Kirby: Utah lawmakers should debate pupil type, not class size

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I could never be a school teacher. In addition to demanding five times what they earn right now, I would also want a whip, a sack of muzzles, electrified seating and an open bar in the teachers' lounge.

Note No. 1: No offense but I believe there is something wrong with anyone willing to teach a mob of children without all of that.

But that's just me. I don't have the temperament for handling large groups of children. I couldn't even teach older kids in high school, where they have all of the parts but none of the smarts.

Every year the Legislature has to deal with increased funding for Utah's education system. This year, instead of funding the aforementioned teaching aids, the Legislature is considering evening the odds. HB318 would cap some elementary school class sizes at about 20.

Last year in Utah, median class sizes for grades four and five were 26 students respectively. I'm not sure how this stacks up against classroom sizes from, say, 30 years ago.

I asked my oldest daughter to check her grade school class pictures. In 1984, there were 32 kids in her third-grade class. That's 32 against one. That's even worse odds than today.

Just how far back did it go? I dug out my class photos from Garfield Elementary School. Fifty years ago there were 31 of us in Mrs. Hall's fourth-grade class, and 32 in Mrs. Henry's fifth-grade class.

For Mrs. Miller's third-grade class there are only 29 photos. However, because it was generally accepted that she had already eaten some of us, this number may be off by a lot.

Back then most elementary school classes were this size unless you went to school someplace like Tanganyika or "Little House on the Prairie."

I'm no education expert (I barely graduated high school) but I do have a relatively good memory. Despite the large class size, I remember getting a lot of personal attention from my teachers.

In 1964, Mrs. Henry's class of 32 kids was 22 percent larger than a class today. If an hour of her time was divided equally among us, it came to 1.8 minutes per kid.

Except it never worked that way. Most kids received no personal attention at all. Mrs. Henry spent 85 percent of her time on 9 percent of her class: Duncan, Leon and me.

Note No. 2: There was another kid whose name I forget, but since he never came back after being sent to the principal's office for throwing the classroom's pet rat out a third-story window, it was mostly just us three.

Keep in mind that this was in an age when a teacher's undivided attention could really hurt. To the delight of 31 other kids, at least one of us got whacked every week.

That's why I figure it isn't about class size as much as it is about pupil type. You don't have to be an education expert to figure this out.

Any stay-at-home parent can tell you that even two kids can be a prohibitive class size. Especially if any of them are like me.

Robert Kirby can be reached at or