Tuesday, February 7, 2017

School's Out

 Burrell:  Chapter 1 here.

Chapter 2

The boys had celebrated their thirteenth birthday on a Sunday.  This was a particular boon to them, for chores, except for milking, and tasks of all sorts were laid aside on Sunday, the "day of rest."

There was no big party, of course, but their nine sisters and the parents made over them something fierce and there seemed to be nothing they would not do for them.  Thirteen!  In that time and place they had been conditioned to believe that attaining the age of thirteen was tantamount to achieving manhood.  And they were, indeed, strong young men, not yet quite as tall as Father, but they had long since passed their mother in height.  And as great as birthdays are, each boy felt in his heart that the coming Friday was even more significant.

On Friday, February 13, 1850, Cooter and Scooter along with a gaggle of sisters made their way, shuffling through a skiff of new snow, to the log schoolhouse.  And today was the last day for the twins.  Just at noon, Schoolmaster Jenkins pushed all the benches against the back wall and assembled the children in a celebratory circle around Ansel Williford, Daisy Norton, and the twins.

 "These four scholars," intoned Mr. Jenkins, "ahem, have successfully completed their studies here at Little Flat Lick School.  I suspect I have little left that I could teach them, but I pray fervently that they have learned enough here to keep the fire of learning burning within themselves that they might continue to be Learners so long as they shall live."

"Now I have the honor of presenting these certificates to the honorees.  Ladies first.  Miss Daisy Norton, these eight years with you have been my pleasure and I wish you God's blessings and all happiness throughout your life.  Congratulations.

"Ansel Williford, you have challenged me for ten terms in more ways than you will ever know.  The row was sometimes hard for you to hoe, but you persevered, stuck with it until you were able to pass all the prescribed courses.  Congratulations.

"Scooter Burrell, Cooter Burrell, if I call one of you I would never know if the right one turned to to receive his certificate."

"Oh, no, Mr. Jenkins, sir.  We would not trick you on this day, lest perhaps we would not be official!"

Everyone laughed, including Mr. Jenkins.  "All right, then, Cooter please step forward."  He did.  "Cooter, the challenges that you and your brother have laid at my doorstep have been many and memorable.  Yet I am proud that you have come to this moment in your life.  You have a burning interest in the affairs of the community and the country.  I foretell that you will serve your community in a capacity which will make us all proud.  Congratulations.

"Scooter, for the times you have taken a test for your brother, and for the times you allowed him to take your punishments, I forgive you."  Scooter's face blushed redder than his hair. "You fellows continue to labor under the delusion that you have me deceived, that I cannot tell you apart.  And for some time that was the case.  But I know you both too well now. A few words from your lips betray the owner of those words.  You, like your brother, have a burning passion.  Yours is for history, where we came from, and I think, the puzzle of where we are going.  I scarce need to urge you to continue your studies in history and civics.  I know you will.  I predict that you will read law and perhaps one day stand in the courts in Richmond.  Congratulations."

And with that and much back-slapping from the younger children, these four were released from school to pursue their life dreams.


Grace said...

It always cracks me up that kids are shocked when they find out adults really know what's going on. I like this chapter of the story. should know this but I don't - were there secondary schools back in those days? Did these bright kids go on to 'higher' education?

vanilla said...

Grace, generally public secondary schools did not appear on the American landscape until the beginning of the twentieth century, although there were perhaps a few here and there a bit earlier. In the time frame of the story, "eight-year" schools were the norm and they represented a potpourri of offerings, the three Rs essentially, but the school masters varied in quality and ability Who knew? Most were by subscription in the community and under the control of a trustee of some sort, although taxation appeared in certain areas early on. The eight-year schools were one room affairs so Teacher had responsibility for the entire eight-year course of study and kids ranging in age from five to sixteen or so. The "terms" were typically much shorter than those of today. In rural areas especially school started after harvest, ended before planting.

My maternal grandmother taught Flat Rock School on the Clinch River in SW Virginia, starting at age eighteen.

vanilla said...

Grace, your second question is answered in the next "chapter."

Vee said...

Interesting chapter. It was typical in those days to complete schooling at the end of eighth grade. Eighth grade graduation was a coveted milestone and the curriculum quite challenging. While Hubby taught school, his grandfather gave him his 5th reader (a combination literature and grammar book). I was surprised to find that the readings included scripture, history, and selections I read in high school literature classes. The grammar lessons were precise and the quizzes difficult. Hubby sent the reader to our grandson when he began his teaching career.

vanilla said...

Vee, I have an old Fifth Reader, too. I think also a sixth grade arithmetic. All I will say is that a kid who successfully completed grade eight had a pretty good education.

Secondary Roads said...

One of my high school teachers, also next-door neighbor skipped a day of his senior year in high school to sit for the teacher's exam. The result is he was a certified teacher before he completed school. FWIW, he did go on to university and received a teaching degree.

Good story and looking forward to the next episode.

vanilla said...

Chuck, I have a friend, contemporary with whom I taught school, who completed his degree and teaching certificate and started his fifty-year teaching career at age nineteen. Not quite the same as your teacher did it, but what a lot of years in front of a classroom,