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and a half nooning. Counting that it took five minutes to shovel down even grandma's beautiful "piece," that left an hour and twenty-five minutes for roaring, romping play. If you want to know, I think that is fully as educational and a far better preparation for life than sitting still with your nose stuck in a book.
In the city schools they don't think so. Even the stingy fifteen minutes' recess, morning and afternoon, has been stolen from the children. Instead is given the inspiriting physical culture, all making silly motions together in a nice, warm room, full of second-hand air. Is it any wonder that one in every three that die between fifteen and twenty-five, dies of consumption?
You must have noticed that almost everybody that amounts to anything spent his early life in the country. The city schools have great educational advantages; they have all the up-to-date methods, but the output of the Old Red Schoolhouse compares very favorably with that of the city schools for all that. The two-mile walk, morning and evening, had something to do with it, not only because it and the long nooning were good exercise, but because it impressed upon the mind that what cost so much effort to get must surely be worth having. But I think I know another reason.
If the city child goes through the arithmetic once, it is as much as ever. In the Old Red School-house those who hadn't gone through the arithmetic at least six times, were little thought of. In town, the last subject in the book was "Permutation," to which you gave the mere look its essentially frivolous nature deserved. It was: "End of the line. All out!" But in the country a very important department followed. It was called "Problems." They were twisters, able to make "How old is Ann?" look like a last year's bird's nest. They make a big fuss about the psychology of the child's mind nowadays. Well, I tell you they couldn't teach the man that got up that arithmetic a thing about the operation of the child's mind. He knew what was what. He didn't put down the answers. He knew that if he did, weak, erring human nature, tortured by suspense, determined to have the agony over, would multiply by four and divide by thirteen, and subtract 127 - didn't, either. I didn't say "substract." I guess I know they'd get the answer somehow, it didn't matter much how.
In the country they ciphered through this part, and handed in their sums to Teacher, who said she'd take 'em home and look 'em over; she didn't have time just then. As if that fooled anybody! She had a key! And when you had done the very last one on the very last page, and there wasn't anything more except the blank pages, where you had written, "Joe Geiger loves Molly Meyers, "and," If my name you wish to see, look on page 103," and all such stuff, then you turned over to the beginning, where it says, "Arithmetic is the science of numbers, and the art of computing by them," and once more considered, "Ann had four apples and her brother gave her two more. How many did she then have?" There were the four apples in a row, and the two apples, and you that had worried over meadows so long and so wide, and men mowing them in so many days and a half, had to think how many apples Ann really did have. Some of the fellows with forked hairs on their chins and uncertain voices - the big fellows in the back seats, where the apple-cores and the spit-balls come from knew every example in the book by heart.
And there is yet another reason why the country school has brought forth men of whom we do well to be proud. At the county-seat, every so often, the school commissioners held an examination. Thither resorted many, for the most part anxious to determine if they really knew as much as they thought they did. If you took that examination and got a "stiff kit" for eighteen months, you had good cause to hold your head up and step as high as a blind horse. A "stiff kit" for eighteen months is no small thing, let me tell you. I don't know if there is anything corresponding to a doctor's hood for such as win a certificate to teach school for two years hand-running; but there ought to be. A fellow ought not to be obliged to resort to such tactics as taking out a folded paper and perusing it in the hope that some one will ask him: "What you got there, Calvin?" so as to give you a chance to say, carelessly, "Oh, jist a 'stiff-kit' for two years."
(When you get as far along as that, you simply have to take a term in the junior Prep. Department at college, not because there is anything left for you to learn, but for the sake of putting a gloss on your education, finishing it off neatly.)
And then if you were going to read law with Mr. Parker, or study medicine with old Doc. Harbaugh, and you kind of run out of clothes, you took that certificate and hunted up a school and taught it. Sometimes they paid you as high as $20 a month and board, lots of board, real buckwheat cakes ("riz" buckwheat, not the prepared kind), and real maple syrup, and real sausage, the kind that has sage in it; the kind that you can't coax your butcher to sell you. The pale, tasteless stuff he gives you for sausage I wouldn't throw out to the chickens. Twenty dollars a month and board! That's $4 a month more than a hired man gets.
