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‘Education candidates’ spout utter falsehoods

By Larry Fennelly The Macon Telegraph Georgia’s current struggle to improve the quality of the state’s educational system is nothing new. Back in the 1960s the state’s political leadership realized that increasing the educational levels of the citizenry would be essential if Georgia were to prosper in the modern world. The number of public colleges was expanded so that most of the populace would have at least a two-year college within commuting distance. It soon became apparent that expanding the infrastructure of higher education would alone not solve the problem. At the heart of the matter was the sad fact that a large percentage of the population was not academically prepared to study at the college level. The University System of Georgia saw that a system-wide program of developmental studies would be necessary if the opportunity to attend college were to be more than a charade for many of Georgia’s students. Not wishing to offend anyone with poor semantic choices, the educational leadership eschewed such terms as ‘remedial’ or ‘developmental’ and titled these programs ‘Special Studies.’ The operation of these programs was a huge undertaking, and an expensive one, too, but their goal was ‘to prevent the open door from becoming the revolving door.’ The thinking was that these developmental programs would endure long enough for the improvements in the state’s system of secondary education to render them unnecessary. As we all know, these programs are still with us. The war to get Georgia’s students ready for college-level study goes relentlessly on, and although the college developmental programs are often able to remediate a student in a single semester, there is no attempt that I have seen to coordinate these efforts with what goes on in schools ‘” public and private. How strange. In many parts of the state, the once-excellent public schools were torn asunder by misguided efforts to avoid desegregation. In many regions the schools have not recovered from the withdrawal of support by many ‘leading citizens,’ a situation which lingers even unto the present day. Our legislators labor annually to procure funding for vouchers that parents can use to send their children to non-public schools, all the while reducing funding to the public institutions ‘” apparently in the belief that if they can undermine the public schools sufficiently it will improve the chances of passing a vouchers bill. Meantime, the problems remain, and each successive governor and superintendent of schools introduces his or her pet plan or gimmick. These innovations may or may not prove successful, but the outcome is never known, because eight years later a new set of officials takes office and replaces the predecessors’ programs with their own. And on it goes. Each governor who takes office anoints himself ‘the education governor,’ but history says that such assertions are not merely baloney, they are out-and-out falsehoods. Consider our present governor. We all know that the current economic crisis has resulted in drastic reductions in all areas of funding, but let’s go back a couple of years. In January of 2008, when Gov. Perdue had already cut the funding formula for Georgia’s elementary, middle and high schools by $1.4 billion, he was calling even then for an additional $141.5 million in ‘temporary reductions.’ Where are our priorities? Our country’s educational system ‘” with its emphasis on testing at the expense of teacher morale and joy in the classroom ‘” is in serious trouble. Our position of world leadership demands that quality be restored. We can start by putting away the gimmicks, returning discipline to the schools and restoring the classroom to its station as a place where children’s minds are filled with awe and wonder ‘” rather than mind-numbing drills on test-taking techniques. It’s going to take a long time to straighten out the current mess. It’s going to take not political expediency but an impassioned commitment by parents, teachers and politicians, whose background is rich in history, literature, science and mathematics, not ‘curriculum development’ and ‘tests and measurements.’ This return to sanity is not going to be popular with politicians seeking immediate glory. Like planting a seedling, those who do the planting will very likely not be around to enjoy the fruit. But they will rest in peace, knowing that their reward is not of this world. Larry Fennelly is arts columnist for The Telegraph.

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