The Age newspaper had a wealth of articles in it this weekend to get me thinking (and in some cases seething). First up - also well-covered in The Australian - were the stories about the rorts going on with new building projects in schools. Sorry, but I never understood this right from the beginning. Why offer money to a school and then tell them they can only build an X, a Y or a Z? Too bad if they don't have a special needs area, or a library. If the guidelines say they have to have a gym or a cover for their playground, they will have it whether they like it or not! Consequently, in the Letters page in The Australian, one library supplier couldn't help but point out a school that had a lovely new library building, with all the kids asking, "Er, where are the new books?" Der, Kev.
Another article cited a playground cover that was being built for a cost of over $1 million. A local contractor, who'd built one of these before for a local school, said they could have built the whole thing for $250,000. What on earth is going on here? And then yet another article talked about construction unions "grouping" school projects together so they'd total more than the money limit set by someone after which a "big project" hourly rate is paid to workers. One of the union bright sparks said he thought the workers would spend their extra dollars on dinner or the movies. Yeah, mate, wahoo to you, too. Talk about pigs at the trough. (If you aren't in the mood for a soapbox stand, go read something else right now!)
And now our very own secret "No Child Left Behind" advocate, Julia Gillard (well, come on, what else would you call Naplan testing?) has decided she'll launch an enquiry into school librarians. Excuse me while I go and have a hysterical fit out the back. Hello, dear. We can save you several million dollars and simply tell you what is bleedingly obvious to any school principal, teacher, or even author who does school visits - school librarians are an endangered species, and without a dedicated school librarian, most schools don't have the time or the staff hours to stock and run their libraries to their best advantage. That's the advantage, by the way, that BENEFITS THE KIDS.
There are a huge number of kids that don't have books at home, because they can't afford them or their families don't put a priority on books (they like to spend their money on other stuff like McDonalds, maybe, or video games). I still remember talking to a large group of Grade 5s and 6s a few years ago from the northern suburbs of Melbourne who had never been into their local public library, let alone joined up to borrow. If these kids are not able to access a good library in their own school, then they are hardly likely to become public library borrowers either. And I'm not entering into the debate about kids using the internet for materials and reading these days - have you tried to use the internet lately for some decent research?
So, you may be asking yourself, why are all these teachers and authors jumping up and down about school libraries and librarians? Aren't they just trying to secure their own jobs or income? No, actually we could be doing plenty of other things with our time and energy. But this is something we believe is vital to the future of Australian kids and their ability to read and communicate in this ever-changing world. A computer can be anything. Yes, it be a book for a while, and then a computer game, and then a research tool. But I believe you give reading value when you hand a child their very own book, or their very own school library where they can read and borrow hundreds of fantastic books - for no cost! There are way too many middle-class people in this world who have no idea how many kids in Australia cannot afford a book. One book! Let alone the hundreds I feel privileged to own.
And finally, the last article was Kate Holden's column in A2. She described in agonising detail the family who live next to her. A family where the child spent his whole life being screamed at and told he was a waste of space, and should never have been born. She asked if she should report them for abuse. Then she said, "No doubt my neighbours would kill anyone who hurt their child ... They probably say they love him." Yeah, but they don't mean it, Kate. They probably never did want that child, and now he's paying for it big-time. I'm not saying books and a school library would help this kid survive, but I know dozens of people who had really hard childhoods who say that reading books saved them. And I bet most of those kids got them from their school library.
Note to Kevin and Julia - didn't the insulation debacle show you anything? Why don't you slow down and take the time to really analyse your projects and their outcomes instead of relying on an overworked bunch of bureaucrats to try and keep up with information on things that are your responsibility? We actually don't want "instant fixes", we want evidence that issues are being given due consideration in an efficient way. You are both starting to look like the mad clown jugglers at the circus!