July 25, 2012 — The editor:
How many readers have ever seen these rare species? Hazel Green Bullfrogs, Fredonia Yellowjackets, Greenville Black Hawks. You had better look fast because they are disappearing because of one of the worst decisions ever made about education in this country: school consolidation.
These were the names of the teams of the small independent schools that were absorbed into huge centralized schools. Two generations later, people have realized that was a mistake with frightening unintended consequences.
Large schools encourage anonymity and a mob mentality that is promulgated by that anonymity. Drugs, weapons, gangs, assaults, tobacco and alcohol abuse flourish in these large schools because students can escape detection based on sheer weight of numbers. If I saw a student smoking in the restroom at Lafayette, I had little chance of getting him to the office if I did not know his name. A random search at any large school would turn up several of the items listed. Schools spend money for law enforcement and security cameras, yet the problems persist.
Add to that the sense of disenfranchisement and apathy rooted in the belief that no one really cares how a student does in school because they blends into a faceless background. I attended Wayne County High School in the early seventies with about 150 people in the graduating class and maybe 600 overall. Everybody knew everybody else. If a student was having problems in school or out of school, concerned teachers and staff were aware of the situation and tried to help. Peer pressure to behave properly was a significant deterrent to bad behavior. I never heard of anyone being suspended or expelled, not did I hear of teachers taking “mental days” to recover from the combat zone mentality that permeates schools today.
Consolidation destroyed education in more subtle ways. Our high school basketball team played about seven other high schools in Pulaski County, e.g. Nancy, Shopville, Lily. Each of these team played twelve boys for a total of 84 players actively involved. Now there are three high schools in Pulaski County with a total of 36 players. A lot of Kentucky boys dream of playing basketball for a school, but consolidation has diminished the possibility for most boys.
The same argument can be made for any of the service or student organization bodies like band, Key Club, and class officers. All high schools had those clubs each with its own officers. The opportunity to develop leadership skills has vanished for most kids.
Parental apathy tracks that of the students in large schools. On some PTA Open House Nights in Fayette County, I would have ten parents visit. In small schools that were the center of the community, parents were more likely to attend because they and their children had a sense of ownership in the school.
We waste billions of dollars on busing as a means of social engineering that has produced a lot of turmoil. More socioeconomic homogeneity among students in small schools resulted in less interclass strife.
The rationale for bigger schools was to provide more opportunities, especially in better-equipped science labs and so on. Considering the poor standing of science education in this country, that clearly has not happened. Schools are still lacking in sufficient equipment to teach lab based classes and most science teachers do not have the training or desire to teach lab-based classes.
The educational world has begun to admit its mistake. A recent trend is the idea of smaller learning communities to simulate the small school in mega schools. New studies have suggested that high schools have no more than 700-900 total enrollment.
The worldwide web can alter the learning environment in a way that nullifies the need for large school. The calculus teacher at Lafayette provided an excellent course to students in three high schools using technology.
But the disappearance of the small schools is robbing Kentucky of a piece of its educational history. In an attempt to counter that, I am trying to collect information from the last generation of the people who attended those schools. I am asking anyone who is so inclined to contact me with information about your high school. Specifically, I would like to know the following:
The name of the school, location, size, years of operation
The name of its athletics teams, the basketball region it was in and the high point in its team history, its major rivals
The culture and climate of the school
What classes were offered at the school
Your fondest memory of your years there
Copies of any photographs of the schools
My goal is to produce sixteen booklets, one for each basketball region, that will help preserve memory of these small schools that would be lost otherwise.
I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or Roger L. Guffey, 2394 LaRochelle Road, Lexington, KY 40504.
I look forward to hearing your memories before they are lost forever.