Thursday, July 12, 2018

A History of Futuristic Prophesies

Donnelly's Caesar's Column
A recent post mentioned the futuristic novel published by Ignatius Donnelly in 1890, describing a world war in 1988 in which workers, debased and paid barely enough for survival, revolt against the wealthy, who control everything and live luxuriously.  Written during the Populist Movement, Caesar's Column, used the populist's political anger against Wall Street, Railroads, and Corporations to fictionalize a world in which the power of the wealthy is carried to such excess that laborers revolt with apocalyptic  violence that destroys the entire social structure.  Caesar's Column was in Isaac Beckley Werner's library.

However, Isaac's library also included the futuristic novel of Edward Bellamy, Looking Backward, published in 1880.  In contrast to Donnelly's novel, Bellamy imagines a happier world, in which socialist ideals have been implemented to share the nation's wealth in a more equitable way.  Women are regarded as equals of men, in fact, having been given the equal right to propose marriage.  The novel describes a young narrator who is hypnotized in 1887 and awakens in 2000 to a changed world, which he initially dislikes but eventually accepts as better than the old world in which he had lived.  The ideas in Bellamy's book were so popular that Bellamy Clubs to discuss and propagate those social changes were established around the world in the late 1800s, including 162 such clubs in the United States.

Edward Bellamy
Obviously, novels projecting the future are nothing new, whether they describe the violent social destruction of Donnelly or the utopian social fiction of Bellamy.  Recently I read the bold predictions for our future discussed at a conference in Europe.  I thought it would be interesting to compare and contrast some of those predictions for the future with the late 1800s when Isaac B. Werner kept his journal.

Most of the predictions are related to the growing capacity for Artificial Intelligence to assist or replace human input in many ways, some that we will find welcome and others we may find to be a frightening displacement of human intelligence and a major disruption of social traditions.

Prediction:  AI is already helping nurses in diagnosing cancer and it is 4xs more accurate.
Isaac:  Isaac died of an undiagnosed illness that I was able to identify more than a century later from his symptoms and activities described in his diary that were medically unknown at that time.

Prediction:  AI legal advice for basic legal questions now available offers 90% accuracy as compared to 70% accuracy of a sampling of human lawyers, and it is predicted that in the future only specialists in the law will remain in practice.
Isaac:  Isaac had a friendly relationship with local attorneys, but Populists generally grouped lawyers with the rich and powerful men they distrusted.

Prediction:  Traditional automobile companies will go out of business and cars will become, basically, computers on wheels.
Isaac:  Isaac first went into debt to buy a horse, implements, and a wagon, the transportation of his time.

Prediction:  Because people can either work from home or work as they commute in their quieter electric cars, people will move away from cities for more pleasant surroundings, and cities will be quieter.
Isaac:  In Isaac's time, many people homesteaded to escape crowded, unsanitary conditions in the cities.

Prediction:  Desalination of salt water will make fresh drinking water readily available in many places now without fresh water.
Isaac:  Wells on the prairie were dug by hand, and Isaac was often hired for that chore, using the wench he owned.  Because wells frequently became "crickety," (fouled by crickets) they often had to be abandoned.

Prediction:  A medical devise that works with your phone will take retina scans,, blood samples, and measure your breath to identify nearly any disease, giving access to medical analysis in remote places.
Isaac:  As a druggist in Rossville, IL before coming to Kansas, Isaac often dispensed medicine, including liquor for 'medical' purposes. 

Prediction:  3-D scanning devices on phones will allow shoes to be produced precisely for each individual's feet and printed at home.
Isaac:  At Isaac's estate sale, a man named Hainline bought all of Isaac's shoes and boots, apparently a size that fit him perfectly.

Prediction:  Robots will replace humans in fields, and a $100 robot will be available for even farmers in third-world countries.
Isaac:  In the beginning, before Isaac went into debt for a horse of his own to break more sod, he walked his fields with a hand planter, and after acquiring a horse to pull implements, he was still plowing and planting one row at a time.

Several of these predictions are already tested, and the issue is not whether they are possible, but rather, whether they will actually be implemented and when.  Predictions are nothing new, and they do not always come true.  But, it is certain that Artificial Intelligence has already changed the world and will continue to do so. 

These predictions were posted by Udo Gollub from Berlin, Germany from a summit he referenced. 


Thursday, July 5, 2018

Antonia's Cellar

The cellar at the Pavelka Farm

When we first visited the Pavelka farm several years ago, I saw these cellar doors, one of the strongest images from Jim Burden's visit to Antonia's family farm as an adult.  At the 2018 Centennial celebration of the publication of My Antonia, when our group visited the farm, I was delighted when the cellar doors were opened.

 Standing by the steps down into the cellar were a group of Anna Pavelka's great granddaughters, and as I eavesdropped they were saying exactly what you might expect teenaged girls to say:  "I'm afraid to go down there.  There might be spiders, or snakes!"

The younger great grandchildren had no such reservations.  Their curiosity overrode any such fears and down the steps they went--boys and girls!

Of course, what I thought of was Nina saying to her mother Antonia, "Why don't we show Mr. Burden our new fruit cave?"  And, who could forget Jim describing: "Anna and Yulka showed me three small barrels; one full of dill pickles, one full of chopped pickles, and one full of pickled watermelon rinds," or Antonia telling Jim how much sugar it took to make the preserves.

Then there were "Nina and Jan, and a little girl named Lucie" who showed Jim the jars of "cherries and strawberries and crabapples."  And one of the older boys reminded: "Show him the spiced plums, mother.  Americans don't have those."  

