The real state of Kansas: a Home Forum exclusive

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WHEN the basketball teams of Kansas and Kansas State played for the NCAA Midwest Regional Championship in Pontiac, Michigan, the television people did yet one more of their numbers on the state of Kansas. Out came the old ``Wizard of Oz'' films and Judy Garland, in pigtails and pinafore, holding Toto, and trying to figure out how to get back to Kansas. People who have seen the film continue to be puzzled by her reasons for wanting to go back.

Kansas is shown in black and white, not color, complete with rickety old farmhouse, flat fields, dusty roads, tornadoes, and cornball hired hands.

After Oz, who in her right mind would want to go back? The background music keeps telling people to get out and go ``somewhere over the rainbow.''

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Well, we Kansans resent the image of our state that these television dimwits persist in repeating. While Curry Kirkpatrick stood in front of an abandoned farmhouse in a yard full of high grass and scraggly weeds, talking about our state's basketball teams, I wanted to shout, ``Hey Curry! Tell them the rest!''

For example, I wish he had pointed out that 80 percent of the students in our state universities can read, a record of literacy that gives the state justifiable pride. Thirty-five percent of them can do fractions and long division.

Forty percent can name the capitals of all the states, and 25 percent know enough geography to find most of the 48 contiguous states on a map. They do have some trouble reading road maps, but that's such a common problem that we don't concern ourselves with it very much. Fifty percent have traveled: to Nebraska, Oklahoma, Missouri, and Colorado. Six years ago I even had a student who'd been to Europe. We're cosmopolitan.

The Oz image is also unfair to the state's geography. There is a hill in Kansas. It's called Mt. Oread, and it's in Lawrence. The four buildings of the University of Kansas are perched on top of it, each facing a different direction. Those of us in the rest of the state are very envious of Lawrencians and their hill. And I should point out that the rest of the state is not all flat farmland.

We have cities in Kansas, three of them: Kansas City, Topeka, and Wichita. And we're not talking little burgs, places of 500 people or so. These are metropolises. I think Wichita, which is the largest, has between 200,000 and 300,000 people! I don't go there, because I can't handle traffic in a place that size, but I have some students who aren't intimidated by it.

I'm not through yet. Kirkpatrick should have told the nation that Kansas is a modern state. Fifty percent of Kansans live in homes with indoor plumbing. Forty percent have telephones. Sixty percent of our eligible drivers own cars!

An Interstate highway runs through our state, from east to west. And besides that, we have five other paved roads. Only 25 percent of our farmers must still use horses for plowing; the rest have tractors.

Most of the people who work in offices can type, and a good many know shorthand. Our advanced businesses and educational institutions are also not dragging their feet. They have sent their people out of state to learn about computers, which some may begin in-stalling by 1995.

We also have more than adequate communications systems. When Kansas University and Kansas State played, residents of Manhattan and Lawrence didn't have to depend on the single television sets in their principal hotels.

The Chambers of Commerce in each city arranged for others to be brought in so that both cities had three TVs for residents to gather around during the game. All of which emphasizes my point: We're not technologically backward.

One other matter. Not all Kansas girls are named Dorothy, and a good many of them have dogs with names other than Toto. And they don't wear their hair in pigtails anymore.

I don't suppose it will do any good to complain, though. Whenever Kansas is in the news, the Oz motif is invoked again. I suppose we shouldn't really mind. A lot of us know that people from real places - I mean cities like New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles - would go nuts here. They're probably looking for a kind of ``action'' we're happy to avoid.

But lots of us have roots in our state, three or four generations deep. (These roots make it hard to move. Do you see deep-rooted trees moving much?) Except for the brutal heat of July and August, we like the climate, and when air conditioning is introduced sometime in the next decade, that may be bearable, too.

Lots of us have great jobs, too, jobs we don't feel we could improve on anywhere. We have as much ``culture'' as we can take in - I live in a university town; they show movies twice a year - and we like being out of the crowds. For example, in 10 minutes I can be out fly-fishing on a lake or pond.

And when I come home, I sleep peacefully. And I have good dreams. We Kansans can really dream. Have you known anyone who had better dreams than Dorothy?

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