Back to school time. Children return to overcrowded, over-heated, under-equipped, and under- staffed classrooms. Parents feel relief. Grandparents feel comfort. Non-parents feel abused. And lawmakers feel self-righteous.
"We didn't have air-conditioned classrooms when I was in school," said one legislator . . . proving they didn't have much learnin' in those days, either. Times change. Technology changes. Living standards change. Apparently, some lawmakers don't accept change — except, of course, in their own homes, cars, offices and churches.
Another Utah legislator said: "We spend too much on higher education. I didn't go to college, and I've done OK." Apparently not. "Doing OK" should include at least basic understanding about what's going on in the real world.
A letter to the editor says: "I chose not to have children. Why should I pay taxes to educate the neighbors' children?"
Apparently, the writer also chooses higher crime rates, more daily incompetence, and less citizen participation in democratic processes. These and other problems are byproducts of limited education.
Such uninformed comments remind me of Albert Einstein's observation: We can't solve our problems with the same level of intellect we had when we created them.
Utah schools are underfunded.
A tax change (not tax increase) introduced by Reps. Pat Jones and Steve Mascaro will help . . . if lawmakers have the wisdom to enact it. But it is only a partial solution. It helps reduce tax burdens on small families and childless taxpayers, slightly shifting responsibilities to larger families and high-income taxpayers. But it does not solve the state's education challenges.
Utah needs a greater commitment to education. Our leaders — business, political and church leaders — should remind us over and over again that Utah's family values include emphasis on education. That means not only our own children, but the neighbor's children, as well as the children of the polygamist family in Nephi and the children of the immigrant family in Rose Park. Our leaders should remind us often that education is more important than a second home in St. George, or a retirement motor home, or a new SUV, or the 50-dollar-a-month cable TV bill.
Good leaders should not be afraid to tell us that when we buy a new car, most of the money goes to Detroit or Tokyo, but when we get together as taxpayers to build new schools or hire new teachers, most of the money stays in Utah to help Utah's economy and Utah's children.
Those who tell us otherwise are not leaders; they are has-beens, trying to solve today's problems with yesterday's intellect.
Throughout the world, parents know education is the only hope for their children, their societies and their cultures. In struggling economies, parents do what they can. I visited a school outside Lima, Peru, where students gathered around picnic tables on the open desert. The "school" operates three shifts a day. Here, we can afford the finest educational experiences for our children. We choose, instead, to buy them rollerblades, Disney channel and Barbie dolls. It's fine to provide those indulgences, but it is not fine to provide unnecessary luxuries and, in the next breath, complain that education taxes are too high. It teaches children that education is not important; "stuff" is important. Such behavior runs counter to everything we know about children, social responsibility and democracy. (Thomas Jefferson said: "If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, it expects what never was and never will be.")
Education may have its problems, but in general we get more from our education dollars than from most other investments. And we certainly get more from teachers and administrators than we deserve. Thanks to good teachers, today's students know more than any generation before them. They will be better managers, scientists, researchers, doctors and teachers than previous generations. Eventually, they will be better leaders than the leaders of today.
Most students will overcome overcrowded, over-heated, underequipped and understaffed classrooms . . . because they have no alternative. They believe in themselves, and they have confidence in the future. But many will be left behind. Imagine what our youngsters could do if we offered support instead of lip-service.
Perhaps the wrong group returned to classrooms. We adults who make critical decisions about the well-being of the state and nation could use a little education, too.
G. Donald Gale is president of Words, Words, Words Inc. He was formerly editorial director at KSL. He earned a Ph.D. at the University of Utah and was awarded an honorary doctorate by Southern Utah University. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org