Antonia used the spiced plums to make kolaches, and one of the traditions of the Cather Conference is kolaches with coffee on Saturday morning.  In 2018 there was even a class to teach attendees how to make this Bavarian pastry.

However, what caused my mind to flash back to the novel most vividly as Anna Pavelka's young descendants emerged from the cellar was this passage:  "We [Antonia and Jim] were standing outside talking, when they all came running up the steps together, big and little, tow heads and gold heads and brown, and flashing little naked legs; a veritable explosion of life out of the dark cave into the sunlight.  It made me dizzy for a moment."

That image, of Anna Pavelka's young descendants emerging from the cellar will stay with me for a very long time. 


I hope you have enjoyed this series based on the 2018 Cather Conference in Red Cloud, Nebraska, which shared a time when those in Isaac Werner's community on the Kansas prairie were living in much the same way.  I hope this series of blogs has made you curious to read (or re-read) My Antonia, or even to visit Red Cloud to make your own pilgrimage to see the many sites easily identifiable as inspiration for Willa Cather's novels and short stories.  The exhibits in the Opera House are impressive, including the current display of what the Shermerda women might have worn in their homeland before immigrating to America.  You can also visit The Willa Cather Foundation online to learn about special events occurring in the Opera House.

(Remember, you can click on the images to enlarge them.)  

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Immigrants to the Prairie


A sign at the Pavelka Farm

Using My Antonia as a way to explore the immigrant experience is one of the important but perhaps overlooked reasons to read or study the novel.  Antonia, the heroine of the novel, came from Bavaria with her family when she was fourteen years old.  The challenges of learning a new language and new customs, the dishonesty imposed on them by people who took advantage of their unfamiliarity with the language and what was expected of them, and the isolation and loneliness they felt are all important themes in the novel and completely relevant to things today's immigrants experience.

The immigrant family pictured below came to America from England in 1882.  The husband  joined a brother in Marion County, Ohio, working in the steel mills.  Five years later they left for Kansas, eventually becoming one of Isaac Werner's neighbors and friends.  The baby on her mother's lap is my grandmother.  She never returned for a visit to the country of her birth.  With my great grandfather's brother already living in America, my ancestors had family to help them get settled,
and having come from England, they already spoke the language of their new home.  Not all immigrants have those advantages.

According to a timeline at Preceden.com, there have been four waves of immigration in America.  The 1st Wave dates from 1790 to 1820, motivated by a variety of religious, political, and economic reasons.  They came by boat, and 1 in 10 would die from starvation, disease or shipwreck before reaching America.  Most were from Europe.

The 2nd Wave from 1820-1860 was motivated by new opportunities, encouragement from friends and family already here, and some were agricultural workers, having been displaced by the industrial revolution.  They were most likely to be British, Irish, and German

The 3rd Wave from 1880-1914 was likely seeking jobs and/or freedom of religion, and Chinese, Japanese, and other Asians were a large percentage.

The 4th Wave, 1965 to the present includes Europeans, Asians, and Hispanics.  The percentage of Europeans has significantly declined, with Asians having made up about 1/3th of the immigrants in the 1980s through the early 1990s and Hispanics making up about 1/2 during that same period.

Most Americans do not have to search their genealogy very far to find their own family's history of immigration.

An English Immigrant Family
Antonia's family, the Shimerdas, were Bohemian.  A relative of Mrs. Shimerda had a cousin in Nebraska who sold the Shimerdas his homestead, and although they trusted this fellow countryman, he charged them more for the land than it was worth.  His cheating of the Shimerdas continued after they arrived, selling them his old stove for more than it was worth and telling them whatever he wanted them to believe.  When Jim and his grandmother called on the Shimerdas, Antonia's father gave Jim a book with both the English and the Bohemian alphabets.  "He placed this book in my grandmother's hands, looked at her entreatingly, and said, with an earnestness which I shall never forget, 'Te-e-ach, te-e-ach my An-tonia!"

For many generations of immigrants, learning to speak English was essential to their success, and often a young member of the family assumed the responsibility of learning the language.  Many  immigrants settled in communities of their fellow countrymen because of the common language, but this slowed their assimilation into the culture of their new homes even more.

At the Cather Conference one panel titled "Modern Immigration Narratives on the Great Plains" consisted of four students from the University of Nebraska who shared their experiences of immigrating from Mexico and Central America.  Their majors were Foreign Language & Literature with a minor in business; International Studies; Pre-law; and Pre-med, and they spoke of the same issues that plagued the Shimerdas--language, work, missing family and friends, and economic worries.  The panelist studying neuro-science undergraduate in preparation for medical school shared that some of her friends claimed that she didn't deserve a scholarship because it was given to her because of "her ethnicity".  She said, "I'm quick to tell them, 'No, it's because of my ACT scores.'"

The Key Note Speaker at the Conference was Nina McConigley, author of Cowboys and East Indians.  Born in Singapore and raised in Wyoming, she has long been a Cather fan, explaining,  "Cather writes with so much compassion.  I just love her." Later she added, "When I read Cather, I feel seen." Her book, a collection of short stories, was the 2014 Pen Literary award winner.   

