differences between library and school is that you almost never see a kid behaving badly in a library even though bad kids have the same access to libraries as good ones do.

The library never makes predictions about my future based on my past reading habits, nor does it imply dishonestly that things will be rosy if I read sanitary prose and thorns if I read Barbara Cartland. It tolerates eccentric reading habits because it realizes free men and women are often very eccentric.


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