August always seems to make me fretful. Perhaps it’s the approach of the new school year—excitement paired with concern as the summer wanes. The emotion kicks in, spurred by some kind of internal clock that anticipates a fresh start as fall arrives, and with it new teachers, new classmates, and a unique rhythm to the days. This, of course, is habitual, set in motion for me as a child returning to school after fun but relatively unstructured days. The inevitable return to school’s organized attractions usually came at just the right time and drew my eager attention. As an adult, that rhythm is echoed in my anticipation of the challenges and accomplishments ahead for my own children. Their summers have their own subtle pacing changes with summer camp and simple vacations. And, I suspect the excitement they feel resonates among educators, too.
Such childhood delight and any attendant anxieties about friends and teachers are familiar enough. But my concern has shifted now that I am an adult, and one who feels a certain responsibility for the many children directly and indirectly involved in my life and work. The gap between the haves and the have-nots, which during my childhood sparked all kinds of unease, has grown wider and more deeply troubling.
Rising economic inequality and the persistent digital divide should have us all on high alert for the well-being of many of our children. In a recent Salon article, Andrew Leonard puts it in stark terms as he reflects on the rise of the Internet and rising economic inequality—and how they interrelate. “Twenty years after the Internet first started significantly transforming how we live, society has become more unequal and polarized,” he writes. (See, “The Internet’s greatest disruptive innovation: Inequality,” July 19, 2013)
“Today, the more skilled you are, the more you benefit from new technology. There is no question that for those with talent, drive and access to education, the connected society offers practically unlimited opportunity,” he writes. “But, if you are not so skilled, it’s a different story.” Leonard cites shifts in the job market brought by innovations in software, which continue to rattle the work world.
As the job landscape continues to shift, the mission of schools and libraries to address the gap intensifies, and the work of the key players, teachers and librarians, has never been more essential. Of course, they need support with infrastructure—like that provided by the recently proposed reforms to the E-rate program*—to level the playing field. And, as critically, we need enough teachers and librarians to go around, so we don’t keep exacerbating the other gaps with what’s been called an attention gap as class sizes grow and librarians get stretched thin. Our kids need all the engaged grown-ups they can get in their lives.
I know I am not alone as I fret. Luckily, librarians and other educators are full of new ideas, striving toward the common good for our children. Let’s give them what they need to do their work.
Rebecca T. Miller
*This article has been amended to reflect that the updates to the E-rate program are not final. Comments from stakeholders, including librarians, are welcome and encouraged via the Electronic Comment Filing System before the FCC acts on Proceeding 13-184.