"We are all pioneers."
Antonia Welsch, the daughter of well-remembered CBS Sunday Morning show humorist, Roger Welsch, with his  "Notes from Nebraska," acquired her name from My Antonia, because her father loves the book.  She and Nina were members of a panel discussing "The Modern Global Midwest."  Speaking of today's immigrants, Antonia said, "...they are the Antonias today.  They are not Bohemian; they came from other places, but they are like her.  But, their stories are not being told."  As a member of that panel Nina McConigley shared more personal comments, telling about being taunted with 'You should go back to where you came from,' when Wyoming has been her home since early childhood.  In fact, she admitted, "I have a huge covered wagon tatou on my back--much to my Mother's chagrin."  Adding, "We all are pioneers." 

An audience member added:  "When we read, it lets us get into another's head, and Willa Cather is such a good head to be in."  As the panel and many of those attending the conference agreed, My Antonia can be read for many reasons, but reading it to gain insight into the challenges of immigration, from both the perspective of immigrants and those already living here, is certainly one important theme.




Wednesday, June 20, 2018

The Pavelka Family as Inspiration to Cather


One of the things that made the centennial celebration of the publication of My Antonia so special was the presence of descendants of Anna Pavelka.  A sign at the Pavelka home greets visitors with a picture of the Pavelka family, as shown at left.  

That Pavelka family has been extremely helpful and generous to the Cather Foundation in telling the story of My Antonia,  which is based on their family.  Each year at the spring conferences, family members are present, but the 2018 conference was particularly special because of the number of descendants that attended.  At the close of the tour, the descendants gathered for a group portrait, pictured below.


Among those family members is 98-year-old Antonette Willa Skupa Turner, the granddaughter of Anna Pavelka.  I believe she has attended every conference since we began attending  nine years ago, and although she has grown a bit stooped and moves more slowly since we first met her, her enthusiasm has not waned.  She will proudly tell you about the red beads her grandmother Anna gave to her. Recently she has established two scholarships for students from among those submitting essays about  My Antonia or Neighbour Rosicky, a Cather short story first published in 1930 and republished in a collection titled Obscure Destinies. Her essay competition is open to both male and female seniors in high school, they may be planning to major in either English or History, and one of the scholarships is open to students living outside of Nebraska.

Scholarships are an important part of the Cather Foundation's mission.  The first scholarship program was established by Norma Ross Walter, for Nebraska female seniors planning to major in English.  The young recipients of that scholarship over the years have gone on to become leaders in their diverse fields--truly an impressive group of women.  A new scholarship awarded this year for the first time is the Educators' Scholarship, open to English teachers across the nation.  One of the recipients (from California) was unable to attend the conference, but Cynthia Adams, from Clarence High School in New York, exhibited the enthusiasm and passion to ignite a love for reading in students.  How lucky her students are, and how exciting to have a teacher sharing her passion for Willa Cather with another generation of students.

I must add this postscript:  Teachers from California and New York are enthusiastically sharing Willa Cather with their students, introducing this great American author to them, at the same time most schools in Nebraska and Kansas no longer teach Cather.  This accomplished author of the Great Plains should not be ignored in the very region about which she writes.

(Pictures can be enlarged by clicking on them.)



Thursday, June 14, 2018

Because today is Flag Day...

Because today is Flag Day, I am adding a bonus post, in addition to my continuing series about "My Antonia."  When my Mother was a little girl, her father teased her about all of the flags flying on her June 14th birthday.  He told her the flags were for her.  I'm not sure she ever really doubted that they were!

In a way, those flags do fly for all of us, and so I post this special Flag Day blog with some wisdom from past Presidents, and one from the United States Supreme Court, to remind us why we honor that glorious symbol of our nation.

The way to secure liberty is to place it in the people's hands, that is, to give them the power at all times to defend it in the legislature and in the courts of justice.  John Adams

A primary object should be the education of our youth in the science of government.  In a republic what species of knowledge can be equally important?  And what duty more pressing than communicating it to those who are to be future guardians of the liberties of the country?  George Washington

We do not consecrate the flag by punishing its desecration, for in doing so we dilute the freedom that this cherished emblem represents.  United States Supreme Court, Texas v. Johnson

America will never be destroyed from the outside.  If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.  Abraham Lincoln

No government is perfect.  One of the chief virtues of a democracy, however, is that its defects are always visible and under democratic processes can be pointed out and corrected.  Harry S. Truman

America has never been united by blood or birth or soil.  We are bound by ideals that move us beyond our backgrounds, lift us above our interests and teach us what it means to be citizens.  George W. Bush


May the wisdom of those words inspire all of us, and long may our flag fly.

The "Real" Antonia's Home







On one of our early visits to Red Cloud, Nebraska, we drove north of town to visit the Pavelka farm home in which Annie Sadilek Pavelka and her husband had raised their large family.  Of course, if you read last week's blog you know that Annie was the inspiration for Willa Cather's fictionalized Antonia in My Antonia.



This year, in celebration of the Centennial year of My Antonia's publication in 1918, the Willa Cather Foundation focused on that novel for its annual spring conference.  One of the events available to those scholars and Cather fans attending the conference was a pilgrimage to the Pavelka Farmstead.

 Last week's blog shared a picture of the young Anna.  The image at left shows Anna later in her life, still with eyes "big and warm and full of light, like the sun shining on brown pools in the wood," but with the sunken cheeks about which Antonia told Jim Burden, "I haven't got many [teeth] left.  But I feel just as young as I used to, and I can do as much work."

Having recently acquired the farmstead, the Cather Foundation has plans to make needed repairs to the house, which has declined in recent years since the time the above photograph of the house was taken.  In addition, the Foundation plans to plant the orchard that was once part of the farm.

