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.


Thursday, April 19, 2018

Education in the Late 1800s, #2, Writing

Past blogs have focused on cursive penmanship and written communication in general.  Last week's blog focused on speaking, but the blog also included a quote decrying the impact of texting on grammar.  This week's blog focuses on Orthography, the art of written words, using the proper letters according to the standard usage of the rules of English.  Orthography includes spelling, hyphenation, capitalization, word breaks, emphasis, and punctuation.

As the various forms of social media have impacted letter writing and have reduced communication to phrases, "likes," and thumbs-ups, both spoken and written language have changed.  If you thought last week's grammar test for 8th graders in Salina, Kansas in 1895 was difficult, you may not be prepared for the Orthography Test those 8th graders were given!

Orthography  (Time limit for examination:  1 hour)

1.  What is meant by the following:  alphabet, phonetic, orthography, etymology, syllabication?
2.  What are elementary sounds?  How classified?
3.  What are the following, and give examples of each:  trigraph, subvocals, diphthong, cognate letters, lingual?
4.  Give four substitutes for caret 'U'.
5.  Give two rules for spelling words with final 'e'.  Name two exceptions under each rule.
6.  Give two uses of silent letters in spelling.  Illustrate each.
7.  Define the following prefixes and use in connection with a word:  bi-, dis-, mis-, pre-, semi-, post-, non-, inter-, mono-, sup-.
8.  Mark diacritically and divide into syllables the following, the name, the sign that indicates the sound:  card, ball, mercy, sir, odd, cell, rise, blood, fare, last.
9.  Use the following correctly in sentences:  cite, site, sight, fane, fain, feign, vane, vain, vein, raze, raise, rays.
10.  Write 10 words frequently mispronounced and indicate pronunciation by use of diacritical marks and by syllabication.

St. John, KS School, late 1800s
Oh my gosh!  How did you do with this test?  Granted, if the 8th graders of 1895 were to come back to life today and were to be handed a laptop or a smart phone, they would surely need instruction, but how do you think today's students would do taking the orthography test above?

One of the ideas advanced by the Populist Movement in the late 1800s was using phonetic spelling in the newspapers and pamphlets they produced to make reading easier for emigrants just learning to speak English.  The idea was that they could sound out words they did not know how to spell.  Isaac Werner wrote an article for the populist newspaper, The County Capital, in which he used phonetic spelling.  I struggled to read it, and apparently other readers during the 1890s struggled as well, for his experiment in the newspaper was not repeated.

Robert S. McNamara wrote, "A computer does not substitute for judgment any more than a pencil substitutes for literacy."  Just because a computer is more legible and has spell check does not make us wiser nor elevate our thinking.  It makes writing easier and quicker, but not necessarily better.

In past blogs about penmanship, I have quoted authors who reject composing on their computers, believing that writing by hand forces them to be more thoughtful about what they are writing, more selective in the words they are choosing to express their thoughts.  Even before people were using computers, Anne Morrow Lindbergh wrote, "I must write it all out, at any cost.  Writing is thinking."

As a student, I prepared for exams by hand writing an outline.  I might never look at the outline again once it was written, but the act of writing forced me to distill the content and understand what was important about the text or my notes from class.  "Writing was thinking," just as Lindbergh believed.

A too hasty romantic breakup reclaimed; Photo credit:  Lyn Fenwick
A wise friend in high school told me that when she was very angry with someone, she wrote them a letter, pouring out her anger and describing all the things they had done to make her so angry.  When she had finished carefully composing the letter, she tore it into pieces and threw it away.  Just as McNamara said, "A computer does not substitute for judgment," and a great deal of what is quickly typed on a computer or smart phone would be better torn into tiny pieces and thrown into the trash, I fear.

