Modern Nebraskans really came into being with the introduction of several technologies. Electricity was the big one and was the platform for the communications. Running water, air conditioning and inside bathrooms were big and helped make Nebraska more civilized in the eyes of others. The internal combustion engine changed transportation; what was once one car per household soon became one car per person. “Ice Boxes” and later the refrigerator changed the way and what people ate. Junk food proliferated and delightful pastries brought by the European Nebraskans vanished.
Probably the most important innovation was education. The European Nebraskans built schools. They also built churches and plenty of saloons. The first schools were one room venues with all grades from first to eighth. A good number of people, including the person behind this narrative, were educated in those one room schools, which had student numbers of around 25 being educated with reading, writing and arithmetic. School ended at eighth grade for most, especially the girls.
Then came high schools. High School diplomas were rare in the beginning and usually not pursued by women, who were expected to be housewives. Big schools with thousands of students drilled with standardized content promoted by the federal government became the norm. Who pays for this? The United States Constitution guarantees a person the right to speak their minds but not the right to an education. Therefore, the federal government pays little for K-12 education for the 3000 odd counties in the country. The States and therefore Nebraska had to create and pay for their own schools. The Nebraska Constitution, as in all the states, provides a clause that dictates what schools shall be provided by the State. The Nebraska Constitution says the State “shall” provide the K-12 education but the State does not fully meet this obligation, therefore leaving the 93 Nebraska Counties the task of executing the most onerous property tax in the nation.
“Higher Education” was an important technology for Nebraska. The University of Nebraska was created as a “land grant” college committed to developing and teaching new technologies and everything else to the people of Nebraska. Other universities and colleges were created throughout the state. At one time the University of Nebraska was obligated to accept any person graduating from a Nebraska high school. The price of tuition, room and board was fairly reasonable. Most people could afford a college education still in the 1960’s. Today, Nebraska high school graduates must compete with students from all over the world to gain entrance and pay almost $100,000 for a four-year degree. This fact has given rise to Community Colleges responding quickly and economically to Nebraskans’ demand for post-secondary education.
So, what is a Modern Nebraskan? There is just as much if not more variety in the answer to that question than there was over 100 years ago. What is for sure is that they, the Modern Nebraskans, live with electricity, are not farmers/ranchers, know little about The Land, live in an atmosphere of high taxes and ever-expanding governments, travel by automobile and spend a lot of time in front of an electronic screen.