"At some distance behind the house were an ash grove and two orchards:  a cherry orchard, with gooseberry and currant bushes between the rows, and an apple orchard, sheltered by a high hedge from the hot winds."  

During the visit to the farm we were able to tour the interior of the farmhouse, and as I saw the sinks in the kitchen, I could only think of Antonia's daughter Anna telling her mother, "Now, mother, sit down and talk to Mr. Burden.  We'll finish the dishes quietly and not disturb you."

I climbed the stairs to the second level, imagining Antonia/Anna's large family living in this house.  My imagination was further stimulated as I watched one of Anna Pavelka's great grandsons looking with curiosity into the attic.  

Although the plantings are no longer the same as they were when Anna Pavelka and her family lived in the house, as I wandered off by myself I discovered beautiful peony bushes in bloom and captured my own image reflected in the glass of a window for a photographic remembrance of myself visiting the farmhouse.





I was also lucky to capture a photograph of four of Anna Pavelka's great granddaughters walking together along one side of the house.  It was easy for me to imagine Antonia's daughters walking by the house instead.

I cannot help but look forward to future visits to the Pavelka farm when the orchards and the "grape arbor, with seats built along the sides and a warped plank table" where Antonia and Jim paused to visit have been recreated for future visitors to the farm.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

My Antonia Belongs to Many of Us

Anna Pavelka
My Antonia was first published in 1918, and this is the year of its centennial.  As I often have done after our return from the annual Cather Conference in Red Cloud, Nebraska, I share some of our experiences on my blog.  This year is no exception, especially because it is the centennial year of many people's favorite Cather book.

Those of you familiar with Willa Cather know that many of her characters are based on real people, and the settings for many of her stories are actually Red Cloud, Nebraska given different names.  Antonia Shimerda was inspired by a real person named Anna Pavelka, who is pictured at right.  Cather's admiration and respect for Anna is obvious from the quote accompanying the photograph, for she describes the character she plans to create from Anna as being "like a rare object in the middle of a table which one may examine from all sides."  (Image from display in the Red Cloud Opera House, Cather Foundation.)

I first read My Antonia one summer when I would have been about the same age Antonia was when she arrived in Red Cloud with her family, immigrants from Bohemia.  My older brother had read My Antonia in a college class and had brought the book home with him when he retuned for the summer.  Willa Cather became one of my favorite authors that summer and remains so today.

I recall that I struggled with the idea that when Jim Burden returned to Red Cloud and visited Antonia at the close of the novel, she was the mother of a large family, "a stalwart, brown woman, flat-chested, her curly brown hair a little grizzled," lacking most of her teeth.  I wanted her to be the pretty girl Jim had loved as a boy, but Jim taught me a lesson about beauty.  "I know so many women who have kept all the things that she had lost, but whose inner glow has faded.  Whatever else was gone, Antonia had not lost the fire of life."  As he lay awake that night, sleeping in the haymow with two of Antonia's boys sleeping nearby, Jim realized, "She was a battered woman now, not a lovely girl; but she still had that something which fires the imagination, could still stop one's breath for a moment by a look or gesture that somehow revealed the meaning in common things.  ...All the strong things of her heart came out in her body, that had been so tireless in serving generous emotions."

How amazing that this fictional character that had so impressed me when I was such a young girl was so closely based upon a real person.

Willa Cather, born on December 7, 1873 arrived in Webster County, Nebraska in 1883, a ten-year-old from the South adjusting to life on the prairie, just as the fictional Jim Burden arrives in the novel from the South as a ten year old.  Most of the Cathers' neighbors are European immigrants, just as Jim Burden's neighbors were.  When Cather enrolls in Red Cloud High School in 1884, she meets Annie Sadilek Pavelka, the girl that she transforms into the fictional Antonia.  In 1915, while on a visit to her old hometown of Red Cloud, Cather visits her childhood friend, Annie Pavelka, and in 1917 she writes My Antonia.

When I read a fine novel, the characters often come alive for me, and in the case of My Antonia, Cather truly placed her childhood friend, "a rare object," at the heart of her novel for us to appreciate "from all sides."


Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Educating Young Women

Young ladies of Isaac's era
During the late 1800s, the Populist Movement placed great emphasis on the character of the men and women involved.  When Populists were elected to the Kansas state house they passed a law titled Seduction by Promise of Marriage, making it a criminal offense.  In Isaac's County, a young man was sentenced to prison for 18 months as a result of his violation of that law.

Some of the populist organizations initially avoided political action and relied on education, improvements in character, and respect for others as the best means to make a success of their farms on the prairie.  Even after political organizing began, many in Isaac's community continued their memberships in non-political groups.

Recently, among the old books in my collection, I was reading from one published in 1931, a few years after Isaac's time but long enough ago to reflect what young people of his era might have been taught.  I could not help but consider the advice in a poem from a home economics book for teen-aged girls, as it relates to some of the news today.  I have heard criticism of young women for putting themselves in situations where they were taken advantage of, blaming their behavior for what happened.  Yet, could we still be giving young girls guidance not too dissimilar from the advice girls were given in this 1931 poem?

Young ladies schooled in the 1920s & 1930s
Look Pleasant

We cannot, of course, all be handsome,
And it's hard for us all to be good;
We are sure now and then to be lonesome,
And we don't always do as we should.

To be patient is not always easy,
To be cheerful is much harder still, 
But at least we can always be pleasant,
If we make up our minds that we will.

And it pays every time to be kindly,
Although we feel worried and blue;
If you smile at the world and look cheerful,
The world will smile back at you.

