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Back to school: I’ve become my parents

When one has been in the education field for a while it is natural to wax nostalgic as the school bells toll the end to yet another summer.  I was absolutely mortified the other day as I found myself relating one of those tales of woe about how rough we had it during our seemingly prehistoric days in school.  

 You know the stories that we baby boomers had to listen to about how our depression-era parents had to trudge five miles in the snow to school in shoes lined with cardboard to keep out some of the dampness and cold.  I didn’t try to get away with that, but I caught myself trying to elicit sobs of sympathy by telling some youngster that when I was in school the buildings were not even air-conditioned, and that notebook paper stuck to your sweat-drenched arm in class.  I further horrified my young listener by telling him that when I came to college the dormitories were not air-conditioned.  How could we have been so abused?  It is indeed the beginning of the school year.  I know so when in my university haven the sounds of the marching band’s drum line begin pounding above the drone of the modern air-conditioner that sets right by my ear in my office.  

 At this time of the year I invariably think back to my late father’s stories of his arrival and subsequent exploits on this same college campus.  He hitchhiked here in the mid-1930’s from his childhood home on the Tippah/Union County line.  If you did not know where he decided to go to college his chosen academic major of animal husbandry would be a dead give away as to his college of choice. More than a few times I kidded my father that if he had simply stuck his thumb out and stayed in the road two or three more hours across to Tuscaloosa, Ala., all of our Saturdays would have been more interesting.  

 Apparently, rather than winning football he must have had his sites set on Old Main dormitory and more specifically the political domination of the infamous section called “Pole Cat Alley.”  All I know is that he and his fellow henchmen, whether democratically elected or otherwise, had my father installed as the official (or unofficial) “Mayor of Pole Cat Alley,” and he ruled with an iron hand until he was ousted in old fashioned coup d’état perpetrated by a rival group.  While the unembellished facts are probably lost to history, it is clear that the time spent in Old Main made its mark on my father. This was made abundantly clear when, at the age of eight, I rode with him from our little Central Mississippi hometown to watch firemen spray water on the dying embers after the great hall famously burned to the ground.  

 It is that time of year, and it is indeed a joy to hear the stories of the old days emanating from all of our universities and community colleges.  It is evident in every case that success stories throughout Mississippi were shaped by activities nurtured on these hallowed grounds and much of this shaping took place far beyond the classroom.  

 Once again this year, as in the recent past, higher education enrollment figures appear poised to break records all across the state.  This is perhaps a sign that things are looking up.  In Mississippi’s past, on far too many occasions, students didn’t make it across the high school finish line to be able to enter college or they became distracted or otherwise fell short of the necessary requirements to enter job training programs.  

The State of Mississippi can ill afford to lose even one set of hands pulling on the economic development rope.  Just last week we were given a reprieve of sorts when Congress rescued a number of kindergarten through 12th-grade teaching positions with a supplemental federal appropriation.  Such an 11th-hour rescue is not likely to be repeated, but even so Mississippi can not afford to lose any more ground to the relentless international push for education.  As we continue to wrestle with a recession-ridden budget the sacrifice must be made to guard education at all costs.

Perhaps we should first drop the title we have placed on our marquis education funding effort, the Mississippi Adequate Education Program, and replace it with the Mississippi Superior Education Program.  For sure, we need to gather all who value education from the womb to graduate school under the same tent in a show of unity.  For it is true that the vocabularies learned by our two-year-olds will be rewarded 16 or so years later by our universities, community colleges and job training programs.  

Never should we view a dollar spent at one level as being a dollar lost at another.  A dollar invested in education at any level should redound to the benefit   


Dr. William Martin Wiseman is director of the John C. Stennis Institute of Government and professor of political science at Mississippi State University. Contact him at marty@sig.msstate.edu.


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