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Faithful readers know by now that the old curmudgeon loves reading, especially older books.
The other day we picked up a volume that had resided peacefully on our shelf for close to a quarter of a century, the exact time it is hard to state with certainty.
It was published in 1972, but we did not acquire it for some little time, possibly 10 to 15 years. We do this quite often, buying a book that looks interesting, which we for some reason cannot read just at the time of purchase, but which we think we may at some time get around to reading.
This particular book is PEOPLE IN A DIARY A MEMOIR BY S. N. BEHRMAN (Little, Brown and Company, 1972).
Sam Behrman was a successful playwright, essayist and screenwriter. He was friends with numerous celebrated figures in both America and Europe.
Two short quotations from this book which seemed noteworthy in 1972, are still today, and we suspect will be many years in the future.
The first is a quotation that was a hundred years old when Behrman repeated it, on p. 82 - “I remembered Disraeli’s eternal dichotomy: ‘The Privileged and the People form Two Nations.’”
This seems just as true today as it was when first spoken.
The second quotation is found on p. 318. In a chapter titled “Climate at 77,” he writes: “I grew up with a resplendent feeling about the glory and generosity of the United States..... But I have, of late years, been conscious of a deep change. The country has taken on a frightening aspect. It seems to have become a plutocracy, cruel, capable of atrocities, which has darkened its image all over the world. I say to myself: Why should I care? In a short time I will know nothing about anything. But I do care. I care deeply.”
To which we can only say, Amen, tell it like it is, brother!
One cause for the deteriorating change in the country about which Behrman so eloquently complains may be explained by a disquieting statistic reported on in recent days. It has been found that only 12 percent of 12th graders in this country know basic history!
Is it any wonder that we are in the fix in which we find ourselves? Knowing no history, the general populace can be led down the garden path by demagogues spouting nonsense about the country and its history and how “we must get our country back” even though they are so ignorant that they wouldn’t, and couldn’t, recognize how the country should be if “we got it back”.
Of all the reports we have heard in recent times, this is by far the most shocking, and the most outrageous.
We have preached for the last half century that our educational system was failing our students, and thus failing us, but even we had no idea that it had come to such a sorry pass that only one in eight high school seniors knows basic history.
No diploma should be awarded to a high school graduate who cannot pass a basic history examination.
We do not expect all students to know all the details of ancient history, although at least a surface survey of the birth of democracy in Greece and the impact of empire in Rome could better equip our newly minted voters about many of the issues upon which they will be expected to cast intelligent votes.
And American history is indispensable.
A survey of the founding of the nation, the crises through which it has passed, the failures it has endured, as well as the triumphs it has experienced, coupled with a closer examination of those periods paralleling our own, such as the “Cleveland Panic,” the Great Depression, the Bank Holidays, the WPA, CCC and TVA, could profit greatly those seven out of eight students who now know nothing of these past experiences.
The educational establishment should hang its collective head in shame that such a travesty has been produced by what should be the greatest educational system in the world, but which seems to have sunk into a slough of ignorance and neglect of learning.
Of course disgraceful ineptitude is not limited to our high schools.
It also seems to run rife in the august halls of ivy, if recent events at the University of Tennessee are examples by which to gauge.
We refer to the bizarre reports heard recently whereby the academic side of the university is said to be so lacking in funds that once again the student body must endure another hike in the fees which they must pay in order to matriculate at this state school.
Meanwhile, the athletic side of the university appears to be not only rolling in money, but to be positively wallowing in it, otherwise how could the school afford to be paying out several millions of dollars just to get rid of the various incompetent people it has hired over the past few years.
If memory serves, in recent times we have bid farewell to two football coaches, one basketball coach, one baseball coach, several assistant coaches and finally one athletic director.
As we understand it, all of these fellows have left under a greater or lesser cloud arising from their own activities, a situation which in the real world would get you nothing but a pink slip, and if lucky a few months of unemployment payments.
Not so however, for our athletic crew, each one of whom either has received, or will receive, from hundreds of thousands up to millions of dollars as a reward for their failing to deliver the goods for which they contracted with the university.
Do discharged faculty or staff receive such generous rewards for failure?
They shouldn’t, and we doubt that they do, so why should these clowns leave without laurels, but weighted down with gold?
It is not only the leavers, but also the comers, upon whom U. T. Chancellor Cheek and the Trustees choose to lavish our money.
According to a story in Wednesday’s Knoxville News Sentinel, incoming deans and department heads in several departments of the university are to receive substantially more money than their predecessors.
Such increases range from just over $13,000 per year up to almost $70,000 per year. In addition, some at least are to get non-accountable annual expense allowances, in one case $5,000, plus a moving allowance of $20,000!
It will no doubt cheer greatly the students and parents of students who will have to write checks for the newly increased tuition charges to know that their money is going for such a good cause.
Now might be a good time for the legislature to remind Chancellor Cheek and the U.T. Board of Trustees that their budget is just as subject to adjustment to reflect the financial hard times that the state and the nation are going through as is any other department.
Of course one might have known when the board imported Chancellor Cheek from Florida that his values might reflect the profligacy of the Sunshine State more than the frugality of the Volunteer State.