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James A. Mowbray

Alabama's Educational Crisis

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The state of Alabama, home of the first capital of the Confederacy (1861), has an enormous educational problem. In the US teachers graduate from Colleges of Education in which they are chiefly taught how to teach rather than the subject matter to be taught. Many of these colleges have been found to be substandard by competent national and state studies. On top of these first two problems lay down the fact that the state government has long been a good old boy political network in the legislature that is unwilling to address the competency problems and which allocates the state budget in an ear marked way that closes out flexibiltyand "fills the pork barrel." As a result, the schools lack adequate financing. When the present, and the previous, governor went to the electorate with first a lottery proposal and then a constitutional amendment to finance schools, the voters turned down both. The lottery died because the local religious folks decided to fix the problem by saying, with signs in their yards, "we pray for our schools!" The amendment died because voters said "we do not trust the politicians!" We have several adequate to solid universities, and like my two daughters, many of those who gradute leave the state. I have one in California and one outside of New Orleans. So exodus is another aspect of this. The lack of education in the population is a reflection of these problems, as are the high illegitimacy rate, number of single mothers, high poverty rates, deplorably poor tax base, and high STD rates. But the religious right are praying for everyone!

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Guest Adrian Dingle

Oh dear. There is an expression in England that is used in order to describe the futility of someone's (otherwise well intentioned, logical and sensible) efforts when those efforts are wasted on those they are designed to help. It is, "Pissing into the wind". Here, my friend, by attempting to rectify a serious problem with logic, clear thought and innovative ideas with your average Alabaman, I'm afraid you are, pissing into the wind!

Having emigrated from England four years ago and lived in rural west Georgia (25 miles from the 'Bama line) for three, all I have seen (amongst the proletariate) is a preponderance of vicous right-wing bigotry, gross ignorance, lack of education and such a heavy emphasis on the literal interpretation of the bible that renders any sensible conversation about three-quarters of all the topics on the face of the earth impossible to conduct. The level of insularity here is particularly alarming.

Sometimes people ask me what it is like to live in GA having come from London. I only need to point to three events in the last two months to answer that question.

#1. A recent cross-burning near Rome, GA.

#2. The on-going debate near Valdosta, GA about the rights and wrongs of a segregated high school prom.

#3. The wisdom of Cathy Cox in relation to evolution.

Good luck.

P.S. Congratulations on raising two intelligent daughters who knew what to do at the earliest opportunity!

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Adrian, I appreciate your reply. I have lived in Alabama for nearly 18 years. My problem as an educator who is not required to deal with the problems because I teach at the Air War College (USAF), in addition to some night school classes at Troy and Auburn Universities, is that I believe there ought to be a manner in which at least some of these problems might be addressed. As a British Historian I am more than familiar with the "pissing in the wind" syndrome, and I am probably talking about it here because I would be pissing in the wind if I made public comments in letters to the editor, or in some similar forum. However, more and more I am inclined to think about trying to find some method of organizing the few educated people in this town in order to try and help. Hence, I am looking for ideas, or some approach that might have worked elsewhere to attack bigotry entrenched in a malfunctioning educational system. I am not sure that there is any place quite like Alabama, albeit West Georgia strikes me as merely being East Alabama. You didn't teach at West Georgia State College (University?), did you? Anyway, I appreciate your view---but I hate like the very devil to have to agree that you are most probably correct in your assessment.

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The state of Alabama, home of the first capital of the Confederacy (1861), has an enormous educational problem. In the US teachers graduate from Colleges of Education in which they are chiefly taught how to teach rather than the subject matter to be taught. Many of these colleges have been found to be substandard by competent national and state studies. On top of these first two problems lay down the fact that the state government has long been a good old boy political network in the legislature that is unwilling to address the competency problems and which allocates the state budget in an ear marked way that closes out flexibiltyand "fills the pork barrel." As a result, the schools lack adequate financing.

You seem to be in a very difficult situation. Most educators in Britain believe we do not spend enough money on education. However, the money available is distributed fairly evenly over the whole country. The problem in America appears to be the amount of power held by individual states. In a democracy you would assume that if a significant number of people felt strongly about an issue (for example, the need to increase spending on education), they would join together in a pressure group in order to change the mind of the people making the decisions. It seems from your comments that this is not happening.

Alabama’s economy must be suffering from this lack of investment in education. I would not expect too many high tech companies to set up their businesses in Alabama. I imagine there must be examples of other states in the Deep South who have increased educational spending and as a result have been rewarded by an increase in inward investment. If so, how have the politicians in Alabama reacted to this information?

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I have lived in Alabama for nearly 18 years.

I wonder, if things are as awful as you feel they are, why you stay there? Why not take a leaf out of your daughters' book and move on?

