Do you like school?
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!