Money not the answer to $ystem’s woes

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By Camille McClanahan

Hearing all the national hype about failing schools, and how we need to ‘invest’ more money into education, has started me thinking—should we spend more money on education or is it a bloated system of academic bureaucracy?

As I think about my own education, I realize that it was a shoe string operation.

At the risk of sounding cliché—back when I was a child, we had four grades crammed into each room of a two-room schoolhouse. The principal, one of two teachers, taught grades fifth through eighth. The school was heated by a pot-belly stove in each room and everyone brought their own drinking cup that was used in the little room with a hand-pump built at the end of the porch. (I was always jealous of those kids who had little aluminum cups that collapsed for storage; mine was just a jelly jar.) There were two outdoor toilets, one for the boys and one for the girls.

Physical education amounted to recess, when we played baseball, with the only playground equipment we had—a ball and a bat, or sometimes we just ran around like crazy yelling “tag,” you’re it!” At times, some girls scrounged up a jump rope or searched the grounds for a nice piece of shiny, colorful broken glass to use in a game of hop-scotch.

We lined up on the steps of the schoolhouse each morning, with hand over heart, to say the Pledge of Allegiance  and Bible passages were never shunned. No one ever objected, and I don’t believe the practice ever harmed us.

The few days each year that we had a substitute teacher, we were entertained. Mr. Knicely (pronounced nice-ly—no joke) would quote poetry, in between rattling cigarette-coughing spasms. He was a pale, thin, frail man with rounded shoulders, who flailed his arms in dramatization:
Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
“’Tis some visitor,” I muttered, “tapping at my chamber door
Only this, and nothing more.” (The Raven by Edgar Allan Poe)

Cough, cough, cough—he  backed up as he spoke—and fell right into the coal bucket, where he sat like a rag doll with his legs hanging over the side.

I can still see him and hear his gravelly voice. It was great! I loved my grade school days.

On the other hand, when we were promoted to ninth grade, we got on a school bus and rode over an hour (with stops) into town—and it was an adjustment, because we weren’t town kids and town kids hung together.

So when I decided to go to college, after being out of high school for 33 years, I had reservations that I could make the grade.

Beads of sweat stood on my forehead on the first day of my traditional grammar class at Northern Kentucky University.

“Some of you will do fine, because you were given a good foundation,” said the adjunct professor. “Others—you’re going to have a hard time.”

‘Well, my foundation is pretty old and crumbling,’ I thought to myself, as visions of diagramed sentences and dangling participles danced in my head and I wanted to cower in the corner.

Yet, just like riding a bike, it came back to me, and I realized that I had been given a good foundation, while other students, just out of high school, were struggling in the class. The basics: reading, writing and arithmetic had served me well, and I’m grateful to my teachers and the simple scheme that was in place in the hills of West Virginia.
Because small schools were shut down in favor of large consolidated schools, many layers have been added to administration: positions and assistant positions to run huge educational complexes.

I know those were simpler times, and I’m not suggesting that we go backwards, but when what we’re doing is just not working, why throw more money at the problem? In the past, Americans have always been able to do more with less. Let’s examine what is needed for a good foundation, hold fast to the basics and trim redundancy around the edges.

(Linda Lawrence is the editorial assistant for the Grant County News. She can be reached at gcneditorial@grantky.com or call 859-824-3343.)