Monday, January 5, 2009

Possibilities and Realities

I recently spent an hour on the phone with the principal of a school who had to cancel my visit there. Funds have been cut and expenditures have to curtailed. Nothing as frivolous as an author visit can possibly be allowed in these tough economic times, say the budgetmeisters. The principal was devastated that she had to cancel. Fundraising had flopped and grants had evaporated. The teachers and librarians were upset. The kids were in tears. But it not because of me. It’s because they had finally learned to love reading, and had connected with an author—a real, live person, not an old dead guy from two hundred years ago. The librarian couldn’t keep my books on the shelves. Kids argued about who got to read which book next. It was a wonderful, glorious reading frenzy--and it had to be extinguished. It hurt me, not because of some financial loss to me, but because the very kids who needed to see and hear and touch a real author were the ones who would once again be left without the opportunities they needed. She and I talked, and we might be able to come up with a Plan B, or even Plan C. I hate to disappoint a child. But there ought to be a fairness genie who sprinkles struggling schools with the same hope and possibility (and the funds to make each possibility a reality!) that schools in wealthy districts take for granted. I once visited a school that had an indoor and outdoor pool, a fully-equipped TV studio, stables for the polo ponies, and a library with over 100,000 volumes. The next week I visited a school whose library had been eliminated because they had to choose between computers and books on the budget, so they chose computers at the expense of books. What kind of choice is that?

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