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WILL LEGISLATORS RESPOND TO UEA DARE?

Utah Education Association's new president, Lily Eskelsen, says legislators would have a better feel for education's problems if they would visit a classroom.

Experiencing the joy of sitting on a heat vent because there is not room for enough chairs in a classroom to accommodate the number of students might be an interesting bit of reality therapy, says the outspoken Eskelsen.Well, legislators, there's a challenge for you.

Not a bad idea, really. Maybe, in fact, a day or two at school should be required activity for anyone who sits in a position of power over the funds that fuel the educational system.

Perhaps the school system should sponsor a back-to-school day exclusively for government officials. Not a celebrity-visits-school-event with special catering and a plumped-up dog-and-pony show of education's exceptions, but a routine, take-it-like-it-is session.

Perhaps better than a simple visit would be an opportunity for legislators to take on a class - or the administrator's job - for a day or more.

In a recent excellent report on education in Fortune Magazine, an article recounts the experience of a business executive who became "Principal for a Day" in a school located in an economically deprived Los Angeles neighborhood.

Arco President Robert Wycoff came away from the experience proclaiming, "This is not as simple as going to the moon."

During his one day in Manual Arts High School, he watched a teacher cope with the needs of a group of non-English speaking students. He talked with gang members who feel that revenge is one of life's most worthy ambitions. He saw students whose home life is a shambles failing to fathom how education could give them a route out of that abyss. He saw teachers who are stressed out and, by the standards of his business practice, underpaid.

At the end of the day, he declared, "If I were principal of Manual Arts, I could not do as good a job as I saw today."

Obviously, his experience was in a high school with exceptional problems. Utah might not be able to provide a legislator with an experience on the same scale, but it could certainly come up with schools where the challenges are not significantly less.

The type of memories Wycoff garnered would be as useful to legislators sitting down to divvy up the state's money pie as calculators.

There would be nothing like trying to cope with 40 fourth-graders - or, worse, 30 busy-body first-graders - I suspect, to help legislators realize that their ill-advised board-authorized two-mill property tax leeway was not the answer to overcrowded classrooms.

Eskelsen has thrown down the gauntlet. Let's see if Utah's representatives and senators are willing to pick it up.