Classes in orthography in 1895 might not have taught students those wise lessons; however, perhaps reflecting more on the words we use might help us pause before flinging them beyond our ability to recall them later.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Education in the late 1800s, #1, English

Emerson School, Stafford County, Ks, about 1920
As a former English teacher and an author, I have paid particular attention to the writing skills of Isaac B. Werner, and his reputation in the community as a learned man to whom neighbors went when they needed a contract drafted or an important letter written.  Unlike many people of Isaac's time, Isaac remained in school through the age of 17.  For many children in the late 1800s, schooling ended at the 8th grade, particularly in rural communities.

The Kansas prairie had many former Union soldier homesteaders, but there were also emigrants from other nations, for whom English was a second language.  Rural schools had limited terms because children were needed as help during the planting and harvesting seasons.  The fall term did not begin until November or December, and the spring term ended by March or April.  Teachers were often as young as today's high school students.  Yet, those children received remarkable educations, and schools were considered so important that they were often constructed while families were living in very humble homes.

A sample 8th Grade Final Exam from 1895 in Salina, KS, that was published from an original document on file at the Smokey Valley Genealogical Society and Library in Salina offers an example of what students were expected to have learned by the age when many of them would receive no further formal instruction.  Below are the requirements for the Grammar examination which students had one hour to complete.

8th Grade Final Examination from 1895, Salina, KS:

Grammar  (To be completed in one hour)
1.  Give nine rules for the use of capital letters.
2.  Name the parts of speech and define those that have no modifications.
3.  Define verse, stanza and paragraph.
4.  What are the principal parts of a verb?  Give principal parts of 'lie,' 'play,' and 'run.'
5.  Define case; illustrate each case.
6.  What is punctuation?  Give rules for principal marks of punctuation.
7.  Write a composition of about 150 words and show therein that you understand the practical use of the rules of grammar.

Stafford County, Kansas 8th Grade Graduates
As you read those examination requirements, were you mentally answering them?  How did you do?  Do you believe students today would do well on this test?

Online I found a chart showing the requirements for a standard diploma from each state, including Kansas, the state in which Isaac B. Werner homesteaded.  Under the section labeled "English units (Std.") I found the following notes, effective beginning with the Class of 2009: "4 units of English language arts must include reading, writing, literature, communication, and grammar."  

In recent years some regions have adopted Common Core State Standards, and under the category of English Language Arts are 1.  listening and speaking; 2.  reading; 3.  writing; and 4.  language, focusing on grammar and conventions.  At http://www.corestandards.org the recognition that grammar has been neglected for decades was acknowledged, concluding that renewed emphasis on the importance of grammar is essential.

In a nation in which millions of dollars are spent on plastic surgery, cosmetics, hair products, and clothing, we may be neglecting something far more important.  As Jeffery Gitmoer, an author and business trainer says, "Your grammar is a reflection of your image.  Good or bad, you have made an impression.  And like all impressions, you are in total control."

The impression Isaac Werner made on his community was positive, for he was chosen Secretary of every organization in which he participated.  His neighbors respected his skill with words.  He was chosen as a lecturer for the Farmers' Alliance and was published in journals and newspapers.

Richard Corliss, film critic and magazine editor, speaks to what is happening today when he writes, "Texting has reduced the number of waste words, but it has also exposed a back hole of ignorance about traditional--what a cranky guy would call correct--grammar."  I guess I belong in the ranks of "cranky guys," for I believe grammar remains essential for the sharing of ideas.  Sloppy grammar and immature vocabulary reveals, in my opinion, disrespect for serious thought.  I'm glad to see a renewed emphasis on grammar, and I hope that emphasis makes a difference for future generations.


Thursday, April 5, 2018

Our own Kansas Botanist and Inventor

In my search for scientists working during the late 1800s, when Isaac Werner lived in Kansas and participated in the Populist Movement, I noticed a Kansan who deserves to be mentioned for his personal, as well as his professional achievements.  George Washington Carver was a botanist and an inventor, but perhaps as important as his professional achievements are the nearly impossible personal obstacles he overcame.

