Cut the 12th grade? Maybe so in Utah

Forget cutting teacher pay raises or even laying off teachers when the bottom line comes calling. Utah State Sen. Chris Buttars, a Republican, sees school districts ridding themselves of buses and the 12th grade.

In less desperate times such an idea may seem nutty. But with an economic crunch from a hard-hitting recession, people tend to listen to just about any idea that might save money. So Buttars believes a disappearing act for school buses and a pesky 12th year or school would net that state, which wants to cut education funding by 5 percent, about $300 million a year.

Are such cuts ridiculous? I couldn’t tell you. I’m sure a case can be made either way. Maybe yes, maybe no. I can only give you my personal testimony which can either be used as food for thought, or fed to the dog under the table.

First, let’s start with kindergarten. I never went to kindergarten. Texas school laws require that kids who turn 6 years old as of Sept. 1 must attend the first grade. I turned 6 almost two months later than that date.

I remember Momma took me to some kind of orientation for parents and kids entering elementary school. It was “elementary” school then but I don’t think it was too far from those days when beginning grades were called “grammar school.” This was in 1961. Wow, it’s hard to believe that was almost 50 years ago. Of course, there was no Internet back then. There was barely television where I lived some 60 to 75 miles from the area’s TV stations, although we received them with a tall antenna on the old house.

At that gathering my Momma was informed that I was too young to attend school, although I could attend kindergarten. The preface above is that it is difficult for me to believe that my mother didn’t know that I was too young. After all, she was a brilliant woman who worked for county government. But maybe she wasn’t aware of that because she had been busy raising five boys and the fact that she did work. I also don’t know why my parents didn’t opt to send me to kindergarten. I don’t remember, though, being upset over attending.

During my senior year I took two classes that — even though they may have not been all that crucial — turned out to be the most important classes I had in high school. One was English composition with Miss Miller. The other was civics with Mr. Davis, our school superintendent and who had hired my mother by that time as school tax assessor.

Prior to my senior year the practice ended allowing those in the 12th grade “study halls” or basically what were free periods for those student not needing more credits to graduate. What luck! I was assigned two classes not of my choosing. One was a first period physical education course and the other was Algebra II.

Fortunately, I was put into what was essentially a co-ed P.E. class. Coach Simmons, our teacher, had a girls’ class during that period and there were about five boys including myself who were assigned because we had nowhere else to go. Coach had his hands full with the girls so the guys were left to roam the area of the football and P.E. field or field house. We would lift weights if we wanted to or would occasionally play softball with the girls if we chose. It wasn’t very productive educationally, but it was okay by me.

The advanced algebra class, on the other hand, really brought out the rebel in me. I wasn’t at all pleased we could no longer have a free period so I just took a book into that class each day and read while class took place. I had made all this known to the teacher. I suppose she really couldn’t do anything since the class wasn’t required although I had to attend it. At the end of the year the teacher made a deal with me. If I passed the final I would get a “D,” which was (barely) passing. I think I squeaked by with a D and got a D in the course. Looking back, I don’t guess it is something to be proud of but also I am not particularly ashamed of it either.

My other classes that year included “homeroom,” which was basically a social hour to gab with my friends. I also had yearbook staff, which was fun. My final class was general business. I don’t think it was of great benefit even though I did the work and passed. However, it was a fun class because Mr. Weaver was a cool guy who let us joke around.

English composition and civics turned out to be essential classes in my career as a journalist as well as during my stints as a government employee. Neither class had been required. The two classes which I was made to attend but were not essential for my graduation except for being made to attend, as was the case with the rest of my senior year at school, which served only in improving my social skills.

I won’t say my senior year was worthless because it certainly wasn’t. It was the best year I had in all 12 years of school. That is because of the two courses which turned out as beneficial as well as the social aspect. I have to add, that socialization in school can be of tremendous importance to those students such as I who tended to be rather timid during my younger school years. (I still tend to be somewhat introspective, although much of it is because certain types of people now just tend to piss me off! Call it my curmudgeon phase.)

Had I chose a different path in life, say in science, my senior year and perhaps even the three other years in high school would not have been much of a help. It would even have been largely a waste of time insofar as receiving an education to prepare me for college and a career. After four years in the Navy and a year of just working I began the four years it took me to get a bachelor’s degree. I ended up with a 2.8 grade average over all despite half of all my semesters were spent on the Dean’s List with a 3.0 or better. That’s not summa type but not bad for both working and attending college full time.

A 12th year of school was added in Texas only in the 1940s. Compulsory education laws today are still more aimed at age rather than grade, unless you happen to be enrolled. Even now kids can graduate early. But the whole argument of what a 12th grade is worth is much more than just academics alone. This is especially so if you look at extracurricular activities and aspects such as the life of parents who these days are more likely to both work.

As for cutting school buses, that is even more distant a thought for me than eliminating the 12th grade. Many schools already contract bus services, thus eliminating equipment and costs for drivers and mechanics. Getting rid of buses altogether though, I don’t know.

If my voice were important to this debate about to happen in Utah over the 12th grade, I would have to say that maybe a 12th grade need not be mandatory. Perhaps the state could just let the parents decide whether their kids should attend a 12th gradeĀ  if the student has completed enough credits to graduate in the 11th grade. It might not save nearly as much money although it might cause a few dollars to be saved. Then again, I don’t live in Utah, I live in Texas. And I am quite happy about that.