Education Matters: History often repeats itself

Editor's Note: Numerous instances of plagiarism have been discovered in Dan Kimber’s “Education Matters” column, which ran in the News- Press from September 2003 to September 2011. In those columns where plagiarism has been found, a For the Record specifying the details will be appended to the piece.

Back at the beginning of the last century when Teddy Roosevelt was president, our country was in the middle of something called the Progressive Movement.

It was a decade or so of American history where the people — as in We The People — rose up in a common spirit of, “We're not going to take this anymore.”

It was mostly a middle-class reform movement that waged war on the evils of monopoly, corruption, inefficiency and social injustice in this country. Their main targets were the giant corporations/trusts that exploited labor (especially women and children) and manipulated politicians. Additionally, unrestricted immigration from southern and eastern Europe caused many to favor established quotas for all immigrants. (Sound familiar?)

While other forces inside and outside of government were reluctant to challenge the primacy of big business, individual writers such as Ida Tarbell, Upton Sinclair and Lincoln Steffens bravely exposed the underside of an unprecedented industrial revolution whose stunning success in productivity was matched only by the abuses it unleashed on the general public.

Taking on big business back then ran the risk of being labeled a socialist (sound familiar?), for anything that threatened to slow down the wheels of progress, as defined by the “Captains of Industry,” was seen as un-American.

Even if, at the time, it meant exposing the fact that children were literally being worked to death, or that the processing of foods and drugs was sickening, even killing people — all, of course, in the name of maximizing profit for the few at the top.

The trouble then, as it seems to be now, is that those people at the top had it in good with the people in government — local, state and national. It was a perfect symbiosis, with business needing friendly laws/contracts/tax breaks, non-regulation linked to politicians needing money and willing to trade one for the other.

Today we have a Supreme Court that has removed all limits on campaign donations by corporations, giving them free rein to exert the maximum influence on laws made, and as a perfect complement to that “right,” one party in the House is blocking an executive order that would require government contractors to disclose where their political contributions are going.

The word “transparency” comes into play here. It is a good word if you are for honest and fair dealings and would like to know who is exerting leverage with which politicians and how many dollars they are spending. But for all who would prefer to conduct their business in secret with the government, to be anonymous and as generous as they wish to be, transparency shines an unwelcome light on their activities.

I asked my students for 30 years, “Are we in store for another progressive period in this country?” Like the muckrakers of the past who exposed society’s corruptions, my students wanted to focus on their school, and here are a few favorites over the years, with a little commentary from me.

“Teachers who don't care about their students.” There is no question that a certain percentage of teachers in this country made a bad career choice and then decided to stick with it. As long as my profession attracts people who fall back on, rather than aspire to, it, there will be bad teachers.

“Our football team sucks.” This is not exactly in the spirit of the assignment, but an interesting observation nevertheless. I say when we bring back a sports program for all the elementary and junior high schools in the district, we will once again see inter-city rivalries that added to school spirit and a sense of common community.

“Food sucks at our school.” My answer for the last 25 years: Bring your own food to school. You make it, or if you're lucky, someone else in your family who cares about your health will make it.

“Bathrooms are dirty.” Well, short of stationing an individual in each bathroom all day long, those facilities will be at the mercy of the idiot factor in our schools, which have grown in the last decade or so. Those who daily trash, deface, disrupt or disrespect their school should be placed in a special school where the sole purpose is to quickly transition them into a job that will accept them as they are.

The impulse to reform has been a constant in our country’s history and at all levels of government. Today’s students will be tomorrow’s reformers, and based on the present status quo, they’ll have their hands full.

DAN KIMBER taught in the Glendale Unified School District for more than 30 years. He may be reached at

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