Fifty Years of Night

Historian’s 1960 essay foresaw Kentucky’s education problems

Dr. Thomas Clark
Dr. Thomas Clark

In 1960, a University of Kentucky history professor named Thomas Clark penned an essay titled One Man’s View of Kentucky’s Educational Background and Problems. The essay detailed how Kentucky’s frontier past had hobbled much education progress, and the clear needs of school systems in a more modern age.

That much of Clark’s essay could be written today illustrates his prescience and knowledge of Kentucky, the state where he was later named historian laureate.

“We as a people have more often thought in terms of bare minimums rather than of the larger challenges which education might offer,” he wrote in the essay, found in the Anne and Harry M. Caudill Collection at UK’s Special Collections Library.

Clark wrote the piece as testimony for Caudill’s 1960 legislative committee investigating education. Here are some excerpts from the essay:

■ “From the University of Kentucky down to the poorest one-room elementary school on the remotest creek bank in Kentucky we have preached educational defeatism ... School administrators no doubt have felt, and with reason, that the governors and legislators had to be frightened into making adequate appropriations to support education in this state.”

■ “In the past a young Kentuckian could compete within this state with his fellows even though he was poorly educated to do so. This is no longer true. Educational results are now being measured more and more in the big terms of the salvation of a democratic way of life, in the cold and objective results of an IBM calculator, and in the economic salvation of the state itself.”

■ “One almost assumes the brightest students will not go into teaching when industry offers so much richer rewards in terms of money, security, peace of mind and fringe benefits. I have stood before many classes and seen my bright students steering clear of teaching.”

■ “Every community in this state is faced with the challenge of creating conditions conducive to better economic growth or suffer stagnation. In this age better conditions for economic growth mean basically and fundamentally a higher level of educational achievement.”

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