Larry Webster: Cap the cost of a gown; high school should cost nothing, unless we secretly want dropouts

Who ever wears a senior ring anyway?

Contributing columnistApril 15, 2012 

Paul Pruitt used to say in front of his wife that he had been married to for nearly 74 years that she was about as good a woman as he could have gotten, no better car than he had at the time.

Not having a very good car turned out to be a stroke of luck for Paul and Zella Mae, but the lessons they teach are secrets of the poor and not something you learn in high school.

High school comes too early in life, when you don't have much sense. In the old West they didn't even break a horse until it was six or seven years old. We should make people start grade school when they are about 30. Then we wouldn't have to force people who don't want to be there to go to school.

If they are ever going to get serious about the high-school dropout rate in Kentucky, or anywhere else, they are going to have to do two things. First is to realize that nobody really gives a damn whether people drop out of high school or not. We need cheap labor and flea markets. Teachers and principals are glad to see them go. Some dropouts return to the woods and may someday save us all.

The second thing is to realize that one of the main reasons kids drop out of high school is money, other people's and their lack of.

By social pressure and this new thing called advertising, we require that a kid bring a lot of money to school, if his family has any left after they try to buy him clothes to equal what the rich kids wear.

To be somebody, he must hit his poor family to come up with $200 for a senior ring, $200 for class photos, $100 for a rental tux and $400 for prom, which includes invites, tickets, restaurant, room; unless you are a girl, then it goes up $1,000.

Finally, you pay $100 to rent a cap and gown. What kind of a school is graduating people who cannot on their own make a black drape with a hook on the back? Or a plywood hat? Let each kid wear whatever hat, probably John Deere, that he wears on the weekend.

It is the hardest thing in the world for a decent kid to make those kinds of demands on poor parents. They are old enough to know what real need is in a family, and hate to be a drain on a low budget. His option is to forgo keeping up with the Joneses in high school and decide that even though he is starting out life on the bottom, he kind of likes it there, and to go back to the house and wait for the first of the month to be paid by the government for not having a good enough education. And get him a woman who will marry somebody with a bad car, and still stay with him 74 years.

Why should anything cost anything at school? If you have to take money from home to perform an activity, then that activity should be forbidden at school. Do you know anybody who did not buy a high school class ring? Do you know anybody who ever wore one?

A well run brothel would be much cheaper than the prom. Where are you Belle Brezing, when we need you?

The shame is that more people do not drop out of school sooner. They ought to lower the dropout age to 12. If anthropology can figure out the mountains a few hundred years from now, they will probably blame the demise of our civilization on education and its counterpart, dynamite: The first of which devalues our old ways, and the last of which makes it impossible to go back to them anyway.

Larry Webster, a Pikeville attorney, can be reached at

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