If that is not an option then you only have two alternatives

i) living with it

ii) trying to do something about it

...I would be pissing in the wind if I made public comments in letters to the editor, or in some similar forum.

Have you actually tried this as a starting point?

However, more and more I am inclined to think about trying to find some method of organizing the few educated people in this town in order to try and help

Perhaps some would come decide to come out of the woodwork in response to your 'letters to the editor'??

I am sure that you are facing an uphill struggle on this one - good luck!

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Actually, the present Republican governor of Alabama (as had a republican governor in my state of Tennessee five years earlier) laid his political capital on the line and declared that a major tax increase would be necessary to help pull Alabama into the modern economy.

Taxes do not sell in the deep south. They are not deemed to be investments in future tax revenues (in the case of education funds) So letters to the editor were sent in the form of a full scale campaign led by a Republican governor.

The measure was soundly defeated.

The only successful educational reform in the deep south in recent years has been in Georgia where a lottery was created and the revenues were reserved for college educations for Georgia high school graduates. (This is a tricky matter because if you create funds for education in a lottery, you have to protect existed education funds from being plundered. That is what happened to the lottery in California and it actually hurt education there) The Georgia lottery went a long way in getting a free education for good students.

Tennessee has enacted such a lottery this year, but it will not provide as much financial assistance, it will give money to lower performing students, and some of the funds will be used for general education.

My point is that the battle was picked in Alabama just this passed year. It was called for by the party that is generally in opposition. He made his case to look forward into the future. He even pointed out that his tax increase, by changing the regressive nature of the Alabama tax system, that most Alabamians would actually pay less taxes. But the program, which received a complete public debate, went to the voters and was soundly defeated.

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Well Jam, you have encouraged me with your perserverence. I though that teaching in a Military establishment would be difficult, but it seems the salvation for education in your area. Here in Australia I have seen trade Union groups advertise the plight of some "third world countries". Maybe you will have to resort to publically embarrassing your education system.

It is our job in the more enlightened world to provide a sounding board and encouragement. But rfrankly at this point I am a bit speechless.

What is the contact for your legislature? Maybe a few interested parties could email questions about education spending and how it is allocated.

Nelson Mandela had to start somewhere (but I persoanlly don't wanrt to go to Robin Island)

PS We need to make sure our signatures are on each posting. Where's mine gone?

OK, I am logged on as a teacherr in the International Student Debate. Better go there and add my signature

Pauline Crawford

Australian Science & Maths School

SA

Edited by Ms Crawford

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To all of you that have responded, your views are appreciated.

Pauline, I will look into the e-mail address for the Legislature, which should be easy to find. I have some contacts in the political system. An e-mail campaign that has an international flavor may be something of an attention step for the inept and unfortunate in our legislature, but such an effort probably needs to go to the newspaper if it is to get pressure generated. I get that as well and post both.

Eeyore, I mentioned those recent failures just in passing, and your details will be helpful for those not so close and familiar with Alabama's problems. I dare say that Georgia, Florida, Tennessee, and Mississippi are rather more enlightened than Alabama.

Maggie, My new wife has asked me the same question, that is, why stay? The answer is in my position as a Professor at the Air War College, which places me in the military environment (my wife is a retired colonel) doing a job that is my first love. I cannot do this same job anywhere else. I worked to educate my children as much at home as in the public schools, which we supported as a family. I am inclined to go the letter to the editor route in the immediate future, and no I have not done so up to now because the crisis only became acute with the recent double defeat of a lottery and then the tax measures. The latter just a few weeks ago.

John, you are right we are suffering, but Mercedes, Hyundai and their suppliers have recently come to Alabama and their presence may help reverse this problem in the near future. But we here must stimulate the lethargic, and I am looking for ideas.

thanks to all of you . . .

James (Jim) Mowbray, Professor of Strategy, Air War College

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I sympathise a lot too (if that's any consolation!).

Perhaps the way forward is to be low-key, but very factual in, for example, letters to newspapers, etc (if that's a useful means of expression in Alabama). Instead of, for example, just pointing out the USA's lowly place in the educational league of advanced countries, perhaps you could ask readers for their suggestions about how to improve the USA's standing in, for example, high school math scores.

I have a writing course here in Sweden where some of the students are participating in a peer review exercise with composition course students at Central Missouri State University. It's fascinating reading the bulletin board, as Swedes, who can't imagine a country with the death penalty discuss crime and punishment with people from one of the states with quite a high record of executions. The US students are, perhaps, being more challenged in their beliefs than the Swedes, since there are completely different countries with different languages, belief systems, social and economic policies, etc just a couple of hours drive away from the Swedes, so they're more used to seeing several perspectives at once.

However, it's easy for me to sit here and make suggestions - I'm sure it doesn't look so easy from where you're sitting! Good luck!

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