So try to brace up and look pleasant
No matter how low you are down,
Good humor is always contagious,
But you banish your friends when you frown.

Girls who entered school in the 1950s
Is it any wonder that female teachers in the late 1800s acquiesced to being paid less than male teachers? Even I was once told that men were paid more than I was because they had a family to support!  Is it any wonder that these young female teachers quietly accepted the rule forbidding them to wear patent leather shoes because the shiny leather might reflect their underwear!  The members of the school board might have disapproved of their frown had they failed to "smile at the world and look cheerful" when they were told such things. 

Is it any wonder that Black men were finally given the vote before women--black or white?  Is it any wonder that those opposed to women's suffrage argued that women should be protected from the stress of political decisions, also claiming that women were ill-informed about and uninterested in political matters.  Mary Elizabeth Lease and a few other populist women held crowds spellbound at Populist Rallies, but enough men continued to hold to their views that women had no business getting the vote that emancipation was voted down.  I wonder if all of the women married to those male voters managed to "brace up and look pleasant."

And so, I asked myself how long that training to be patient, pleasant, and cheerful influenced girls.  Does it offer insight into why a young woman meeting with a powerful or influential man who had agreed to discuss a job application or a potential career advancement might have found herself in a situation not of her own making and from which she saw no escape.  At least, that is what I thought of as I read that poetic advice to girls published in 1931 and adhered to for decades.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

More About Teachers--Comments & Quotes

Macksville Students in the 1950s
Australian physician, author, and activist Helen Caldicott, said:  Teachers, I believe, are the most responsible and important members of society because their professional efforts affect the fate of the earth.

Last week's blog about my Master Teacher, Miss Emma Kolb, prompted so many comments from those of you who read the blog regularly--comments at the end of the blog, by e-mails, and on face book--that I want to share some of them this week.  For sure, if you missed last week's blog, scroll down at the end of this week's post to read it, and don't forget to open the comments at the end of that blog to enjoy what readers shared.  This week I am sharing comments from readers and adding some quotes from famous people and from movies as well.

I used a photograph of my older brother on my personal face book blog reminder page, and that generated a wave of comments from those who had also driven the bus their senior year or had siblings who drove the school bus.  Many commented how remarkable it was that students were entrusted with that responsibility--but there were no reports of wrecks or abuse of the responsibility by the young drivers!

Basket Ball Player & School Bus driver 1953-54

There were so many of you who shared complimentary comments which always motivate me to continue the blog.  Thank you!

I also used the photograph of a music instructor to promote the blog on a different face book page, and AJH wrote:  "Liked her a lot."  Obviously, the blog reminded many people of the debt they owed favorite teachers.

CL commented on my good fortune of sitting next to someone who provided the name for which I had been searching of my former master teacher, writing "I love coincidences like that."

Some of you forwarded the link to my blog to friends and family you thought would enjoy reading it.  JB sent it along "to a former classmate...who was a life time teacher and a state level union representative for teachers."  VH wrote "...sent on to my Sister."  Their mother was a long-time teacher at Byers, a favorite of many of her students.

A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.  Henry James  Yes, Henry.  He or she can never tell...

DL shared that her parents taught in one-room schools in the same vicinity and during the same era as Miss Kolb began her teaching.  She said her parents described "riding a horse to school, starting and tending the fire in the stove, scaring away snakes, and pride in students passing the 8th grade examination." 

I was especially pleased when MB, a university dean, shared, "I have heard great stories from others who also benefited from Miss Kolb's teaching and her mentoring of future teachers."  I was certainly not alone in my respect for her.

Byers 1st & 2nd Graders, 1950
One of my favorite movies is "Dead Poets Society," from which this quote is taken:  No matter what anybody tells you, words and ideas can change the world.

GC wrote "[T]his was an exceptionally great story and really hit home.  It made me think of my favorite high school teacher with the same fondness and appreciation."  He forwarded the blog to his niece, who is attending college to get a degree in education.

The teacher played by Sidney Poitier in "To Sir with Love" could not be accused of codling his students, based on this quote from the movie:  "I am sick of your foul language, your crude behavior and your sluttish manner."

Amazingly, the same day RS read the blog, he reported that:  "I visited a retired school teacher, Freda Helwig."  Mrs. Helwig will celebrate her 102th birthday this next October!

The students pictured in this class of Macksville pre-teens became my classmates when I transferred from Byers to Macksville my sophomore year.  I married that cute boy front left in the photograph!  In an e-mail to a friend, he quoted from last week's blog, writing, "I want to add my personal testimony to 'what an impact Ms Kolb had on shaping Lyn's approach and respect for becoming a teacher.'"

AML wrote about several special teachers in her life, and claimed the title of teacher for herself as an eleven month old--when her little sister was born!  She added:  "It's good for us to think back and remember how we became the people we are today and to then make sure we pay those debts forward to young people throughout our lives--whether we're professional teachers, parents or citizens."

I'm not sure the parents reading this blog will appreciate Aristotle's quote, for it was his opinion that, Those who educate children well are more to be honored than they who produce them; for these only gave them life, those the art of living well."  (In case you wondered, as I did, Aristotle married and  had one daughter, named after her mother, Phytias.)

A university alumni director, DP, shared with me that her "daughter had the privilege of having Miss Kolb for a number of classes during her elementary years.  She absolutely loved her."  DP continued:  "Teachers are so very important in a child's life.  They walk across the very essence of a student's being, giving unconditionally of themselves, not because they have to but rather because they believe in the importance of our youth.  Ms. Kolb was definitely one of those teachers!"