This stone marks the NE corner of the homestead Carver filed in 1886
Yes, he was the first black student to study at Iowa State Agricultural College in Ames, and after receiving his master's degree there, he became the first black faculty member (1891-1896).  In 1896 he was invited to head the Agricultural Department at Tuskegee Institute, where he remained for 47 years.  The focus of his adult life was returning Southern soils depleted by years of growing cotton to land capable of renewed production.  In addition to restoring the land, he sought to improve the lives of the poor farmers trying to eke out a living on the exhausted soil.  He taught them about raising crops like sweet potatoes, peanuts, soybeans, and cowpeas to restore nitrogen to the soil while also providing healthful food for their diets.  These are the achievements for which most people know him.

Credit: Frances Benjamin Johnston
However, his first college endeavors were at Simpson College in Indianola, Iowa in 1890, where he pursued art and piano.  It was his art teacher who suggested that he use his gift for painting flowers and plants in the study of botany.  For the remainder of his life he continued painting, and one of his paintings, depicting yucca and cactus plants, was shown at the World's Columbian Exposition, better known as the 1893 Chicago World's Fair.  A fire in 1947 at the museum where his paintings were displayed destroyed all but three of them, the yucca and cactus painting being one of the three saved.

Achieving academic respect and international fame was quite remarkable for a black man of his time, yet that is what he did.  He met with three American presidents--Teddy Roosevelt, Calvin Coolidge, and FDR.  Carver became friends with the son of one of the  professors with whom he had studied, and that professor, Henry Cantwell Wallace, served as Secretary of Agriculture from 1921 to 1924, as had Carver's former dean and professor, James Wilson, from 1897 to 1913.  However, it was his young friend and the son of Professor Wallace, Henry A. Wallace, who served as U.S. Secretary of Agriculture from 1933 to 1940, then became Franklin Delano Roosevelt's vice president from 1941 to 1945.  Obviously, George Washington Carver had friends in high places.

W. W. II Poster, circa 1943
All of those achievements are things you may have learned at some point in school, and they are surely why his name was included among the other scientists of the late 1800s and early 1900s on the references I consulted.  But for me the most amazing things he did happened earlier, for the beginning of his life offered no clues of the achievements to come.

He was born into slavery some time in the early 1860s and was owned by Moses Carver, a German American immigrant.  His parents, whose names were Mary and Giles, were purchased in 1855 for $700, and baby George, joined an older sister and brother.  A few days after his birth, night raiders from Arkansas kidnapped his mother, his sister, and him.  Although Moses Carver sought their return, only George was found, and it is said that a horse was traded for the infant's return.  Moses and his wife Susan raised George and his older brother James as their own, with Susan teaching them the basics of reading and writing.

1948 US Postage Stamp
Black children in Diamond, Missouri where the Carver's lived, were not allowed to go to public school, and George's pilgrimage for additional education began at a school for black children 10 miles away.  When he rented a room from a woman named Mariah Watkins, he introduced himself as "Carver's George," as a slave would have done using his master's name showing ownership, but she corrected him, saying that he should use the name George Carver.

His next destination at the age of 13 was Fort Scott, Kansas to attend an academy there.  After seeing a black man killed by white men, he left Fort Scott for a series of schools, but eventually he earned his diploma from Minneapolis High School in Kansas.  Eager for college, he was accepted at Highland University in Kansas, but they revoked his acceptance when he arrived because of his race.  Deferring college, he claimed a homestead in Ness County, Kansas, in 1886, where he built a sod house with a small conservatory for plants and flowers.  He raised corn, garden produce, cotton, shrubbery and trees, including fruit trees.  To earn cash, he did odd jobs in town and worked as a ranch hand.  In early 1888, he borrowed $300 from the Bank of Ness City in order to resume his education. 

This summary brings us back to the part of his story with which I began this blog, the part which most people have heard before.  However, it is his birth and his youth that I find so amazing--how he somehow survived a kidnapping when he was so young, how he was fortunate to be owned by a couple willing to rescue and raise him, and how he struck out on his own, determined to get an education.

