This blog represents most of the newspaper columns (appearing in various Colorado Community Newspapers and Yourhub.com) written by me, James LaRue, during the time in which I was the director of the Douglas County Libraries in Douglas County, Colorado. (Some columns are missing, due to my own filing errors.) This blog covers the time period from April 11, 1990 to January 12, 2012.

Unless I say so, the views expressed here are mine and mine alone. They may be quoted elsewhere, so long as you give attribution. The dates are (at least according my records) the dates of publication in one of the above print newspapers.

The blog archive (web view) is in chronological order. The display of entries, below, seems to be in reverse order, new to old.

All of the mistakes are of course my own responsibility.

Wednesday, June 26, 1991

June 26, 1991 - Goal One: Ready to Learn

As every dad knows, one of the greatest physical dangers of fatherhood is carpet burn.

I don't have this problem as much as I used to, but around the time my daughter learned to walk, I had raw knees for weeks at a stretch.

I remember one time when I was scampering on all fours after Maddy, who raced giggling through the living room. She was about 14 months old. Suddenly, Maddy cut into the bathroom. As I closed in on her, she glanced at me, then the door, stared at me again with a tense, thoughtful expression, then, at exactly the last moment, slammed the door on my nose.

What makes this memory so vivid is not just the dozen splinters still lodged in my nostrils. Earlier that day, a teacher friend of mine had been telling me about her class of fourth graders, and how she had planned a number of exercises in "sequencing." My friend had been teaching "cause-and-effect relationships."

Hearing her talk, I was impressed. Yeah, I thought, kids probably do need to be taught that stuff, and fourth grade is as good a time as any.

But I'm here to tell you: given sufficient need -- a demented father gallomping toward you, say -- even very young children can figure out major scientific principles with virtually no instruction whatsoever.

The reason I bring all this up has to do with "Colorado 2000" -- Governor Roy Romer's initiative to make education Colorado's "number one priority ... a community-based effort to make education a lifelong pursuit -- from the preschool years, through the school years and then continuing through the remainder of an individual's life."

"Colorado 2000" is the first offshoot of "America 2000" -- a federal agenda that consists of six national goals. Communities are supposed to adopt the goals, set some local objectives, then make them happen.

Colorado 2000 raises some important issues. But it has holes in it too, some underlying premises and leaps of faith that deserve closer examination.

Here's one gap: in the entire 31 page Colorado 2000 workbook about the Six Goals, the word "library" appears just once -- where the library is mentioned as a provider of adult training in basic literacy. In short, virtually no one at the federal or state level has grasped the true significance of libraries to education.

Over the next couple of weeks, I'm going to explore these Six Goals a little -- in part because I don't think the library is adequately represented in the discussions I've heard, and in part because the more people we can involve in the examination of our educational system, the greater the likelihood that we can improve it.

The first goal of Colorado 2000 is that "All children will start school ready to learn."

This addresses some important issues. It acknowledges the long-overlooked significance of pre-natal nutrition, which may have a profound effect on the capacity of an infant to develop intellectually.

The responsibility for pre-natal care, of course, falls far outside the scope of public education. It belongs to the parents.

But it also sends another message. "Ready to learn" is explicitly linked in the Colorado 2000 workbook with preschool classes.

I think we need to ask several questions: does "ready to learn" mean nothing more than "ready to start school"? Are "learning" and "schooling" the same thing?

I submit that every human being is born with the innate capacity to learn. It can be drilled or beat out of us. Nonetheless, every child, whatever his or her circumstances, is at any moment eager to learn, whether or not these moments are buttressed by official pedagogical apparatus.

Too, there is some convincing data that children ought not to start school until about the age of 8. Early "intervention" may not be the answer to a better-educated citizenry.

Let's not forget, incidentally, that public libraries are, or can be, major players in this process of early education. We sponsor story hours. We provide thousands of books, audio-kits, magazines, videos, and other materials to parents who could not possibly afford them on their own. We recommend specific titles to parents and children both, often introducing them to universes of intellectual adventure.

Finally, and most powerfully, we convey to children by direct example the excitement and value of literacy.

Our children are smarter than we think. And their lessons start long before they go to school. Some of them can happen at the library.

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