My father's Byers Class of 1930-31
In the 1995 movie, "Boy Meets World," teacher George Feeney (played by Wm Daniels) says:  I want you to go home this afternoon and open a book!  I don't care what you had otherwise planned.  I order you, nay.  I command you.  Go home and open a book.

I don't remember my parents nor any teacher commanding me to read a book, but they certainly encouraged me to read. I don't think commands are generally very effective.  Unfortunately, just as teachers have the power to exert positive influence, they also have the power to do harm.  One sad story shared with me this week concerned a child with advanced reading skills for her age.  When she completed a reading assignment given one day, "her teacher didn't believe she had read her assignment in the amount of time she completed it and was rather 'ugly' in the way she spoke to her.'"  The result is a child who "now hates going to school."  For whatever reason, that day that teacher forgot her power and her responsibility.  As Albert Einstein said, It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge. 

The power of a teacher for good or bad is great, and from the comments I received, most teachers use that power with care, building students up with their encouragement and support.  The harm of careless words or unfair treatment by a teacher is something most teachers know and strive to avoid.

To repeat the wisdom of Miss Emma Kolb:  "Remember, children are not your job; they are your privilege."   

(You can enlarge the images by clicking on them.)




Thursday, May 17, 2018

Teachers Touch our Lives

Teachers Susan Beck and Anna Marie Beck
Teachers touch the lives of all of us, and at the vulnerable ages of school children, teachers have such power to change lives.  It is remarkable to remember that many of the teachers in the one-room country schools were teenagers.  Isaac Werner describes in his journal a snowstorm that raced across the prairie, dropping temperatures dangerously, even indoors.  Sometimes teachers stayed in the schools overnight to avoid making daily trips to and from distant homes, and apparently young Miss Goodwin was doing that the night the blizzard arrived.  Isaac recorded that she suffered severe frost bite to her hands at the school house during the storm.

Not all the teachers were young single women, however.  My great grandmother, Susan Beck, taught in the one-room schools in her community.  Her daughter, Anna Marie Beck, followed in her mother's footsteps to begin teaching when she was still in her teens and devoted her life to education, as a teacher, a superintendent, the Stafford County Superintendent, and working in the education department in the state capital in Topeka.

The recent series sharing the 1895 8th Grade examinations showed the challenging curriculum these teachers, many of whom were quite young themselves, were expected to teach.  The influence of teachers, then and now, may be the most important profession in our nation.

Douglas Township, Stafford Co., KS   1917
When I was a college student majoring in elementary education, part of my required training was Practice Teaching.  I was assigned to a Master Teacher at Lincoln School in Hays, Kansas.  She was incredible, and more than all my classes, although they were important in training me, my master teacher taught me how to teach.  Her life lessons have stayed with me long past my years as a teacher.  Unfortunately, I had forgotten her name.  I looked for it in my old college year books, but she was not a regular faculty member, so her name was not listed.  I had given up on finding her name in order to thank her.

Recently, I was attending a luncheon at my alma mater and found myself seated next to a woman who had been an education major at the same time I was.  I happened to mention my respect for the Practice Teacher I had and my disappointment in having failed to locate her name in order to thank her.  Based on my description, the woman said, "I believe you are describing Emma Kolb."

It is amazing how often serendipity leads us to the things that had eluded us.  Sadly, Emma Kolb died in 2016, making it impossible for me to thank her for the positive influence she had on my life.  This blog is my way to say thank you, to her and all the teachers who influence the lives of students in ways that positively change their futures.

Emma Kolb, Master Teacher
Emma Kolb was born May 21, 1918 and died November 20, 2016.  She began teaching in 1937 at Zion, Rush County, Kansas, and later, taught at Lincoln Elementary School in Hays, Kansas for 33 years.  Following retirement, she volunteered there for an additional 22 years.  She was named a Kansas Master Teacher and was inducted into the Kansas Teacher Hall of Fame.  She was often heard to say, "Remember, children are not your job; they are your privilege."

One of the things she taught me was never to avoid admitting I did not know the answer to a question a child asked.  Rather, to tell them, 'I don't know the answer to your question, but it is a good question and I will look that up and share the answer with you later."  For the many things you taught me that have influenced me beyond the classroom, thank you Miss Kolb.  I wish I could have told you that, but perhaps I was mature enough to tell you that when my time under your tutelage ended.  If not, perhaps teachers reading this blog will be reminded of how much what they do is appreciated, even when students forget to tell them.

(Remember, you can enlarge the images by clicking on them.)


Thursday, May 10, 2018

Education and Common Core Standards, #5

An early sod school
In the final blog in my Education series, I will take a brief look at the history of education in America, and the motivation for creating universal standards to encourage a comparable education level for all entering the work force or continuing their educations beyond high school.

Past blogs have considered the differences of country schools, with their shortened school year and  one-room structures, in contrast to the larger schools in towns with full school terms.  Educational opportunities for wealthy children, whether access to nicer schools and better trained teachers, or special tutors, was also significantly different from rural children's educational opportunities.

Donnelly's novel
One of the Populist books in the library of Isaac Beckley Werner was Caesar's Column, a novel written in 1890 by populist leader, Ignatius Loyola Donnelly, about an imagined world in 1988 in which the wealthy controlled America and workers were abused and debased.  It is a grim tale, ending in chaos, but a few characters escape to create a new society in Africa.  The narrator of the novel describes the universal and compulsory education system they created for their utopian world:  "No one can vote who does not read and write.  We believe that one man's ignorance should not countervail the just influence of another man's intelligence.  Ignorance is not only ruinous to the individual, but destructive to society.  It is an epidemic which scatters death everywhere.