But it wasn't alone the demonstration that, strange as it might seem, it was possible for a man to get his living by his wits (though that has done much to produce great men) as it was the actual exercise of teaching. Remember the big boys on the back seats, where the apple-cores and the spit-balls come from. The school-director that hired you gave you a searching look-over and said: "M-well-l-l, I'm afraid you haint hardly qualified for our school - oh, that's all right, sir; that's all right. Your 'stiff-kit' is first-rate, and you got good recommends, good recommends; but I was thinkin' - well, I tell you. Might's well out with it first as last. I d' know's I ort to say so, but this here district No. 34 is a poot' tol'able hard school to teach. Ya-uss. A poot-ty tol'able hard school to teach. Now, that's jist the plumb facts in the matter. We've had four try it this winter a'ready. One of 'em stuck it out four weeks - I jimminy! he had grit, that feller had. The balance of 'em didn't take so long to make up their minds. Well, now, if you're a mind to try it - I was goin' to say you didn't look to me like you had the heft.
Like to have you the worst way. Now, if you want to back out . . . . Well, all right. Monday mornin', eh? Well, you got my sympathies."
I believe that some have tried to figure out that St. Martin of Tours, ought to be the patron saint of the United States. One of his feast-days falls on July 4, and his colors are red, white and blue. But I rather prefer, myself, the Boanerges, the two sons of Zebedee. When asked: "Are ye able to drink of this cup?" they answered: "We are able." They didn't in the least know what it was; but they knew they were able for anything that anybody else was, and, perhaps, able for a little more. At any rate, they were willing to chance it. That's the United States of America, clear to the bone and back again to the skin.
You ask any really great man: "Have you ever taught a winter term in a country school?" If he says he hasn't, then depend upon it he isn't a really great man. People only think he is. The winter term breeds Boanerges - sons of thunder. Yes, and of lightning, too. Something struck the big boys in the back seats, as sure as you're a foot high; and if it wasn't lightning, what was it? Brute strength for brute strength, they were more than a match for Teacher. It was up to him. It was either prove himself the superior power, or slink off home and crawl under the porch.
The curriculum of the Old Red School-house, which was, until lately, the universal curriculum, consisted in reading, writing, and arithmetic or ciphering. I like the word "ciphering," because it makes me think of slates - slates that were always falling on the floor with a rousing clatter, so that almost always at least one corner was cracked. Some mitigation of the noise was gained by binding the frame with strips of red flannel, thus adding warmth and brightness to the color scheme. Just as some fertile brain conceived the notion of applying a knob of rubber to each corner, slates went out, and I suppose only doctors buy them nowadays to hang on the doors of their offices. Maybe the teacher's nerves were too highly strung to endure the squeaking of gritty pencils, but I think the real reason for their banishment is, that slates invited too strongly the game of noughts and crosses, or tit-tat-toe, three in a row, the champion of indoor sports, and one entirely inimical to the study of the joggerfy lesson. But if slates favored tit-tat-toe, they also favored ciphering, and nothing but good can come from that. Paper is now so cheap that you need not rub out mistakes, but paper and pencil can never surely ground one in "the science of numbers and the art of computing by them." What is written is written, and returns to plague the memory, but if you made a mistake on the slate, you could spit on it and rub it out with your sleeve and leave no trace of the error, either on the writing surface or the tables of the memory. What does the hymn say?
"Forget the steps already trod, And onward urge thy way."
The girls used to keep a little sponge and some water in a discarded patchouli bottle with a glass stopper, to wash their slates with; but it always seemed to me that the human and whole-hearted way was otherwise.
Reading, writing, and arithmetic, - these three; and the greatest of these three is arithmetic. Over against it stands grammar, which may be said to be derived from reading and writing. Show me a man that, as a boy at school, excelled in arithmetic and I will show you a useful citizen, a boss in his own business, a leader of men; show me the boy that preferred grammar, that read expressively, that wrote a beautiful hand and curled his capital S's till their tails looked like mainsprings, and I will show you a dreamer and a sentimentalist - a man that works for other people. While I have breath in me, I will maintain the supereminence of arithmetic. There is no room for disputation in arithmetic, no exceptions to the rule. Twice two is four, and that's all there is about it: but whether there be pronunciations, they shall cease; whether there be rules of grammar, they shall vanish away. Why, look here. It's a rule of grammar, isn't it, that the subject of a sentence must be put in the nominative case? Let it kick and bite, and hang on to the desks all it wants to, in it goes and the door is slammed on it. You think so? What is the word "you?" Second person, plural number, objective case. Oh, no; the nominative form is "ye."
Don't you remember it says: "Woe unto you, ye lawyers"? Those who fight against: "Him and me went down town," fight against the stars in their courses, for the objective case in every language is bound and determined to be The Whole Thing. Arithmetic alone is founded on a rock. All else is fleeting, all else is futile, chaotic - a waste of time. What is reading but a rival of morphine? There are probably as many men in prison, sent there by Reading, as by Rum.
"Oh, not good Reading!" says the publisher.
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