US Farm Security Adm. 1942
Isaac Werner resumed writing in his journal in 1884, having come to Kansas about 1878.  From the summary of Carver's years in Kansas, it would seem that George Washington Carver may have arrived a bit ahead of Isaac, but he left Kansas around the summer of 1888 or slightly later.  The testing of different crops and seed varities Isaac described in his journal may have been similar to George Carver's plant experiments  in Ness County, although that tall grass prairie is north and west of Stafford County where Isaac staked his claim, and the soils and weather would have been different.  Both men certainly had in common a desire to study what crops would do well in Kansas, and they would both have approached their farming efforts in a similar, more scientific way.

Remember, you can enlarge images by clicking on them.



Ks Historical Marker on Hwy K-96 just west of Beeler, KS












Thursday, March 29, 2018

Great Scientists during the 1800s

Beck-Handle Microscope
Last week's blog paying homage to Stephen Hawking raised my curiosity about what scientific discoveries occurred during the lifetime of Isaac Beckley Werner, from 1844-1895.  Even during the early years of such a young country, there were scientists at work, perhaps the best remembered being Benjamin Franklin.  However, as a young and evolving country, our clever minds seemed to focus more on inventions.  Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin in 1793, but during the years after Isaac's birth there were several inventions we take for granted today:  Walter Hunt invented the safety pin in 1849 (the patent to which he sold for $400!); David M. Smith invented the spring clothes pin in 1853; Daniel C. Stillson invented the pipe wrench in 1869; George Westinghouse invented the Railway air brake in 1872; Thomas Alva Edison invented the phonograph in 1877; and Henry W. Seely invented the electric iron in 1881.

Charles Darwin
Although we appreciate these inventors, and many more that I did not name, America did not produce as many scientists.  To continue my homage to great scientists begun last week, I want to share the stories of five Europeans.  (I am saving one American scientist for next week's blog, as his amazing story deserves to be better known.)

I will begin with Charles Darwin, whose theory of evolution by natural selection remains well known even today.   Born in 1809 and died in 1882, his ideas about the origin of the species would have been known to Isaac Werner.  Because I have mentioned him in other blogs and because his name remains familiar today, I will not elaborate on his scientific discoveries.

Gregor Johann Mendel
Having begun with Darwin, who was born first among those I will mention, I will continue with Gregor Johann Mendel, born in July of 1822, died in January 1884, a scientist and an Augustinian friar and abbot.  From his experiments with pea plants between  1856 and 1863 he established certain rules of heredity caused by invisible "factors" which we now know as genes.  Prior to his work, it was thought that characteristics passed from parents in a blended form of inheritance, in which traits were averaged.  He began his research using mice, but his bishop disapproved of a friar studying animal sex, so Mendel began using plants as his experimental subjects.  His fellow scientists did not immediately appreciate the significance of Mendel's research, but today he is known as the "father of modern genetics."

Louis Pasteur
Louis Pasteur was born December 27, 1822 and died September 28, 1895 and is best known for developing the technique to stop bacterial contamination in milk and wine with a process we know as pasteurization.  However, he is also important for his work concerning vaccination, so important in preventing diseases and treating rabies and  anthrax victims. Unfortunately, rumors arose concerning his own accounts of discoveries, and when his laboratory notebooks were finally donated to the French National Library in 1971, and made more available for research in 1985 nearly a century after his death, personal traits of this man, who was surely a genius, were not always so admirable.

Wilhelm Rontgen
When a teacher intercepted an unflatering caricature drawn by Wilhelm Rontgen during his high school years, Rontgen was expelled, and the result was that he lacked the credentials to enter Utrecht University.  Born March 27, 1845 and died February 10, 1923, Rontgen was fortunately able to continue his studies at Federal Polytechnic Institute in Zurich as a mechanical engineering student, and later at the University of Zurich and the University of Strassburg.  Another twist to his life occurred during the time of W.W. I.  He planned to join family in America and had accepted a position at Columbia University in NYC when W.W. I broke out.  He never made it to America.  He had won the 1st Nobel Prize in Physics in 1901 for his production and detection of electromagnetic radiation in a wave length know as X-rays (or Rontgen rays) and would have been a valuable scientific resource for America.

