Archived Opinion

Schools – and libraries – should bring communities together

Schools – and libraries – should bring communities together

It seems to me that when we talk about the spaces in our community for our children, we should be talking about what is safe, supportive and loving. 

We need schools that are safe, supportive and loving. 

We need libraries that are safe, supportive and loving.

Every single high school freshman that I have taught in the years since youth owning cell phones was common in American culture has access to the most graphic material which they can peruse at their own discretion, outside any parental supervision. And any parent who thinks they have any sort of control over what their cell phone-owning children can see doesn’t understand the concept of digital natives who operate at the level of the National Security Agency when it comes to thwarting parental blocks and monitoring apps. They will seek and find what they want.

What’s the difference between a 14-year-old’s cell phone and the Macon County Library?

The content in the library is all vetted. Painstakingly vetted and curated. The library staff doesn’t spin a wheel and select books at random. Rather, they consult professional librarian association recommendations, professional reviewing association recommendations and so on. The library staff discuss. And discuss some more. The Fontana Community Outreach Project polled our communities and received the feedback that the library selections should reflect the diversity of our communities in an equitable manner. And that public polling further informed library selections.

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The word “neutrality” was tossed about freely at the last board meeting of the Macon County Library. And what I found interesting and noteworthy about the multiple uses of the term from multiple speakers was that each speaker had a different definition of what constituted “neutral,” with the only variable being agreed upon was that “neutral is something that fits with what I believe and doesn’t challenge my beliefs.”

And there is no librarian nor library on Earth nor in history who can fulfill such a nebulous notion of neutrality except to convert libraries into mere empty structures with empty shelves such has been done in some Florida public schools. 

Perhaps that is the mission objective and I’m just too dense to get it.

When I reflect on tough decisions involving my students, when I think about how to address tough questions in the public arena, when I think about how I should interact with others in my daily life, I try to find a grounding, relatable person to emulate. A person who is all about providing allyship to the disinherited, the alienated, the marginalized, the unloved. A person who is relentlessly supportive and loving. A person whose generosity of spirit and pocketbook seems to have almost no bounds.

The Smoky Mountains’ own Dolly Parton. 

What would Dolly do? I think Dolly would say:

“We need schools that are safe, supportive and loving. We need libraries that are safe, supportive and loving.”

Leading an angry mob and accusing the loving, kind, supportive and UNDERPAID library staff of criminal behavior when there is no criminal behavior is just plain old being mean. And Dolly says that we shouldn’t be mean.

Dolly says we should love. We should open our hearts and wallets to make the world safer and more supportive for our children. And we should be especially worried when there is a genuine national crisis of teens engaged in self harm because their sexual orientation does not match up with what some people think it should be.

Rather than taking the time, effort and our limited community energy to tear apart our precious library and its precious staff. Rather than making moves to dismantle the historic, precious, frugal and cost-saving Fontana Regional Library system, we should be building it up. We should not be ripping into the library staff like a chainsaw run amok; rather, we should be supporting them.

In short, I think we should spend our time trying to build schools rather than short-changing this generation and the next. We should be adding books and other media to the library and paying our staff properly rather than operating out of a center of hate seeking to isolate and/or remove books we don’t like and tearing libraries down.

We should be supporting the diversity of our communities in an equitable manner. And supporting and loving our most vulnerable.

We are rags of many colors but we can stitch ourselves together as a community coat of mutual support, security, and love.

Just like Dolly’s momma did.

(John deVille is a long-time public school teacher in Macon County. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

Leave a comment


  • Awesome article! As a retired teacher, I agree with it all.

    posted by Linda B

    Monday, 03/06/2023

  • Y'all out here gotta start speaking up more cause all I hear is the hate and it's starting to suffocate me

    posted by JB

    Sunday, 03/05/2023

  • Amen.

    posted by Ron Morrow

    Saturday, 03/04/2023

  • Always a voice of reason, thank you John for putting this unfortunate situation into perspective. So many people I talk with are exhausted by the divisiveness.

    posted by Karen Smith

    Friday, 03/03/2023

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