Continuing:  We abolish all private schools, except the higher institutions and colleges.  We believe it to be essential to the peace and safety of the commonwealth that the children of all the people, rich and poor, should, during the period of growth, associate together.  In this way, race, sectarian and caste prejudices are obliterated, and the whole community grow up together as brethren.  Otherwise, in a generation or two, we shall have the people split up into hostile factions, fenced in by doctrinal bigotries, suspicious of one another, and antagonizing one another in politics, business and everything else.

Finally, the utopians did not forget the importance of morality and religion, so they limited school to five days a week, thus leaving one day for the parents or pastors to take charge of their religious training in addition to the care given them on Sundays.

This passage from Donnally's 1890 novel, written during the Populist Movement, reveals some of the issues regarding education that continue to be debated.

As I have mentioned in earlier blogs, settlers on the prairie were insistent upon building schools in their communities as soon as possible.  It was a goal that was established early in America.  The Mayflower arrived in 1620, and the first Latin Grammar school was established in Boston in 1635.  It was, however, designed for the sons of a social class destined to be leaders of America's churches, courts, and government.

The education of less financially privileged children was more likely to take place in churches or homes.  By 1647 a law was passed in Massachusetts that every town with 50 families was required to hire a schoolmaster to teach their children to read and write.   Massachusetts towns with 100 families were required to have a Latin Grammar school with a master able to educate students adequately to enter Harvard college.

The pattern of educating our children was established firmly in America, whether they were wealthy children or boys and girls helping their struggling parents establish a successful farm on the prairie.  The Common Core initiative is simply a continuation of that American desire to educate its children.

It is obvious to see from the brief summary of early education in Massachusetts that the mandated educations were not necessarily equal.  As the United States spread across the continent states established different standards for their students, and by the 1990s it was apparent that the quality of the educations children received were not necessarily of the same level.  The nation's governors and corporate leaders formed a bipartisan organization to "raise academic standards and graduation requirements, improve assessments, and strengthen accountability in all 50 states."

In 2004 a report described that "current high-school exit expectations fall well short of employer and college demands."  In fact, the study concluded "While students and their parents may still believe that the diploma reflects adequate preparation for the intellectual demands of adult life, in reality it falls far short of this common-sense goal."  As a result, Common Core Standards were developed to help schools determine that their students are college and career ready when they graduate.

Lyn Fenwick speaking at MHS Graduation
The standards have drawn both support and criticism, ranging from disapproval of taking standards away from individual states to positive endorsements regarding higher graduation rates and increase in test scores.

In the fall of 2017 about 50.7 million students attended public elementary and secondary schools.  However, American students are also educated in private schools, charter schools, religious schools, and home schools.  Common Core Standards teaching materials can be purchased for students in learning environments other than public schools.  In our mobile society, where it is not uncommon for families with children to move across state boundaries, and where there are a variety of educational options, Common Core is one means for parents to evaluate the readiness of their children for entering the work force or college.

Things were certainly different for parents on the prairie.  Country schools would be open during months when children were not needed to help on the family farms, and students would be given a basic education.  There were no smart phones to distract them nor social media to occupy their time.  But after seeing the tests for 1895 8th grade graduates in the last four blogs, we know that school children were expected to learn a great deal!


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Thursday, May 3, 2018

Education in the Late 1800s, #4, History

Kansas State Capital staircase
The first posting for this blog begun in 2011 emphasized my belief that a knowledge of history is essential for helping us avoid the mistakes of the past, and subsequent posts have frequently repeated that theme.

This week's blog continues my series about the Final Examinations for 8th Graders given in Salina, Kansas in 1895 with a look at the test questions for History.  Remember as you consider the test questions below, this was U.S. History only up to 1895.  Nearly a century and a quarter have passed since then, including such significant events as  2 World Wars, shifts in national boundaries, and a more global economy.

U.S. History  (Time allowed for the examination is 45 minutes)


1.  Give the epochs into which  U.S. History is divided.
2.  Give an account of the discovery of America by Columbus.
3.  Relate the causes and results of the Revolutionary War.
4.  Show the territorial growth of the United States.
5.  Tell what you can of the history of Kansas.
6.  Describe three of the most prominent battles of the Rebellion.
7.  Who were the following:  Morse, Whitney, Fulton, Bell, Lincoln, Penn, and Howe?
8.  Name events connected with the following dates:  1607, 1620, 1800, 1849, 1865.

Currently, what is expected in Kansas for a standard diploma are the following:  "Must include world history, U.S. history, U.S. government, including the U.S. Constitution, 'concepts of economics and geography' and a 9-week course in Kansas history and government held sometime in grades 7-12."

Depiction of the Signing of the Constitution
While previous blogs have discussed the difficulty of teaching history to students still in their teens, for whom 20 years ago seems ancient, educators recognize the importance of giving students a thorough grounding in the past.  The challenges include prioritizing what is most important and presenting history in a way that seems relevant to young students.

