The school librarian sent out a reminder today that it’s the time of year to consider renewing periodicals for another year. She asserted in her letter that many of the periodicals are never used.
Among the three on the chopping block are The New York Times (for around $400 a year), the Economist (about $120/year) and the New Scientist (about $125/year). A lot of the other titles are scientific or literary or news titles.
The proposed replacements include Teen Vogue, Wired, Popular Photography, Sound and Vision, and similar right-brain, teen-oriented titles.
I’m not opposed to the new titles, really. Some of them are substantive. Others are intended to appeal to our growing teen girl population.
But to me, it’s also an indication that books and magazines are fading from our school’s public consciousness. I used to photocopy two or three articles a week for my classes. Now I put the first few paragraphs of a story on the class wiki, and a link to the article on the website. It’s free, in a sense, to both school and library: the library isn’t paying for the subscription to the magazine and the school isn’t paying for the paper or the wear&tear on the photocopier.
But this isn’t a sustainable model, either. Without subscribers to the paper copies, the websites may cease to exist. A whole generation of kids are falling out of news-reading habits because the teachers used to the old means of gathering news don’t understand the new models. And the magazines are vanishing from the shelves.
Thirteen years ago when I started teaching, the ten eighth graders probably got fifteen or sixteen magazines a week— sports illustrated, mostly, but Newsweek and Time, and even the New Yorker (Once a sister subscribed her brother to Playgirl as vengeance for some Christmas-vacation practical joke).
Now there are none. And my experience of student awareness of the news is that it has gone away. It’s all Facebook and social media and Skype and cellphones. It’s a profound lack of curiosity about the world outside the extant-expanding social networks they’re forming.
I take some comfort in knowing that my own political, economic and technical awareness didn’t really start until High School. Maybe there’s still hope for my kids.
But I wonder if my old school will replace the magazine racks soon with a line of computer terminals.