I have a long list of books I’d like to read before I leave this world. Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring is on it, and I took great satisfaction recently in checking it off.
Five years ago, when my daughters were newly enrolled in Chicago Public Schools, I chose to become involved in that system through volunteering. I’m not really a School Picture Day kind of mom or a Lunch Duty mom (though I have been, on occasion). As a reader, I’m more interested in the books my children bring home, and the kind of work my children are asked to do.
The curriculum—the exposure to various subjects—is the thing.
So I got involved in the school’s Barnes & Noble Book Fair for a few years. This is an advertised shopping day, when members of our school community spend money at Barnes & Noble with a percentage of sales coming back to our school. We typically earn about $900. I would then divvy up that money (through book purchases) between all the teachers who provided me with a wish list of books for their classrooms.
The science teacher’s list was incredible, and eyeballing it, I guessed the cost of providing it would extend beyond our tiny budget. The list included classroom sets (30 copies) of various Golden Field Guides (tree, fish identification) and a set of Silent Spring for an eighth-grade environmental science unit. I suggested the teacher prioritize the list, and Rachel Carson came out on top. Nevertheless, that year I went a little heavy in the science department, and spent $288 on 30 paperback copies of Silent Spring. I went to our Parent-Teacher organization to request additional monies for the purchase. Parents voted and agreed to give me a bit more money for book-buying. In the school newsletter I listed every book title I purchased for the teachers and how much I spent. No one complained how the money was spent. Some people even thanked me for keeping them informed.
I suspect, though, that there are parents in these United States that would complain about spending PTO funds on books by Rachel Carson. I hope I'm wrong about that, for the children's sake.
On the most recent Illinois Standards Achievement Test (ISATs), my daughter’s school vastly out-performed the city and the state averages on their basic science assessments. I’m not surprised. One teacher can have quite a ripple effect.
And even though many years will pass before my daughter is asked to read Silent Spring for class, her teacher generously loaned me out a copy of the book for the summer.
That’s how I came to read Silent Spring and how I came to blog about Rachel Carson and science literacy.