The approach developed for the study of History for the California Department of Education in 2000 was not to isolate American History for one year's study, and World History for a separate year's study, as was common in the past and remains the practice in many schools, but rather to introduce the serious study of U.S. history in Grade 8 to lay the groundwork for deeper study in Grades 9-12.  The sophistication of the outline for Grade 8  is impressive.  Naturally, comparing the test questions for 8th graders in 1895 must omit any comparison of the years 1896 and since, but even ignoring that difference, the significance, from my perspective, is the emphasis that the California approach places on the broader consideration of ideas and issues beyond memorizing dates, names of battles, discoveries, and individual participants.

For example, the California program includes considering "...the shaping of the Constitution [by having] students trace the development of American politics, society, culture, and economy..."  As a part of that, students are expected to understand the political principles underlying the U.S. Constitution by comparing the enumerated and implied powers of the federal government, as well as the influence that the Magna Carta, the English Bill of Rights, and the Mayflower Compact  had on the drafters of our Constitution.  These examples combine only two of the programs study categories.

Clearly, that is an ambitious goal for 8th graders, but it offers an opportunity for better understanding and more than simple memorization.

Declaration of Independence
Frankly, a review of what California developed for 8th graders for understanding United States History and Geography, and our nation's growth and conflicts, might be a good review for all Americans, including those we elect to represent us.  I know I am tempted to buy that 8th grade study program to give myself a proper review of American History!

A glance forward to Grades 9-12 shows how the demanding study by 8th graders continues into high school by expecting students to show "intellectual reasoning, reflection, and research skills in such ways as distinguishing valid arguments from fallacious arguments in historical interpretations; identifying bias and prejudice in historical interpretations, and comparing the present with the past, evaluating the consequences of past events and decisions and determining the lessons that were learned."  An ambitious goal, of course, but definitely a plan to produce an informed and discerning citizenry.








Thursday, April 26, 2018

Education in the late 1800s, #3, Math

The two previous blogs in this series, comparing education in the late 1800s with current  teaching standards, have shared the tests for spoken and written language.  Neither test evidenced an obvious distinction between a test intended for urban students versus rural students.  However, the 8th grade math final exam from 1895 given in Salina, Kansas does reveal an agricultural connection.  Although Salina was an urban community, the population of the state was primarily engaged in  farming related activities, and the test questions reveal that agricultural influence.

Arithmetic:  (Time in which to complete this examination is 1 hours, 15 minutes.)

1.  Name and define the Fundamental Rules of Arithmetic.
2.  A wagon box is 2 ft. deep, 10 ft. long, and 3 ft. wide.  How many bushels of wheat will it hold?
3.  If a load of wheat weighs 3,942 lbs., what is it worth at 50 cents a bushel, deducting 1,050 lbs. for tare?
4.  District No. 33 has a valuation of $35,000.  What is the necessary levy to carry on a school seven months at $50 per month?
5.  Find the cost of 6,720 lbs. of coal at $6.00 per ton.
6.  Find the interest of $512.60 for 8 months and 18 days at 7%.
7.  What is the cost of 40 boards 12 inches wide and 16 feet long at $20 per metre?
8.  Find the bank discount of $300 for 90 days (no grace) at 10 percent.
9.  What is the cost of a square farm at $15 per acre, the distance of which is 640 rods?
10.  Write a Bank Check, a Promissory Note, and a Receipt.

I confess.  There would probably be no gold star on my exam paper had I taken that math test.  However, rather than my math skills, what I found intriguing was how closely the drafting of the questions related to the issues students of that time would have faced in their daily lives.  Remember, 8th grade would have been the final year of their formal educations for many of those students.  The futures of those making their homes in Kansas would likely have had a farming connection, as that was the primary occupation for men, and women were important partners.  If they did not farm, they would probably have been employed in some farm-related business. 

Having spent so much time researching Kansas during the late 1800s, I related the questions to Isaac and his community.  By 1895 the hardest times were lessening for farmers, but much of Isaac's journal relates to taking crops to town in his wagon for sale, paying taxes and school levies, buying lumber for building sheds and fencing, borrowing money, and renewing notes.  Those are precisely among the subjects utilized by the teacher drafting the 1895 arithmetic questions.   Isaac burned corn stalks and cobs in his stove, and he regarded the burning of coal as a luxury beyond his means; however, children in Salina might not have had corn stalks and cobs from their own fields to burn and coal may have been their families' best option.  It is apparent that the person who drafted the math test was aware of the future practical applications for which the students' knowledge of math would be needed.

Could an 8th grader today pass this math test, particularly converting rods to acres (after recovering from the shock of imagining farm land selling for $15 an acre?)  A look at the Common Core Standards for Mathematics helps answer that question.

The initiative for creating Common Core State Standards was begun in the 1990s and focused on two subjects--English Language Arts and Mathematics.  The Common Core Mathematics "Domains" begin in Kindergarten, with the focus on "Counting and Cardinality," which continues in grades 1-5, together with Algebraic thinking, Base 10, Measurement & Data, and Geometry.  At Grade 3-5 Fractions are added.  Grades 6-8 add Ratios & Proportional Relationships, the Number System, Expressions & Equations, and Statistics and Probability.  Grade 8 adds Functions.

The Mathematics "Domains" summarized above continue from Grade One, but add new standards with each advancing grade.  This building upon what is included within the standards continues in Grades 9-12.  Common Core does not specify content in grades 9-12, nor whether particular instruction in such courses as algebra and geometry should be year-long courses.  More flexibility for organizing content is left to the school, but math classes continue.

Comparing the 1895 Arithmetic examination prepared for Kansas 8th graders with the Common Core Mathematics Standards adopted for present-day Kansas public schools, it might be assumed that  today's students just might find a gold star on their exam papers if they took the 1895 test.