by Max Brantley
An Arkansas Governor's School advocate (as I am) calls attention to an idea floated to Gov. Mike Beebe at a Q&A at the school this week. Why not a fund-raising drive to prevent reduction of the 30-year-old enrichment program from six to four weeks next year? A tight budget dictated the reduction, the governor has said.
The Governor's School, often hotly controversial over the years for the dangerous exposure it provides high school seniors to ideas, is lucky to be alive. Some of these programs for talented students in other states have fallen by the wayside.
I got emotional talking about this subject last week at Governor's School, a residential program held each summer at Hendrix College. My mother-in-law retired as a state Education Department supervisor of gifted and talented programs and she was in on the startup of the program. She convinced me long ago that gifted students were every bit as deserving of special education offerings as others with different needs. She stood resolutely -- and reasonably, I should say -- against the attacks on the program from the Religious Right during its early years.
Each year, the Arkansas Times sponsors an Academic All-Star team. It's always striking how many of the nominees, in a small essay required of each, described Governor's School as the most significant experience of their lives. I'd venture that it is particularly transformative for students from small, rural high schools where the sheer force of budget constraints -- if not constrained community outlooks -- makes the richness of Governor's School seem like an academic Disneyland. And, yes, some of the eggheads finally find that they are not alone in their tastes in books, music, poetry and politics.
So, by all means, let's raise money for Governor's School. But it would be better if the state took Martha Bass' view. The bright kids are deserving of the same special attention we give other special needs, from learning disablities to football.