Marie Curie
The name of the last European scientist to be mentioned is probably familiar to you.  Marie Sklodowska Curie was born November 7, 1867 and died July 4, 1934, the child of a well-to-do family whose land and fortune were lost because of patriotic and political activities.  Her life was further changed when she fell in love with a young relative whose family opposed his marriage to a girl with no wealth.  Eventually her romantic life was revived by marriage to a fellow scientist with whom she won her first Nobel Prize in 1903 for physics and in 1911, well after his death, she won her second Nobel Prize in Chemistry.  As for the young man whose family denied his choice of Marie as his wife, his feelings for her seemed not to have changed.  He was often seen in his final days sitting contemplatively before Marie's statute at the Radium Institute she had founded.  Her scientific achievements were the development of the theory of radioactivity, techniques for isolating radioactive isotopes, and the discovery of the two elements, polonium and radium.  It was her work and not wealth that mattered to her, and her humanitarian efforts were as admirable as her scientific achievements.  During W.W. I she understood that surgical theaters with X-ray equipment and generators to power the facilities at the front would give wounded soldiers the best chance for survival.  She tried to donate her gold Nobel medals to the war effort but the French National Bank rejected them; however, she did buy war bonds with her Nobel prize money.  Her war efforts for the soldiers meant little scientific research was done during this time, and exposure to the ionising radiation in her research and from unshielded equipment used in the field hospitals during the war are believed to be the cause of her death. 

I find it fascinating to consider history from a broad perspective.  While the struggles of Isaac B. Werner and his neighbors on the prairie are the center of my research, I am also interested in understanding those homesteaders within the larger context of other places and events.  The late 1800s were also the Golden Age for wealthy Americans, and as we see from this brief summary of scientists in Europe, it was a time of great scientific discovery.  What might Isaac Werner's creative mind have discovered if his education and tools had been those of the European scientists discussed in this blog?

Remember, images may be enlarged by clicking on them.

Next week's blog will focus on an American scientist working during Isaac Werner's lifetime.  His name is probably known to you, but the story of his life may surprise you!

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Homage to a Great Scientist

Stephen Hawking, 1980s
On March 14, 2018, the world lost Stephen Hawking, who died at the age of 76 after having been diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's Disease at the age of 21.  With what had seemed a death sentence, he refused to concede to disabilities that seemed insurmountable, to become a legendary physicist.  Not only did his twisted body confine him to a wheelchair but also necessitated a speech synthesizer to enable him to speak.  Yet, nothing seemed capable of destroying his ability to explore the universe.  His ideas will continue to influence the study of space for decades to come.

His studies led him to issue warnings to those of us living in his time about consequences for the future if we continue as we are doing.  He projected the possibility that at the current population growth of our planet, humans may limit their own time on earth through the heat generated by over-population.  In effect, he seemed to forecast a similar environmental crisis for humans as dinosaurs confronted in the Ice Age, but of a reverse temperature threat.  He also warned that Artificial Intelligence, even with its potential to do positive things, also risks facilitating the creation of powerful weapons of terror.  "Success in creating effective Al could be the biggest event in the history of our civilization, or the worst," Hawking warned.

Hawking is certainly to be admired for his willingness to create a productive life when many of us would have given up as the disability worsened.  When asked by an interviewer how he might change the universe, if that were possible, he replied:  "If I had designed it differently, it wouldn't have produced me.  ...I'm prepared to make do with the universe we have, and try to find out what it is like."  His dry sense of humor, as well as his daily courage, are to be admired.

