Unlock the School Library
By Bryan Caplan
If you could change the K-12 curriculum in one small way, what would you change? My pick: Unlock the school library. By this I mean…
1. Give kids the option of hanging out at the library during every break period.
2. Give kids the option of hanging out the library in lieu of electives.
My elementary, junior high, and high schools all had marvelous libraries. But they were virtually always closed to the student body. You couldn’t go during recess or lunch. And you certainly couldn’t say, “Instead of taking music/dance/art/P.E./woodshop, I’ll read in the library.” Virtually the only time I entered a school library was when an entire class went as part of an assignment.
Unlocking the school library requires almost no resources. Simply:
1. Send one or two unskilled but mature workers to watch over the students.
2. Exile students who bother other students from the library. If you can’t treat your fellow bookworms decently, you’re sentenced to regular classes.
The benefits are twofold.
Intellectually, unlocking the library gives students much-needed time to explore their interests and satisfy their curiosity. You really learn a lot by reading.
Socially, unlocking the library allows students to escape pointless classes, boring teachers, and obnoxious peers. It also gives kids a chance to exercise independence and self-control.
After the novelty wears off, I expect many kids will get bored at the library. That’s fine: Send them back to regular classes. But many other kids – especially nerdy kids – will seize the day. They’ll finally have a sanctuary from the daily indignities of K-12 education – and a chance to learn what they want when they want. When I was a kid, unlocking the school library would have been heaven on earth.
Most educators and parents will scoff at my proposal. Why? At root, they like the idea of bossing kids around. They’re so determined to make every child dance – yes, literally dance – that they’re afraid to even give them the option of quietly reading in the library instead. Adults claim they’re controlling children for their own good. I doubt it. As a child, I noticed that adults seemed more focused on their own egos than students’ well-being – and my experiences as an adult and a parent strongly support my youthful cynicism.
Challenge to educators and parent: Prove me wrong. If you care about the children as much as you claim, you should at least experiment with my proposal. Instead of dismissing it out of hand, try unlocking the library on a small scale and see what happens.