How Librarians Can Address Issues in Education in Public Schools Today

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to evolve and redefine society, it’s clear that the past two and a half years have been some of the most challenging times in education. Teachers, students and parents have had to quickly adapt to a new reality of learning — one that wasn’t always easy, especially for underfunded public schools. The pandemic highlighted issues in education that are now undeniable, and even the simple act of in-person teaching is polarizing.

The education system has several shortcomings and complex challenges. With overcrowded schools, lack of funding and innovation, scarcity in access to technology and more, there is no easy way out of the crisis. Many suggest that the American education system has been failing for many years.

“Funding is always an issue for schools and is, in fact, one of the biggest issues facing the American public education system today. For more than 90% of K-12 schools, funding comes from state and local governments, largely generated by sales and income taxes,” notes Kate Barrington from Public School Review. “Research shows, however, that funding has not increased with need — many states are still issuing funding that is lower than it was before the Great Recession.” Problems with funding generate a chain reaction that affects teachers’ salaries, the quality of education and eventually, the development of well-trained professionals.

Librarians play a critical role in exposing students to knowledge and information. With an informed student population with strong literacy skills, graduates are equipped to address the issues facing the education system. An education degree with a focus on library media can prepare students for improving libraries. In fact, Eastern Washington University’s program has a course titled Current Issues in Education.

The following are some of the most impactful challenges of the education system today:

Political Control of Education

Recent politics have become increasingly interested in controlling school curricula. In particular, books have come under scrutiny, as several state leaders have banned hundreds of books across the U.S. According to Elizabeth A. Harris and Alexandra Alter in an article for The New York Times, “Parents, activists, school board officials and lawmakers around the country are challenging books at a pace not seen in decades. The American Library Association said in a preliminary report that it received an ‘unprecedented’ 330 reports of book challenges … last fall.”

The impacts of this censorship are monumental, as it leaves no room for conversations, discussions or growth. Librarians should become acquainted with those lists and seek alternative materials for students to access the information they need and facilitate healthy exchange.

Indoctrination Versus Education

Librarians should also be wary of the difference between ‘indoctrination’ and education. Sharing knowledge exposes learners to ideas and topics that they may not understand or agree with. Librarians play a role in helping learners access the various perspectives of the world. While facing cultures and ideas that differ from ones own is often uncomfotable, the U.S. possesses freedom of expression, and students should have the ability to express their identities and beliefs without fear of judgment and consequences.

Knowledge Is Power: Academic Freedom

Although many people complain that the youth don’t read as many books as they used to, many kids and teens are avid readers online. Whether it be in the context of video games, social media or even text messages, reading is an essential tool of knowledge, and there are many ways to help students access knowledgeable content. Librarians can play a pivotal role in opening up the world to young people, despite other attempts to limit their information.

An advanced education degree in library media equips individuals to lead their communities and foster access to knowledge for students. A literate, educated student population is critical to ensuring that working adults can develop solutions to improve the future.

Learn more about Eastern Washington University’s online Master of Education – Library Media program.

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