Books high­light the im­por­tance of ed­u­ca­tion

El Dorado News-Times - - Celebrations - JOAN HERSHBERGER

The teenage girl left school fight­ing tears; her thoughts filled with her class­mates mock­ing ac­tions on this her first day of high school. All day, she had only wanted to hide as she walked be­tween classes in the new school. It be­gan when she had asked a stu­dent, “where do the fresh­men go?” and re­ceived the taunt­ing an­swer, “same place as the fresh women.”

Her quaint clothes looked funny in this ed­u­ca­tional en­vi­ron­ment, and she knew it. In her first class, a stu­dent slipped over to the chalk board, made a cou­ple strokes and changed El­nora’s last name from Com­stock to Corn­stalk.

The day ended in to­tal shock when she learned she needed money she did not have to pay for books and tu­ition. She had

so wanted to go to school. She walked the three miles home sob­bing with the agony, hu­mil­i­a­tion and re­al­iza­tion that she did not have the money to at­tend.

And thus the 100-year-old fic­tion and best seller “A Girl of the Lim­ber­lost” opens its Cin­derella story of the un­der­dog who fin­ishes high school at the top of her class. That same theme, the quest to es­cape poverty of pock­et­book and mind is por­trayed in the new movie “The Glass Cas­tle” in which four teenagers de­ter­mine they will go to school in spite of their no­madic par­ents’ phys­i­cal ne­glect and dis­re­gard for ed­u­ca­tion. The movie is based on a 1990 bi­og­ra­phy by Jeanette Wells.

In both sit­u­a­tions, the chil­dren hide money from their par­ents. El­nora knows her mother will use it to pay the taxes. Jeanette knows her fa­ther will use it for al­co­hol.

An ad­ver­tise­ment for spec­i­mens of moths and but­ter­flies sends El­nora into the wilder­ness of In­di­ana’s Lim­ber­lost to cap­ture spec­i­mens to sell to a nat­u­ral­ist. It is there, in the Lim­ber­lost, that she meets her Prince Charm­ing.

The more things change, the more they stay the same. The pro­hib­i­tive dis­tance and cost of at­tend­ing high school in 1908 be­came the pro­hib­i­tive dis­tance and cost of at­tend­ing col­lege to­day. With no school buses any­where, El­nora walks three miles ev­ery day. Jeanette and her sib­lings save up to move to the city to fur­ther their ed­u­ca­tion.

Ris­ing above their par­ents’ ex­pec­ta­tions and rules, El­nora and Jeanette each find a niche. El­nora uses her knowl­edge of na­ture to pay for her ed­u­ca­tion and also be­comes a tal­ented vi­o­lin­ist. Jeanette joins the only free or­ga­ni­za­tion: the school news­pa­per which leads to a job at the lo­cal news­pa­per.

El­nora re­flects the ide­al­ism of the time. When she searches for moths with sum­mer vis­i­tor Philip, her mother tags along as a chap­er­one. Be­cause Philip is al­ready en­gaged to some­one else, El­nora re­fuses any phys­i­cal con­tact, de­clines to cor­re­spond with him when he leaves and re­mains un­ap­proach­able un­til his fi­ancee, in yet an­other fit of self-cen­tered­ness, re­jects him again. Only then can Philip court El­nora.

Chap­er­ones have dis­ap­peared by the time “The Glass Cas­tle” be­comes a movie. As an adult, Jeanette and her fi­ancee al­ready have an es­tab­lished home to­gether long be­fore their wed­ding vows. The lover knows the detri­men­tal ef­fect of Jeanette’s mother and wants noth­ing to do with her dump­ster-div­ing par­ents. She ul­ti­mately leaves him to make peace with her par­ents’ life choices.

El­nora sum­ma­rizes their mu­tual pain when she con­fronts her mother, “You knew I needed it and you let me go … without?” That dis­ap­point­ing re­al­iza­tion re­leases each to quit ex­pect­ing some­thing dif­fer­ent and to finds ways to pro­vide for them­selves. Both books high­light the im­por­tance of ed­u­ca­tion and fierce de­ter­mi­na­tion to move one­self out of piti­ful poverty and ne­glect to a suc­cess­ful, in­de­pen­dent life.

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