Hawking receives Presidential Medal of Freedom
One of his college professors said of him, "It was only necessary for him to know that something could be done, and he could do it without looking to see how other people did it."  That confidence sometimes got him into trouble academically, but it also gave him the confidence to pursue his own ideas and not be bound by ideas of others.

He used his sense of humor to dispute those who suggest time travel into the past is possible by hosting a party.  However, the invitation gave a date already past, reducing his guest list to those time-travelers who had the ability to travel backward in order to attend.  No guests arrived.

Loss of speech was an early result of his disease, but he used a computer program called the Equalizer, developed by Walter Woltosz.  First operated with his hand, when that was no longer possible he used the muscles of his cheek.  Eventually he used a different program called SwiftKey, which utilized input from his papers and other writings to allow discussing ideas without letter by letter entries.

Mobility was also a gradually increasing problem, as was breathing, yet he managed to continue a productive life until his death on March 17, 2018, having been a guest on Neil deGrasse Tyson's show StarTalk that same month.  Such courage should inspire all of us as we deal with far smaller issues in our lives.

He raised questions for all of us, admitting that he did not know the answers but wanted "to get people to think about it, and to be aware of the dangers we now face."  Among his concerns were the dangers to Earth from such things as nuclear war, global warming, and genetically engineered viruses, and even the possibility of aliens.  Resting the likely odds of there being aliens on the vastness of the universe, he suggested that if there were aliens who visited our planet, we should reflect on what happened to Native Americans when Columbus landed in America, "...which didn't turn out well for the Native Americans."  In other words, if aliens did reach Earth, their technology might exceed ours, and contact with them might be unwise.

Hawking in Zero-G flight, (photo credit Jim Campbell)
However, that did not make Hawking reluctant for us to travel in space ourselves, and he personally wanted to do so.  Richard Branson offered him a free flight on Virgin Galactic, and Hawking actually flew on a jet operated by Zero-G Corp. and experienced weightlessness to see if he could withstand the g-forces of space flight. He could.  Unfortunately, the completion of Virgin Galactic did not progress as quickly as projected, and Hawking did not get to fly in space. However, I can only imagine the joy and wonder of his Zero-G flight, experiencing the freedom of weightlessness in contrast to his physical restrictions of Earth's gravity.

In the last decades of his life, Hawking began to speak out on behalf of protecting our own planet for our children.  In his own country, he spoke out against England's withdrawal from the European Union, believing science benefits from a sharing of ideas among countries, with international collaboration by scientists conducting modern research beyond national boundaries.

He also spoke out strongly about global warming, saying:  "Climate change is one of the great dangers we face, and it's one we can prevent if we act now."  His emphasis was on nations acting together, warning that if we withdraw from joint efforts, we "...will cause avoidable environmental damage to our beautiful planet, endangering the natural world for us and our children."  He used a planet in our own solar system as an example of what Earth might become, "...like Venus, with a temperature of two hundred and fifty degrees, and raining sulphuric acid."

So, we have lost Stephen Hawking, but the ideas and warnings he gave us remain, and his example of a productive life in the face of such challenges is not the least among all of the important things he left behind!

Remember, images can be enlarged by clicking on them.

Reading tributes to Stephen Hawking led me to consider the great scientific minds that made their contributions during the lifetime of Isaac Werner.  Without computers, copy machines, and the refined instruments of scientists of the century after Isaac's death, or of the present day.  Next week's blog will pay homage to some of the scientists making great discoveries while Isaac Werner lived.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

What May You Be Missing?

Learning about history is available in places you may overlook.  Sometimes our own hometowns have history to share as we go about our daily tasks, but we are often too busy to notice.  For example, consider the town of Kingman, Kansas.  Most people hurry through Kingman on Highway 54, going someplace else, hardly glancing at the things to be seen from their car windows.  Yet, in Kingman there are outdoor murals, easy to see without leaving your car.  From Highway 54, if you look to the south you can see a beautiful 1888 building with its towers and ornate stone and brick work.  Once it was the firehouse, jail, and city hall, but today it is the Kingman County Historical Museum.

