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.


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.

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