Unlock the School Library

Monday, May 25th, 2015

Bryan Caplan suggests that we unlock the school library:

By this I mean…

  1. Give kids the option of hanging out at the library during every break period.
  2. Give kids the option of hanging out the library in lieu of electives.

My elementary, junior high, and high schools all had marvelous libraries. But they were virtually always closed to the student body. You couldn’t go during recess or lunch. And you certainly couldn’t say, “Instead of taking music, dance, art, P.E., woodshop, I’ll read in the library.” Virtually the only time I entered a school library was when an entire class went as part of an assignment.

Caplan is pretty transparently promoting what he would have preferred as a kid:

Socially, unlocking the library allows students to escape pointless classes, boring teachers, and obnoxious peers. It also gives kids a chance to exercise independence and self-control.

In his mind, making kids take music, dance, art, P.E., or woodshop is simply bossing them around, because adults like that.

Michael Strong suggests something I’ve been thinking about for years:

I’ve often proposed a low-cost chain of schools in which grades 3-8 consisted of nothing but reading and playing chess (or similar self-guided, cognitively rich activities that develop intellectual focus) — with no teaching of any subjects at all. It would cost almost nothing at all to supervise because the adults need to play no active role other than keep things quiet. I predict students in such a program would, after a year or two of updating their math and writing skills in grade 9, dramatically outperform most students from conventional educational programs. We are forcing students through expensive, boring, humiliating rituals for no reason at all.


  1. Alrenous says:

    Just for perspective, my library was unlocked. I found it was good place to take a nap. Being less sleep deprived was easily the most powerful education assist a library could provide. The books weren’t marvelous in mine, but sleep would have been more important anyway.

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