The contents inside are worth a visit, but even without entering the building you can appreciate the history depicted on the north side of the building.  Artist and Kansan Stan Herd was commissioned to create two murals:  a 40' x 20' depiction of Clyde Cessna making his maiden flight in his first airplane, and a 15' x 10' mural depicting William "Cannonball" Greene driving a stagecoach between Kingman and Pratt.  (There is also a 30' long mural inside on the second floor of the museum by D. Stoneberger.)

Clyde Cessna was born on a farm in Kingman County, but he is not famous for that.  Rather, he left the farm and began building airplanes, and he founded the Cessna Aircraft Company whose planes continue to make his name famous.

The name "Cannonball" Green also has notoriety--in fact, in triplicate!  Kingman's visitors' literature identifies the driver in the mural as William "Cannonball" Green, but Greensburg, Kansas to the west claims its town took its name from D. R. "Cannonball" Green, and movies have depicted James "Cannonball" Green.  Chasing down the explanation for the three different "Cannonball Greens" is beyond this blog, but whether it was William, D.R., or James driving the coach, there was a stage line that traveled the route called the "Cannonball" in its day.  The operation of the stage line was cut short by the arrival of the railroads.

What is particularly interesting about the two murals on the north side of the History Museum is the artist that painted them.  While he began as an outdoor mural artist, today Stan Herd is probably best known for his earth-work and crop art.  Sun and weather shorten the lives of outdoor murals, but Herd's current outdoor art has an even shorter life span.  Created from plants and earth, manipulated by the artist through mowing, burning, and plowing, the art is quickly reclaimed by nature.  However, photographs preserve the art in books.

One of Herd's works, which depicted a pastoral Kansas landscape on a large barren lot near an underground railway tunnel in New York City, transformed what had been a trashy site into a work of rural art.  Of particular interest today is the coinsidence that the barren lot on which Herd worked belonged to Donald Trump!  The work was called "Countryside" and filmmaker Chris Ordal created an independent film called "Earthwork," creating a filmed work of art from Herd's creative artistic process.   


Thursday, March 8, 2018

Loneliness or Solitude?



"Our language has wisely sensed the two sides of being alone.  It has created the word loneliness to express the pain of being alone.  And it has created the word solitude to express the glory of being alone."  --Paul Tillich

Photo credit:  Larry D. Fenwick
Last week's blog compared the social life of homesteader Isaac B. Werner with those living today, who engage significantly, sometimes primarily, through social media.  Isaac was a bachelor, living at a distance from towns in a community in which most of his neighbors were married couples.  I have blogged in the past about farmers on the prairie working together, about the local school house serving as the community social center, and about the often misunderstood fact that population density was far greater on the prairie than it is today, with 3 or 4 homesteads in each square mile.  However, Isaac and others in his community were often alone, especially at night and because of weather.  

This blog reflects on the distinction between loneliness and solitude, and the impact of the two circumstances.  The quote at the top of this blog is by the German-American Christian existentialist philosopher and Lutheran theologian, Paul Tillich, who lived from 1886-1965.  His words offer a thoughtful way to reflect on the difference between two words, both of which involve aloneness.

Photo Credit:  Lyn & Larry Fenwick

In My Antonia, by Willa Cather, an immigrant neighbor commits suicide, even though he had a loving family to support.  The narrator says, "I knew it was homesickness that had killed Mr. Shimerda, and I wondered whether his released  spirit would not eventually find its way back to his own country."  The narrator recalls what the man's daughter had told him of "...his life before he came to this country; how he used to play the fiddle at weddings and dances.  I thought about the friends he had mourned to leave,  ...Such vivid pictures came to me that they might have been Mr. Shimerda's memories, not yet faded out from the air in which they had haunted him."

