If we get caught doing this, it’s your fault

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By Jim Flynn

Senior citizens like to spin tales about walking two miles to school and two miles home, in rain and snow, wearing shoes with holes, and over roads that were uphill in both directions. 

Ignoring senior hyperbole, most Americans who completed eighth grade prior to World War II were culturally literate.  They were able to read newspapers and books, write understandable English, use pre-algebra mathematics, and discuss the basics of history, geography, and science.  There were no bilingual classes for those who came from non-English-speaking households.

Hundreds of thousands of pre-World War II non- high school graduates served in the military, became skilled workers in American industries, and earned their way into the middle class – home ownership, two cars, summer cottages, vacations, higher educations for their children, and retirement in Florida. 

Are we overstating a case for the quality of early twentieth century education?  We think not.  The proof was in the results. 

In all twelve grades of pre World War II public schools, there was never a class of less than 35.  Most often each grade had 40 students or more per room.  Occasionally, brighter students were given double promotions in order to free up seating space. 

In cities, excess students were sometimes sent to the next closest school, despite any inconvenience a transfer might cause the child or his parents.  In rural areas, students might be bused to a neighboring town. 

Poverty and crowding weren’t the only obstacles students had to overcome in the 1920s and 1930s.  No matter how large the school building or the student population, there were no assistant principles, teacher’s assistants, transportation coordinators, guidance counselors, resource officers, or deans of discipline.  Dedicated, but poorly paid, teachers carried multiple responsibilities. 

How did we get from there to here?  Quite simply, colleges of education   undertook to impose a wide social agenda on public schools, including all sorts of special needs. The university gurus found local school boards and state legislatures easy to manipulate in the name of a greater social good.

School administrators came to believe they had an assigned mission to run a one-stop, all-purpose social services agency –  nutrition, driver education, physical education, sex education, parenting classes, and on-campus police to enforce lengthy codes of conduct and keep students from harming teachers and each other.

As discipline problems multiplied, schools found themselves administering a parole and probation function.

The beat goes on in our empty-headed legislature.  There’s a House bill which proposes a program to promote self-esteem through positive platonic, romantic, intimate, and family relationships. 

A similarly goofy proposal in the Senate would have schools tout abstinence as the only sure cure for unintended pregnancy and sexual diseases. Wonder if they still believe kissing can cause pregnancy?

The cumulative mandates which created lots of social service jobs in education have become a forever funding burden on Florida cities and counties. 

But when it comes to funding education mandates, our legislators are tightwads.  Florida ranks somewhere between 42nd and 45th in public school funding among states, depending on whose numbers are accurate.

A recent item from Tallahassee reported that Florida is waiting for federal guidance so it can request a waiver to obtain stimulus aid to education. Why?

“Because the state’s financial support for public schools has declined since 2006.”

Some legislators were overheard chatting about lowering local real estate taxes again next year, at a time when all cities and counties are struggling financially.  That would create a nice re-election slogan to lure voters with short memories.

The legislature has also been considering whether citizens would vote a one-cent increase in the sales tax to fund education. 

If voters were to say “no” to a sales tax increase referendum, legislators could say “See, it’s all your fault.”  

How about revoking all 250 sales tax exemptions instead?  Not a chance.  Legislators are more afraid of lobbyists than they are of parents who vote. 

The collective wisdom in Tallahassee at this writing is to raise fees on luminescent license plates from fifty cents to a dollar and hope they get  the stimulus waiver.  How courageous.

Jim Flynn was formerly a corporate counsel, served in military intelligence during the Korean War, and once aspired to be a newspaper columnist.