In September 2021 I asked the Fairfax County Public Library to carry copies of the social studies textbooks being used in the county’s middle- and high-schools. The context of my request was the gubernatorial campaign: Conflicting claims were being made by the candidates about what was being taught to our children, and I decided to research the issues myself. But getting access wasn’t easy. None of the county’s libraries had copies of the relevant history textbooks, so I had to go to the school system’s headquarters to review them. Having made the effort, I was impressed. They do not white-wash our history of slavery, discrimination against minorities and other social issues, as some claim; they cover these issues quite thoroughly and appropriately. What may have been true in the past isn’t the case today.
Some could disagree with my assessment, but I felt that this would be all the more reason to make the textbooks available to the public. Citizens should have the tools to evaluate for themselves how our youth are being educated. I therefore thought it would be easy to persuade the library system to carry these core educational materials. This is why our libraries exist; right?
Apparently not. When I wrote to the library’s board of trustees, the chairperson, Fran Millhouser, promptly turned me down, stating, “We do not have enough of a collection budget to purchase textbooks – physical or online – and keep such a collection up to date and relevant.” Although this didn’t seem persuasive – the library’s annual budget exceeds $30 million, and the library regularly acquires materials far less relevant and important than what I was requesting – I decided that further effort would be pointless.
Then I learned that the library system had recently paid a notorious race-hustler, Ibram X. Kendi, $22,500 for a one-hour Zoom interview from a remote location, probably his home. Attendance was limited to 120 people who registered in advance (only 108 actually participated). Kendi responded to soft-ball questions from a friendly interviewer and a few filtered questions from the audience. Kendi participated in a similar session with the Fairfax County Public Schools system in September 2020 for $20,000, but inflation has apparently required him to increase his per-hour fee in 2022.
In his books and elsewhere, Kendi claims, among other things, that all disparities between races in education, income, etc., are attributable solely to racism, and that it is racist to suggest other factors might play a role; that color blindness in dealing with others is racist; that you are racist if you don’t favor activist, affirmative-action policies; that anything which tends to maintain unequal outcomes is racist, and therefore capitalism must be jettisoned because it produces winners and losers; etc., etc.
The Fairfax County Public Library carries Kendi’s books in abundance: 56 copies of How to Be an Antiracist, 22 copies of How to Raise an Antiracist, 59 copies of Stamped from the Beginning, and 46 copies of Antiracist Baby. It can shell out $22,500 at the drop of a hat for a Zoom call. And yet it can’t find a few hundred dollars in its budget to carry a few copies of the social studies textbooks being used in our schools.
Readers can judge for themselves whether something is amiss here.
Mark Spooner is a retired lawyer residing in Springfield. He is the founding editor of FairfaxSchoolsMonitor.com, which reports on what’s really happening in Fairfax County Public Schools.
Setting aside all other concerns of the author, the overwhelming majority of American public libraries do not collect textbooks, and never have. In order to provide equitable service, a commitment to including textbooks would require purchasing multiple copies of every book, for every class, at every grade level, for every district and private school in the library's service area, to say nothing of resources requested by homeschooling families and groups. This is a massive budgetary and space commitment, and one that scales up - larger library systems may have larger budgets, but also larger service populations. School libraries should be glad to help you review the books used in their curriculum, but expecting your local public library to provide the same service is very unrealistic.
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