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Today’s theme brought to you by the keynotes that bookended my first 24 hours of ACRL. We’ll start with Geoffrey Canada’s amazing keynote from Wednesday afternoon. I first learned about Geoffrey Canada when I saw him on 60 Minutes back in the 1990s and was immediately a huge fan. His passion for kids, for families and for leveling the playing field in this country through education has really made him one of my heroes for a long time. For those less familiar with Geoffrey Canada, he was born and raised in the Bronx, educated in Bowdoin and at Harvard School of Education and has spent the last 20 years developing The Harlem Children’s Zone – a 24 block area in Harlem that works with children and their families from birth through college and provides a comprehensive set of services to form a safety net so tight that nothing falls through the cracks. He’s controversial in some ways because he has taken on teacher’s unions, thinks there must be ways to get rid of bad teachers, advocates for paying teachers like professionals, works his teachers with long days and longer school years, but the success he has had with his program is undeniable. A few of the points of his speech that have stuck with me today (other than the many good points Susan discussed).

  • The business model of the American school system jeopardizes the future of this country. To keep doing things exactly the same way when we know they are failing our students is reprehensible.
  • ‘You never know what is going to save a kid.’ This is why schools need to offer every possible activity, course, opportunity to children from science to chess, art to English, music to languages. For Canada, it was Dr. Seuss books that saved him and that began a lifelong love of poetry.
  • We can’t have one standard for what is good for our own children and another for ‘poor children.’ Why should schools have to justify wanting to keep the programs that actually make kids WANT to come to school when those same programs (music, dance, sports) are what we all give our own children.
  • Accountability must start with infants and continue through college – we can’t just keep passing failing kids up to the next school or grade or college and then washing our hands of them. Colleges need to be going into high schools and making sure they are preparing students for what will be expected of them.
  • College should be the goal for every child because the jobs our country needs people to do require highly specialized skills and knowledge.
  • We can no longer ignore the research that is out that tells us what works in education. Study after study has shown that kids in poor neighborhoods fall behind over the summers. Why are we not offering summer school to them?
  • When someone tells you that good education is not scalable – remind them that we have found the money to continue to scale our prison system year after year and it costs much less to educate a child well each year than it does to incarcerate a person for a year. We can no longer keep paying for poor education on the back end – we must level the playing field on the front end.
  • We have to be as mad about the black teen shot on her way to school in Chicago as we are about the white children killed at Sandy Hook and we have to stay mad and keep telling our lawmakers that we are mad and to do something about it.
  • Common standards are good, but we can’t keep ramping up the testing without ramping up the training of our teachers to get students to where they can pass the tests.
  • We must start looking at children not as ‘poor children’ or ‘urban children’ or ‘black children’ but as America’s children and not rest until the playing field is leveled.

Today’s keynote by Henry Rollins, was different but no less compelling than Canada’s. For those unfamiliar with Rollins, he is the former front man for the punk band Black Flag and a prolific author, actor, radio host and more. He performs spoken word shows (LOTS of them), writes for Vanity Fair and other outlets, does documentaries with National Geographic and has become a very outspoken cultural commentator. He, too, talked about leveling the playing field with information. I think he was clearly a librarian in a past life. He began his lifelong love of preservation and archiving when he was part of the punk scene in DC in the 1970s – he recognized early on that punk music was a maligned and censored art form and he began to collect it’s data – from show posters, to demo tapes he would obsessively collect and preserve the evidence of the punk scene. He remains a collector to this day, making a concerted effort to buy and listen to at least three albums a day and take copious notes on them and preserve them. He memorized the constitution (and quoted prolifically from it during his 80 minute, note-free talk). He told a story about getting to go into the National Archives that was so moving because he really, really GETS how important preserving our history is. His passion for information, and his recognition that it is information that is what will level the playing field was amazingly powerful. He clearly gets how important what we do is, and it was an honor to hear him talk, even if it felt a bit like being in a washing machine at times.