CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- I was a world traveler as a child. Though my body may have been firmly planted in Charleston, my imagination most certainly was not. Aided by the library books that I so voraciously devoured, I traversed continents and time periods, conquered nations and solved crimes, and experienced life through the eyes of hundreds of different characters.
Though I may not have realized it at the time, every book I read taught me something new. My weekly trips to the library ended up not only improving my vocabulary and writing skills, but also teaching me about everything from politics to technology to history. The things I learned about in books would inevitably tie in to things I learned in the classroom, and I always discovered that what I had learned in the classroom was applicable to the books I read. These connections led to not only a positive feedback loop of learning, but also to an ever-increasing thirst for knowledge. Hand in hand, the Kanawha County Public Library and the Kanawha County public school made me an avid, excited learner.
I recently heard about the state Supreme Court decision abolishing the requirement for the school system to provide funding to the public library. I wasn't worried. The same thing was happening in Harrison County, and the school board there was generously promising to continue funding the library. In addition, the library funding makes up a mere 1.25 percent of the school system's budget, a miniscule price to pay for something as educationally essential as a quality public library system.
Thus, it was with great incredulity that I learned that the school board was actually considering withdrawing its support from the library. Baffled, I checked the Kanawha County Schools website. "Discover. Excel. Advance." proclaimed the brightly colored banner front and center on their home page. A click takes you to another page, this one featuring a bulleted list of beliefs:
• That all students can achieve.
• That instructors should be teachers of 21st century literacy skills.
• That schools, communities and parents should be partners in learning.
These beliefs seemed not only to be in concordance with the values promoted by the public library, but nearly implausible without the library's continued success.
I still cannot seem to understand how the school board can claim to be an institution devoted to learning, one that espouses these ideals of discovery and literacy and community, while simultaneously shooting in the foot the one institution that can so effectively help them carry out these "beliefs."
Is their optimistic rhetoric nothing more than pretty words, a flimsy veneer for a different set of objectives? Have they simply never experienced the excitement about learning that can be so easily sparked by books? Is the tiny fraction of their budget going to go to something that is somehow more educationally valuable than a building literally packed full of free knowledge? The more I ponder these questions, the more disheartened and confused I become.
The thought that thousands of students may not get to experience the same love affair that I had with the library, a love affair that has set me up for lifelong excitement about learning, is painful to contemplate. The thought that they may be denied this chance by the very institution that purports to have their best educational interests at heart? Incomprehensible.
Hamilton, of Charleston, is a 2012 graduate of George Washington High School and a freshman at Yale University.