In Rebecca Loncraine's biography of L. Frank Baum, she quotes from the diary of Baum's sister-in-law, whose isolated claim was in Dakota Territory.  Needing to be left alone with her child frequently when her husband traveled on business, she wrote:  "This is awful country...and I want to live East.  ...Alone all day and night again...dreadful, dreadfully forlorn.  Can't stand being alone so much."

Both of these accounts express the crippling effects of loneliness; yet, many people living today, even those living in urban environments and with access to social media with which to stay connected to others, suffer from symptoms caused by social separation--disrupted sleep patterns, altered immune systems, inflammation, and higher levels of stress hormones.  Researchers report that social isolation is a growing epidemic, with physical, mental and emotional consequences.  An article by Dhruv Khullar in December of 2016 cites extensive studies showing that an increasing number of Americans say they are lonely, the numbers doubling from the 1980s, increasing from 20% to 40%.  Loneliness can accelerate cognitive decline and cause premature deaths.

Photo Credit:  Lyn Fenwick
For younger people, loneliness is often caused by what scientists call "Maladaptive social cognition" or difficulty interacting with others.  For older adults, loneliness is often the result of family members moving away, close friends dying, their own poor health, and their limited mobility.  Khullar  concludes his report by saying, "A great paradox of our hyper-connected digital age is that we seem to be drifting apart."  Reflecting back to last week's blog, should we wonder whether all of those hearts and thumbs-up and likes, and the dopamine bursts that come with them, are really making us feel connected with others?

In the late 1800s, Isaac frequently had opportunities to attend social events, yet chose to stay home by the fire to read or write letters.  Not every evening alone means a person is lonely or feels isolated.  Albert Einstein wrote, "Solitude is painful when one is young, but delightful when one is more mature."   In fact, many well known men have agreed on this point.  "One of the greatest necessities in America is to discover creative solitude," wrote Carl Sandburg.  Even in the case of married couples and close friends, Rainer Maria Rilke saw the need for them to respect breaks from too much togetherness.  "I hold this to be the highest task for a bond between two people:  that each protects the solitude of the other."

Kristina Randle, Ph.D. expressed this irony:  On one hand, the desire to isolate is a symptom of depression but on the other hand it can be a sign of a psychologically healthy individual.  

Self-described introvert Sophia Dembling says, "Solitude is great, until it's not."  Expressing that same need for balance, English artist, art critic, and author Phillip Gilbert Hamerton (1834-1894) wrote:  "We need society, and we need solitude also, as we need summer and winter, day and night, exercise and rest."

Photo Credit:  Lyn Fenwick
In the prime of his life, Isaac Werner seems to have managed this balance.  He was active in his community, encouraged people to work together, and maintained written correspondence with his family and educated people; yet, he enjoyed solitary reading and quiet evenings alone by the fire in reflection of one kind or another.  It was only in his final years that ill health isolated him, compounded by the dwindling correspondence with his siblings.  Dr. Dhruv Khullar's article ends with these words, obviously of particular relevance for the elderly and the home bound:  Human connection lies at the heart of human well-being.  It's up to all of us--doctors, patients, neighborhoods and communities--to maintain bonds where they're fading, and create ones where they haven't existed.  

Hannah Arend, one of the most influential political philosophers of the 20th Century (1906-1975) believed that "The lonely man finds himself surrounded by others with whom he cannot establish contact or to whose hostility he is exposed.  The solitary man, on the contrary, is alone and therefore can be together with himself."

Blogger Aditi Khurana summarizes the differences between Loneliness and Solitude in the following ways:  Loneliness is painful and negative, leaving us feeling excluded, unwanted, unimportant or unnoticed, even when we are with others.  It causes a sense of punishment or rejection that depletes us.  Solitude, however, is a positive state in which we can enjoy our own company and reflect on ourselves, others, our life, and our future, providing greater self-awareness, creativity, growth, and fresh insights.  It is something we choose and grounds us in who we are, enabling us to reach out and give to others.

Combining some of the issues raised in last week's blog about social media with ideas expressed in this blog, seemed to me appropriate.