More Jackson County Opinions...

April 3, 2002

By: Virgil Adams
The Jackson Herald
April 3, 2002

The Talmadge nobody knew
(Note from Virgil: I did not plagiarize this stuff. It is straight out of “A Clover Blooms in Georgia,” an unpublished history of 4-H that I wrote more than 20 years ago.)
In the two weeks since his death, the life and legacy have been laid bare for all the world to read, hear and see. Thousands of words have been written, spoken and broadcast about the extraordinary politician, segregationist governor, moderate U.S. senator, loyal friend, divorcee, alcoholic, ad infinitum.
Yet, in all of the news stories, obituaries and editorials, one not-so-small detail is absent. Thousands of Georgians who were teenagers in the 1950s no doubt are searching for the missing link. They are looking everywhere for somebody’s comments about the close relationship that the governor had with them.
Leave it to this humble scribe and your hometown weekly newspaper to tell you about the Talmadge nobody else seemed to know.
It was Monday, August 21, 1950, and the State 4-H Council meeting was under way at the old Georgia State College for Women at Milledgeville. The speaker was Ralph McGill, editor of The Atlanta Constitution. McGill told the 4-H’ers, “You are the last best hope of your state and nation.
“It is comforting to know,” he continued, “that young people are working, as you, toward a better life for all, and out of such a sincere endeavor must come something good for the economy, the politics and for society in general.”
Reporter Bill Boring was covering his boss’ speech for The Constitution. Boring ended his story by stating that “Wednesday’s principal speaker will be Gov. Talmadge, an egg-totin’ 4-Her back in his teenage days.”
Talmadge was indeed a 4-H’er, and after he became governor he would begin many of his speeches, as he did that day in 1950, with, “When I was a 4-H Club member in Telfair County, and Lonnie Lanier was my county agent . . .”
Yes, 4-H’ers, Herman Talmadge was one of us, and what he did for us - and through us - should be laid bare for all the world to read, hear and see.
Every year he was governor, he signed a proclamation calling attention to National 4-H Club Week. But he did more than affix his signature to glossy, highfalutin words. He backed those words up with action, brought them down to earth, made them real. He talked the talk and he walked the walk.
By 1953, Gov. Talmadge’s reputation as a 4-H member and a friend of 4-H members everywhere had reached far beyond the confines of Georgia. That year he received the highest recognition that the youth organization could bestow upon one of its former members. He was recipient of the National Alumni Recognition Award at 4-H Club Congress in Chicago.
Talmadge flew to the Windy City to accept the award and to speak to some 1,200 young people who were there as state and national winners from all over the United States. He began his speech with, “When I was a 4-H Club member in Telfair County, Georgia, and Lonnie Lanier was my county agent . . .”
Then he told the current crop of 4-H’ers, “You are our one bright hope in this dark world of godlessness, selfishness, oppression and war.”
He said, “There would be no juvenile delinquency if all youths had the advantage of 4-H Club training, and the nation would not be troubled with radicals, doubters and traitors who would sell our great heritage to any ‘ISM’ which happened to be the highest bidder if its leaders had been 4-H members when they were young.”
Talmadge recounted his own 4-H experiences and said he would not exchange them “for all the riches in the world. Through my projects,” he said, “I learned the value of hard work and that wisdom can only be born through experience. I found a love for the products and creatures of the soil which brought abiding faith in a Supreme Creator.”
Talmadge told the young people in Chicago that it had been his desire as governor to see the lessons of the 4-H Club “as widely diffused” as possible.
For that reason, he explained, he had given the club and its program “every encouragement - moral and material - at my command.”
Afterward the speech was hailed throughout the nation. Everett Mitchell of the National Broadcasting Company’s “Farm and Home Hour” called it “an inspiring message.”
Members of the Georgia delegation to National 4-H Congress said they received “many compliments” from youths across the nation who wished they had a governor like Mr. Talmadge.
That was just the beginning of the governor’s impact on 4-H members and their parents and leaders. The best was yet to come. Next week we will recount some of the specific “moral and material encouragements” that made Georgia 4-H and continuing education the envy of the nation.
Virgil Adams is a former owner and editor of The Jackson Herald.

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By: Jana Adams
The Jackson Herald
April 3, 2002

Between a rock and a hard place
I’ve been looking through some of the State Board of Education’s listings on its web site, particularly items related to promotion, placement and retention based on test scores, and the conclusion I’ve come to is this — school systems in Georgia are increasingly wedged between a rock and a hard place.
It’s called “accountability,” or how to get good test scores without letting “the test” and preparation for it overwhelm the classroom. Unfortunately, with state and national mandates, “the test” promises to become only more prominent.
There are good intentions, and “accountability,” or having standards to follow and bars to reach and exceed, is not all bad. I’m all for students being able to read and write, add and subtract, yet sometimes these days I feel the basics of education also include having good standardized test-taking skills.
I really don’t recall taking so many tests. In fact, I know we didn’t when I was in elementary and middle school. We took the ITBS every so often, yes, but there wasn’t such a heightened awareness of “the test” and the potential fallout of “poor” scores.
Of course, I realize a student has to have the knowledge to make the (test) grade, but I wonder at the growing emphasis on testing as an indicator of student – and teacher — success and as an increasing driving force behind school system decisions.
One development in the realm of testing and school accountability will begin affecting state schools in 2003-04, when third graders who don’t earn grade level scores on the CRCT could be held back, or automatically retained, unless they are able to get extra help, re-take the test and pull their scores up. There is a point in the process at which a committee of parent, teacher and principal can determine that the student should not be held back, even if the re-test scores are not acceptable; however, that’s a gray area with little clarification on how that determination is made. In the ensuing years, the automatic retention rule will also apply to fifth graders and then eighth graders.
I say the promotion, placement and retention rule will begin affecting school systems in 2003-04, but actually, with some 33 percent of the state’s third graders not at grade level on last year’s tests, school systems are scrambling now to find ways to boost those scores and to get ahead of the automatic retention wave.
As superintendent Andy Byers pointed out at a recent Jackson County BOE meeting, local student scores of 70 percent at or above grade level suddenly take on a whole new meaning — that’s 30 percent who would have to be retained.
Automatically, then, there’s more emphasis on “the test” and on measures needed to boost scores. In Jackson County’s case, there has been discussion of the Edison Affiliates avenue — or using Edison “tools” such as monthly benchmark assessments to try to raise test scores — a discussion that has apparently brought mixed reactions from local educators.
A comment in a past state BOE’s newsletter reflected concerns from a couple of that board’s members that holding a child back a whole year based on the results of one test was a questionable practice. I think that’s a good point.
Still, the state BOE approved the rule and it has been mandated by legislation, so what are school systems to do?
Locally, the schools are filling up almost as quickly as new classrooms and facilities are built. Student population is increasing, yet the classroom student-teacher ratio must remain low, per more state mandates.
Small classes are a good thing, but where will the retained students go and who will teach them? If 30 percent of the students are retained, and more and more students are filling up the classrooms anyway...
Throw in the reforms on a national level – schools being judged and rewarded or facing reconstitution, based on annual testing in grades three through eight — and the testing quagmire deepens.
Social promotion isn’t the answer, but I wonder what will happen to the state’s dropout rate with automatic retention resulting from closer scrutiny of test scores. Will struggling students really hang around in classes with students much younger than they when they are no longer legally bound to do so?
It seems likely that as the focus intensifies on bringing up the test scores of some students, other students will head out the door.
Jana Adams is features editor of The Jackson Herald.
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