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!


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.