The rising cost of education

Friday, February 16, 2007

Mrs. Julia Woodward, a former educator in the Marshall County School System, was rummaging through some old papers recently when she came across memories of when she was in school, not as a teacher, but as a sixth grade student in 1941. She found a Kuhn's 5-10-25c Store School Book Depository price list indicating the cost of books required by boys and girls at that time.

I took that list to Nancy Aldridge, Curriculum Supervisor at the Central Office, just to see how 1941 prices compare to today's textbooks.

Let's start with arithmetic. In 1941, the "New Curriculum Arithmetic -- Book 6" cost students 46 cents. Today, an arithmetic book for sixth graders costs the school system $48.00. How did other books "stack up?" The following is a list comparing 1941 prices to textbooks currently used.

*"Communicating Ideas" -- 82 cents; grammar and communication - $46.20;

*"Child's Centered Speller" -- 27 cents; today's sixth grade spelling book - $27.99;

*"The Past Lives Again" -- 82 cents; history textbook in today's classroom - $46.98;

*"Building Good Health" -- 49 cents; updated health book - $42.78;

*"Art Appreciation" -- 23 cents; current art instruction book - $53.97;

*"Songs and Pictures" -- 69 cents; today's music book - $58.92;

*A good education -- priceless. Sorry, a commercial flashed before my eyes.

Those prices are from the elementary grades. While she had the price manual out, Mrs. Aldridge wanted to open my eyes to how expensive textbooks used by middle and high school students can be. Geography - $51.48; Algebra and Trigonometry - $94.17; Calculus - $113.37 (yes, that's for one book).

Mrs. Aldridge explained that the school system adopts books on a six-year basis, and we are currently at the end of that six-year period; we will soon be adopting a new series, which means the prices will most likely be even higher.

What happens to textbooks once they are pulled from our classrooms? Mrs. Aldridge said the outdated books are placed in the gymnasium here at the Central Office and made available to the public in the following order: first, teachers get a chance to get the books; second, parents (for home schooling) can choose books; and finally, the textbooks will be offered to the general public.

Granted, over sixty-five years have passed since that Kuhn's list was printed, so naturally textbook prices are greater today. But wasn't it fascinating to travel back to a time when parents felt those prices were extreme?