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Teacher Newsmagazine Volume 17, Number 4, January/February 2005

Is it a library or a bookstore?

by Chris Bocking

My elementary school library has been closed for almost a week. Why? Well, a huge transnational corporation based in the United States has been using it as a profit centre. Yes, Scholastic Corporation has set up its books, pencils, stickers, and posters in attractive displays, and the students have been encouraged to bring money to school to support this "book" event.

Teachers who see Scholastic as a benign presence like being able to purchase books and stickers for their students. They argue that book sales raise money for the library. I suggest that these reasons are insufficient and that teachers should not support commercialism in the public school system.

Richard Robinson, who is not only chair, but also president and CEO of Scholastic Corporation, says on his company’s web site that his company is "dedicated to helping children around the world to read and learn." How noble.

That mammoth company had revenues of $2.23 billion in 2004. Elsewhere on the web site, we learn that the good people at Scholastic are "helping children learn, grow and be happy."

Staggering profits could not be achieved without willing support and tireless efforts of the teachers who volunteer tens of thousands of hours promoting Scholastic’s products to their students, collecting the forms, filling out papers, supervising book sales, and so on.

Scholastic is excited about the Internet’s possibilities for bringing future growth. In May of 2004 alone, Scholastic’s teacher web site had 1.26 million unique visitors. I have heard from teachers about the ease of ordering products online or using Scholastic’s phone service.

Does anybody still want to consider the library the heart of a school? Closing it down and turning it into a private, for-profit book and junk-item store to raise money is wrong. That should not happen. And teachers’ time could be spent in better ways than padding the profits of the largest book company on the planet.

For information on the upcoming Public Education Not For Sale II conference, February 18–19, 2005, go tobctf.ca/notforsale/PrivatizationConference.

Chris Bocking teaches at Keating Elementary School, Saanich.

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