Sunday, September 21, 2014

Readin’, writin’, ‘rithmetic….a little history

American schools have been around since the Boston Latin School was opened in 1635.

Yet, what we think of today as public education, K-12, hasn’t been around all that long.

In 1644 the Dedham (MA) town meeting established the first tax-supported public school. Of course, it was for boys only. For long decades, girls might learn to read (so they could read the Bible, for instance), but it wasn’t thought important for them to be able to write or do their ciphers.

Rural Oklahoma, early 20th century
In New England, in the 18th century, “common schools” were established, mostly in the form of one-room schoolhouses for students, who often paid a fee to the teacher.

For most kids, the development of reading, writing and math skills was mostly a family concern until about the middle of the 19th century. By that time, public education and public high schools were becoming common, and attendance was in the process of being made mandatory.

What was taught in this evolution of schools was largely a local concern, often tied to the training and interests of the teacher.

It wasn’t until the early 1900s that a nationwide standardized curriculum was established, mandating roughly the same array of classes that students are taking today: mathematics, English, science and history.

I guess you could say we’ve come a long way, baby….but I guess that Americans have never been less proud of our public education than we are today.

I wonder what an 18th century schoolmarm would have thought about the Common Core standards?

My guess is that she probably wasn’t giving passing grades to students who just weren’t getting it….that seems like the bottom line to me.

What's to learn here?

"The Graduate" - still trying to figure it out

Copyright © Richard Carl Subber 2014 All rights reserved.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Lexington, we hardly knew ye….

Ever been to the Lexington Green in Lexington, MA? You know the one, “shot heard ‘round the world” and everything….

I went there yesterday.

The storied Lexington Green—where a reckless farmer hiding behind the meetinghouse may have fired that shot—is a rather smallish triangle of grass at the western end of prosperous Main Street, it has a statue, a flagpole, a couple memorial rocks with inscriptions, and a young fella dressed in a marginally pathetic Revolutionary-era costume who did his opportunistic tour guide thing by blabbing rapidly (by rote) for five minutes about the skirmishing that got started early in the morning on April 19, 1775.

That’s about it.

The Lexington “Visitor Center’ is a claustrophobic gift shop with a tabletop diorama of the encounter, the painted figures are adequate enough, but the printed blurb about the “first battle for American freedom” is schoolboy patriotic language, not too inspiring….

I really thought the green would be a lot bigger, I thought there would be more historic stuff visible, I thought it would be more visibly engaging and more substantially respectful…….I think a fair comment is that the green is there if you want to go and look at it, ain’t much to see…..

I hasten to say that it was moving for me, personally, to stand on the ground where Capt. Parker and his 76 men bravely decided they weren’t going to let the lobster backs march through Lexington without at least getting the finger from American militiamen who were ready to defend their town and their farms….and I’m delighted to report that, except for the 18 dead and wounded from the original militia crew on the green, Capt. Parker’s boys reassembled a few hours later along the road between Concord and Lexington, and gave the regulars a few going away presents as they marched back to Boston…..

I know I’m 239 years late, but I want to say to Parker and those embattled farmers: “Thank you for your service to our country.”

Monday, September 1, 2014

Book review: Harriet Beecher Stowe: A Spiritual Life

Book review: Harriet Beecher Stowe: A Spiritual Life
William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, MI, 2014
371 pages, with index

If this is your first exposure to Harriet Beecher Stowe, you’re in for a robust telling of her story. From the first page to the last, you can’t doubt that Stowe cared deeply about most aspects of private life, her faith and the all-encompassing religious framework of the civitas. As a woman in the mid-19th century, she was a zealous missionary without portfolio.

Of course Koester gives comprehensive analysis of the writing and impact of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. It was a best-seller in the United States and in Great Britain. It moved multitudes to hate slavery or hate Harriet Beecher Stowe. It did not, despite President Lincoln’s mocking jest when he met Stowe at the White House, start “this great war.” It did help to clarify existing polemical doctrines of opposing camps.

Koester’s aim is to illuminate Stowe’s spiritual life and her very public commitment to advocating her faith and the importance of religious observance and conviction. If that’s not to your taste, reading this book will be drudgery. For me, it was illuminating.

For my taste, Koester mentions but does not usefully detail the context of other aspects of Stowe’s life and impact on American society. She was a woman who conspicuously did not abide by the social conventions that dictated a passive, private, familial role for women. She wrote and was published extensively (I was surprised to learn that she was a prolific writer, including novels, tracts and political broadsides). She had lots of contact with the great and near-great, including President Lincoln and Queen Victoria. Stowe more or less supported her extended family with her writing—it would be interesting to know how much money she made from her writing, because Stowe persisted in a socially risky career and lifestyle that might have been unattainable without a (relatively) high income. I suspect that Stowe was not one of the 99% in her time.

Koester nobly attempts to make her case that Harriet Beecher Stowe was a mover and shaker, non pareil, in the anti-slavery movement before, during and after the Civil War. I suggest that this is a circumstantial biography of a notable lady who was notably revered—and notably tolerated—by a great many of her contemporaries.

If the South had won the Civil War, I think it’s possible that Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and Harriet Beecher Stowe, would be more than a tad less familiar to us.