Hattiesburg American Column: 9/16/2010

Here’s my column that appears today in the Hattiesburg American:

TO THE QUESTION of “Can good composition teaching be done under present circumstances?” Edward M. Hopkins said “no.” Teachers are overworked to the point of break down, he said. Students are not getting the individual attention they need, and their language skills show it. We just aren’t creating circumstances conducive to the best teaching and learning.

He said this in 1912 in an article published in English Journal.

Some things never change. English teachers are always the first to complain that they are overloaded.

English teachers, after all, have heavy grading loads, and they carry large burdens in terms of overall student performance. Reading, writing, and arithmetic have long been recognized as the core of all other learning. If no one else has noticed that English teachers cover two of the three essential subjects, we certainly have.

English teachers – at least in the two-year college system – have known for some time that education budgets were being cut too much in Mississippi. Now, everyone feels the pressure.

If you saw the report WDAM-TV aired on Sept. 8 about enrollment increases in two-year colleges, you saw Jesse Smith (president of Jones County Junior College) and Eric Clark (executive director of the Mississippi State Board for Community & Junior Colleges) discuss the budget crisis two-year colleges now face. Enrollments are up. Funding is down. This is the story across the state.

Dr. Clark describes this situation as “unsustainable.”

I understand that the whole state is in a budget crisis, that everyone has to tighten up. I also understand that severe academic cuts don’t help anyone recover from a recession.

Mississippi needs more jobs. To create new jobs, we need new industries. To attract new industries, we need an educated workforce. We need the system that provides the bulk of workforce training and affordable education to be hearty and healthy.

Thomas Jefferson envisioned two-year colleges as offering a solid and affordable education “within a day’s ride of every student.” He saw the opportunity as an essential building block of a viable democracy.

I, for one, believe this is an ideal worth investing in no matter your circumstances. In fact, I believe we need what the two-year colleges can offer more than ever in tough times.

Speak up on behalf of academics, Mississippi. I am prepared to beg.

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