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It’s easy to become discouraged at way the world seems to be shaping up, especially for our young people in our school systems. Budgets are being cut, teachers aren’t being paid enough, children are unruly and disrespectful, and the words Common Core make everyone want to shudder at the unknown.

And while it’s easy to believe things are unique for this time period, a look back in history tells us maybe not. A letter dated June 7, 1907 and appearing in The Paducah Evening News suggests that history does, in fact, repeat itself – or maybe it never changed at all.

Professor E. George Payne, the principal at Paducah High School and the Washington school building, submitted his annual report to Superintendent C.M. Lieb (printed in the Evening News) which included several recommendations to better programs, curriculum and facilities.

He began by bemoaning the state of the school buildings themselves, requesting repairs for floors, walls and even additional seating as there were more students than chairs. Payne wasn’t thrilled with the lack of proper equipment, especially for the science departments. A four-year program in science had recently been implemented but Payne was disappointed at the continued funding.

Payne went on to encourage the board to build playgrounds, and to possibly partner with the city parks department to give the youth in the schools a place to play and recreate. The high school students, he said, had made quite a name for themselves in baseball, football, tennis and basketball, but lacked the proper facilities to do so. “Interest in these games has kept the students off the streets and out of injurious forms of amusement and exercise,” Payne boasted. “The training and dieting of the football season has developed a marvelous power of self-control among our boys.”

He seems quite progressive to us now, but Payne suggested that the students at the high school were spending too much time in the classroom. He suggested required extracurricular activities in public speaking, reading, literary clubs and athletics to further boost a student’s all-around portfolio.

Teachers should all complete a minimum required amount of training and certainly were being paid a “pittance.” He suggested night school and vocational track courses. Payne also suggested to pay more attention to the arts, particularly music. Why? Because of girls, duh. “Music is especially an essential part for a girl’s education and as a large percent of our students are girls, music should have a more prominent place in the curriculum.”

No STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) course work here for the girls!

One of professor Payne’s greatest bugaboos? That the school board was not fully behind Lieb in terms of disciplinary expectations: “The discipline in the schools this year has been the most serious proposition of any since my connection with the schools,” Payne said. “The failure of the board to support you (Lieb) has left the principals without support, and created a spirit of anarchy among the students.”

Oddly, in his giant report he never once mentioned testing…

Thankfully, facilities at least were greatly improved over the years (wouldn’t Payne love Otis Dinning Gymnasium and McRight Field?) and thanks to music groups like Prime Rib, Concordia and the Band of Blue, music is a boon for all, not just the girls. We’ll still continue to discuss proper equipment outfitting and teacher pay for the rest of time, of course.

For all things periodical or a trip down memory lane, head to the Local and Family History Department at the McCracken County Public Library.

— Dusty Luthy