Do you like school?

The Times (Northeast Benton County) - - COMMUNITY - JERRY NI­CHOLS Colum­nist Edi­tor’s note: Jerry Ni­chols, a na­tive of Pea Ridge and can be con­tacted by email at joe369@cen­tu­ry­, or call 621-1621.

Some­times we ask chil­dren ques­tions such as “What grade are you in this year?”

“Do you like your teacher?”

“Are you hav­ing fun at school?”

“Are you find­ing in­ter­est­ing things to fig­ure out at school?”

“Do you like school?” As I think back on my days as a young­ster in Pea Ridge schools, at dif­fer­ent times I prob­a­bly would have given dif­fer­ent an­swers.

For the most part, I did ba­si­cally like school, although at cer­tain times I may have placed a dif­fer­ent value on cer­tain sub­jects. At times in high school my first in­ter­est was bas­ket­ball, and try­ing to beat Prairie Grove. There were also times when I sup­posed that the main part of my ed­u­ca­tion, which would help me make a liv­ing, was agri/ shop. I was grow­ing up on a farm, and at the time I sup­posed that I would also be a farmer. As I re­call, the “shop” on our Pea Ridge School cam­pus down­town, was built in the early 1950s. The pro­gram of­fer­ings were not as var­ied as in to­day’s school, but there were tools and ma­chin­ery for wood­work­ing and car­pen­try, acety­lene weld­ing and elec­tric weld­ing. We had some very in­ter­est­ing projects.

The first shop in­struc­tor I re­mem­ber was Mr. Brown, Charles Brown. I asked if I could make some rock­ing lawn chairs which uti­lized a sheet of can­vas as a seat. My dad had some­where pur­chased a chair which served as a pat­tern. I made sev­eral chairs as a shop project, and our fam­ily used them for years.

I re­mem­ber at one time we shop boys had an ex­change week with the Home Ec girls. The Home Ec Pro­gram at the time was be­ing held across the street from the school cam­pus, in the E.H. Build­ing, the old Lodge Hall. To­day, that build­ing, serves as the Pea Ridge His­tor­i­cal So­ci­ety Mu­seum. The Home Ec teacher was Miss Ross, Clytis Ross. Our first les­son was on how to set a proper ta­ble for meals. The plate sits so far from the edge of the ta­ble, the fork goes on the left, the knife to the right with the edge in­ward? The spoon goes to the right of the knife. The wa­ter glass goes —I for­get! I think we boys sort of lis­tened to that les­son, but the next day was largely a loss. I was try­ing to lis­ten, but I was so-o-o sleepy. I have no idea what that les­son was about.

Sadly, that ex­pe­ri­ence of the boys in Home Ec may be kind of a pic­ture of school as a gen­eral ex­pe­ri­ence, marked by kids’ strug­gles with bore­dom, lack of fo­cus re­lated to ques­tion­ing the rel­e­vance of what one is do­ing, and fail­ure to ap­pre­ci­ate the ef­forts of well-mean­ing teach­ers who were try­ing to ex­pand minds and in­ter­ests, and to in­vite us to grow be­yond the con­fined spa­ces of our lim­ited life ex­pe­ri­ence. I also re­mem­ber one of our English teach­ers, a Mr. Pence, who was con­vinced that he could teach us about some great lit­er­a­ture. He wasn’t overly suc­cess­ful, and yet I ap­pre­ci­ated his ef­forts, and I think he suc­ceeded in crack­ing open a few minds that had been closed to the idea of great lit­er­a­ture. Our mind­set tended to re­sist such things as gram­mar and great lit­er­a­ture as sissy stuff that we sup­posed we would never need.

My ex­pe­ri­ence in school, as an over­all ex­pe­ri­ence, was one of be­ing awak­ened to the idea of ed­u­ca­tion not only as prepa­ra­tion for mak­ing a liv­ing, but as a means of dis­cov­er­ing wider ex­pe­ri­ences, and of ap­pre­ci­at­ing more of the di­men­sions of life as a whole. Even though our Pea Ridge School in those years was a “B” school, I came to the the­ory that at Pea Ridge you could get about as good an ed­u­ca­tion as you were will­ing to get.

The School Li­brary be­came a lively and in­ter­est­ing place to me. I got into sev­eral books of bi­og­ra­phy, books about in­ven­tors such as Alexander Gra­ham Bell, in­ven­tor of the tele­phone, and Thomas Edi­son, in­ven­tor of the in­can­des­cent light bulb and the phono­graph for play­ing recorded mu­sic. I found a book about old car tech­nolo­gies, and was amazed at the pro­gres­sive ad­vances of the au­to­mo­bile build­ing trades, the high level of in­no­va­tion and great pos­si­bil­i­ties that were un­der ex­per­i­ment even in the 1920s. An­other book about air­plane con­struc­tion and op­er­a­tion was equally fas­ci­nat­ing. I also dis­cov­ered in the school li­brary a book about soils and grow­ing things, writ­ten by Ed­ward Bow­man in the 1930s, en­ti­tled “Plow­man’s Folly.” In­ter­est­ingly, many of his ideas even­tu­ally came to be com­mon prac­tices in farm­ing to­day.

As the course of my life con­tin­ued on, it turned out that the agri/shop that I thought was pre­par­ing me for my liveli­hood, ac­tu­ally came to be more a source of hob­bies and side in­ter­ests; while the his­tory, the lan­guage, the logic, the speech and other things which I once re­garded as “ex­tras,” be­came the heart of my life and work. So I have come to think, “Don’t spe­cial­ize too soon in your life’s ed­u­ca­tion!”

And don’t be sur­prised if life hands you some sur­prises!

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