Book Learning

Education is a big deal for us here in America; literacy is akin to human rights. Being able to do basic math is freedom, and knowing that gravity is common to all of us is the spice of life. This is all good. But something that we might erroneously think about these good things is that it only comes from the education system. This was not the case back in Uncle Zach’s childhood, or even in his entire life time.

Uncle Zach obviously knew how to read and write, and did so well enough to write for the Florence Times, and to be elected as a school board member for Rodgersville. However, he only attended school for three or four months, and those three or four months may not have been consecutive! He was either needed on the farm to help his father, Peter, there probably wasn’t a school teacher in the area, or both.

We can presume that Peter and Sarah Romine taught Zach and his siblings to read and write. In the 1850 census, all Romine family members were recorded as being able to read and write, yet it was also recorded that none of the children had attended school in the last year. The 1850 US census data reveals, however, that only one in ten people could read and write; the Romine household was an exception. It wasn’t until around 1900 that school attendance was required by the state, but by 1851 mistrust of parents was spreading among education leadership. Andrew J. Coulson wrote in a Massachusetts Teacher article: “In too many instances the parents are unfit guardians of their own children … the children must be gathered up and forced into school”.

Education is a great and wonderful thing and having a system certainly makes it all more consistent and fair. Opportunity for education across the board is necessary. But back in Uncle Zach’s time, it wasn’t the responsibility of the state to make sure that everyone was educated, but the parents’ and community’s responsibility. One way is certainly better than the other, in terms of consistency of opportunity, but is one way more right than the other? Is there a right and a wrong way to educate, and do these two systems exemplify that? What do you think?

Sources: 1850 census of Lauderdale County, Alabama


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7 responses to “Book Learning”

  1. Argus says :

    Education is a good thing when it improves the mind and levels of knowledge. Too often though it is distorted for political purposes and becomes indoctrination.

    So formal education should be limited to the very basics (3Rs); and founded on teaching the victi (oops) students how to actually think. For themselves. Dispassionately, rationally, objectively.

    Be warned, if you can think for yourself your life will not be an easy one …

    • Aggie says :

      That last sentence reminds me, Argus, how my friends told me that my children would never fit in if I kept them in Montessori school past preschool. I have most definitely saddled them with the burden of thinking for themselves.

      • Argus says :

        I’ve heard good things of Montessori but otherwise know nothing about it …

      • Aggie says :

        My kids were in a class of 35 18 month (my son) to 5 year olds (including my daughter) with two teachers. Every time I visited, I found them all absorbed in whatever they were doing. The lessons and equipment seemed to grab their attention. The children had some guidance, but were basically free to choose their activities. Occasionally, there would be a parent night for us to observe, and, after a day at school, the kids would jump right back into their “work” and not want to go home. It was a delight to see their delight in “learning.” With me as a parent, my kids didn’t have much of a chance not to become independent thinkers, but I think Montessori helped create that and a love of learning.

  2. Aggie says :

    Now to answer your question, Sarah, a few years of public schooling did indeed allow my grandparents at least one of them, in the early 1900s, to learn English and fit in to American society. If I, a gifted student in a small town in the 60s and 70s, had been left at home to read books, with a little direction about what was important reading, I’d have learned vastly more.

    • Argus says :

      The best gift for the young, not so very long ago, would have been their very own library card (and a wee wagon to tow the books home in).

      A friend’s little (just turned six~!) girl is a fluent expert on her own iPad. Times change. I guess she will probably never know the delights of a chalk breaking and the teacher’s fingernails screeching down the blackboard. (Lucky her~!)

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