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A wise man named Henry David Thoreau once suggested the best way to appraise the value of an education in this frequently all too natural state. He compared it to evaluating how much a piece of real estate is worth, and how to upgrade it.

His formula was simplicity itself, repeated time and again: Simplify. Simplify. Simplify. And then repeat as often as necessary. Like shampooing. All of this quite different from the constant fiddling with the state's standards of education, which never seem to remain constant.

Typical was a headline in Arkansas' Newspaper the other morning which reported: State schools/given new set of standards/Education Board approves revised list for accreditation.

And if Gentle Reader doesn't like these (ever) new standards, all he need do is wait for a while. Since they will change soon enough. For educational standards in Arkansas tend to prove as variable as the weather. At the end of this long trail a-windin', there's still nothing better than the happy prospect of just having one teacher talking to one student, and guiding him. James Garfield's definition of an ideal college boiled down to a picture of the great educator: "Mark Hopkins on one end of a log and a student on the other." No fancy-shmancy changes to forever keep getting in the way of real learning and real teaching.

Does the supposedly sovereign state of Arkansas really need a beehive of bureaucrats to obscure everybody's vision in order to educate the next generation? Bureaucrats and administrators like one Stacy Smith, assistant commissioner of Learning Services, whatever those might be for now. Feel free to define those services, for the definition will change soon enough, and the current one will prove as fungible as all those that came before it and will come after it. Do we really need a top-heavy bureaucracy to guide us though all these loop-de-loops? The obvious response to that purely rhetorical question is: Of course not.

At the moment, for example, journalism is not listed in the required curriculum for accreditation. But what better way to see through the various low crimes and high misdemeanors committed in its maculate name? Only 4 percent of Arkansas' students may be taking it, but how many are learning to be journalism critics the time-tested way--by working for the school newspaper or yearbook?

What we have here is a failure of these educational standards but of personal imagination and experience. Maybe what these students need most just now is a good leaving-alone. Deborah Coffman isn't just the state Education Department's assistant commissioner for accountability but a genuine, certified, capital-E Expert in her under-defined specialty. But the real experts in her field are the students who are the consumers of both news and opinion. They're the ones who even she has to confess will "usually tell all." If only our ersatz experts would consult them despite the many layers of bureaucracy they'd have to part in order to do so.

Our state legislators are ready to get in the act, too. As if this fast congealing broth didn't have enough cooks already to thoroughly spoil the recipe. And so another quarter must be heard from. Until the final product is pronounced bad enough to pour down the drain. There's got to be a better way to educate the next generation of Arkansans, so let's keep on trying to find it. Oh, if only there were a way to teach persistence.


Paul Greenberg is the Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial writer and columnist for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

Editorial on 06/06/2018

Print Headline: Cut to the chase; How to save education in Arkansas

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