Last month the people with kids who moved out to Paron (population 46), which is in the woods in Saline County just west of Pulaski County, went to court to keep their high school operating. The Board of Education had decided to close it because there was no way the village could attract or afford the teachers to teach the 38 minimum number of courses every high school must now provide in Arkansas.
The Paron moms and dads don’t seem to care about the courses, but they are plenty mad about their kids having to ride a school bus more than an hour to get to and back from the nearest qualified school. But Arkansans proud of their state should hope that the Paron villagers lose in court.
It’s only within the last few years that Arkansas has had the governor and the leaders of the Department of Education who realize that some of our children aren’t getting the quality education they could get in almost any other state. If the Paron parents win in court to keep their high school, we can be sure that no other school without the minimum courses will ever be closed.
I admired Doug Eaton, the director of school transportation, who said, “If they [the Paron parents] don’t like to ride the bus, move closer to the school.” Until lately there had never been a director in the education department who would have spoken so bravely.
After all, the parents could create car pools to drive and return the Paron kids so they don’t have to suffer the bus stops picking up and returning kids at other small towns.
There are also other things parents can do. Cynthia Howell, who writes about education for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, interviewed Billy G. Hudson, a professor of medicine and biochemistry at Vanderbilt University, who thinks the wasteful time on school buses can be made useful by buying a computer for each student so they can read and write their lessons while riding.
Dr. Hudson was born about 20 miles from Sheridan in a town called Grapevine, so he knows what it is to ride a bus to school. At the Grapevine school reunion last month he came home to present what he calls the “Aspirnaut Initiative.” He with his brother and sister who live in Little Rock are contributing and asking for money to buy computers, teach students to use them and train older students to help the young ones on the buses.
“I see the bus as a one-room schoolhouse,” he said. “You have all ages of kids in there, and the older ones actually look after the younger ones. Let’s put computers in the hands of students as an experiment, and let’s have some of the older students be mentors. School begins on the bus.”
As we might expect, the parents in Paron quickly complained to politicians like Rep. Jeremy Hutchinson, a Little Rock Republican. When the legislature met in April, he introduced a bill that said it was OK for schools in small towns to have fewer than 38 courses for the children. Happily, his bill went nowhere.
But then along came his uncle, Asa Hutchinson, who used to be a congressman — the one who led the Republicans who tried to impeach the only Arkansan who was ever elected president of the United States. He is fond of his nephew, and now that he has lost his Washington job, he is campaigning to be elected the next governor of Arkansas. So he suggests that if he is elected, he will see to it that no high school will be closed in a town if it means kids having to spend three hours in a bus going to and from a qualified high school in another town.
That’s why I am going to vote for Mike Beebe for governor.
The latest conversations among political fans are guessing whether Al Gore, the former vice president, senator and our Tennessee friend, is using a book and a movie he made about the danger of global warning as a way to get the next Democratic nomination for President. However, despite his denial over and over under questions from George Stephanopoulos on TV Sunday, it seemed that he would run only if Democrats could convince him that he could win.
The New York Times writes that Gore has told his friends that he would not absorb another race in which he lost again. But many people are scared by the thought of global warming, and many believe that the Republicans could find it difficult to nominate anyone who has more experience in government than Al Gore. John McCain, the leading Republican candidate, will be 70 in August, and Gore is only 58.
When Gore ran for President in 2000 he got 51 million votes and Bush got 50.5 million, and if Ralph Nader hadn’t run, Gore would have been president. It’s interesting to note that since 1972, Arkansans gave more votes to Gore in 2000 than any other Democratic nominee except Bill Clinton.