Self Education

My wife and I went to see the new True Grit. All-in-all, I think the remake was better than the original. At least, it looked like it was actually filmed in Oklahoma around the Ardmore area. Don’t really know where it was filmed but at least it could have been.

One thing stuck out and my wife mentioned it later. The dialog. The characters rarely, if at all, used contractions in their speech. “Don’t” was “do not,” “I’m” was “I am.” It was striking. Two of the main character knew enough Latin to make quotes and knew what the quotes meant. I hard to reach far back into my memory to translate them (I had two years of Latin in high school.)

My mother was a school teacher. She had many friends who were teachers. One, an older lady by the name of Mrs. FitzGerald, was a circuit teacher in Texas in the late 19th Century. I remember that she did not use contractions in her speech nor did my mother nor my grandmother.

Mrs. FitzGerald watched over me from time to time. She never used the term “babysitting.” I was in the first grade and Mrs. FitzGerald made sure that I spoke proper English. I still remember her saying that using contractions in speech was a sign of low class and of the uneducated. Books, she said, did not use contractions. Educated people did not use them either.

Sadly, I’ve lasped.

My mother explained the non-use of contractions to me years later. She too, had been a circuit teacher in her youth in the 1920s.

In the 19th Century, people were responsible for their own education and for that of their children. McGuffy readers were sold in most general stores or could be mail-ordered. In lesser populated areas, general stores also contained small libraries containing math, grammar, and history books along with copies of dictionaries and other classical books such as Shakespeare’s plays, The Illiad, Dante’s Inferno and other classics of the time. Families often pooled their resources for educational items, and depending on the local prosperity, hired circuit teachers.

Mrs. FitzGerald was a circuit teacher in West Texas and in Missouri before coming to southern Illinois. She created, what would now be called lesson plans, and distributed them to the subscribing families. In those plans were reading, writing and math assignments. For the most part, there were no local schools outside of the larger towns. The parents used the plans to educate their children. If there were any questions or problems that the parents couldn’t answer or solve, they were set aside until the circuit teacher arrived. It wasn’t unusual for some parents to be learning along with their children. For them, education was important and a personal and familial responsibility.

In some areas, there were only one or two teachers in a county. The students were scattered and towns were small if there was any at all. The circuit teacher had a schedule and a fixed route. She would arrive at the town or ranch and spend several days holding class. The unanswered questions or unsolved problems were covered at that time. Tests were given on the subjects learned since the last time the teacher was available and the next segment of the plan was reviewed and discussed.

The point was not to teach subjects but to teach the children, and by extension their parents, how to teach themselves. If someone had a bent for “figures,” a common need on any ranch or business, they studied math, economics, accounting, business and politics. Politics affected the economy and the people well knew it. It wasn’t unusual for children to “apprentice” to others to learn particular skills. Almost every physician had a series of assistants—mostly mid-wives, but also some who became apothecaries.

Some “read” the law to become lawyers. They would borrow books from a lawyer and that lawyer would be the mentor. Schooled lawyers mainly stayed around metropolitan areas. My father’s lawyer never went to Law School. He “read” the law. Neither did he ever pass a Bar exam. He was a lawyer before the Bar was created and was grandfathered into the Bar.

There was no formal, public schools, as such, outside of metropolitan areas and sometimes not there either. Education was a personal and family obligation. People took that obligation seriously.

Alas, that’s no longer true. All education, even private sources, is now organized and regimented. Education is a product, a monopoly and individuals, not of The Guild, cannot choose the education of their children. The Guild controls all and dictates what is to be taught, how it is to be taught and parents will not question The Guild at their peril.

The Guild is, of course, the teacher’s unions. My mother and Mrs. FitzGerald would be appalled at what had become education in today’s world.

Mrs. Crucis and I sent our daughter to a private school. For a couple of years she attended a private school, a home school really, with our Pastor’s children and a few others from church. Our daughter is now a mother of three. She and her husband send their two oldest to a private school as well. A school that still teaches Latin—and Greek. The school provides a classical education.

Education is too important to be left to a bureaucratic union whose primary interest is not education but lining their own pockets and maintaining their control. Education is too important to be left to government, especially one who uses education as indoctrination of their own particular ideology.

Getting back to the use of contractions. People, educated people of those times, did not use contractions in their speech and writing because—that wasn’t the way English was used in books. People spoke English as it was written. Speech without contractions was the mark of an educated person and opened many doors. The ability to educate oneself was a priceless asset and people marketed that ability with pride.

4 thoughts on “Self Education

  1. Concur with all, great post! My mother and dad didn't get past the 6th grade in 'formal' school, but they continued to learn their entire lives! I still have some of the books they used, and I doubt most kids today could pass the tests in them.

  2. And did you notice that the handwriting of that generation was excellent—almost like calligraphy? When I was in the first grades, we practices handwriting, printing and longhand, as it was known then, at least an hour daily. It you didn't keep up, you had handwriting assignments to take home.

    I failed that part miserably even with a teacher mother and an older sister who was a teacher too. Now my handwriting is almost illegible. Too many years at a keyboard.

  3. I'm not sure that was a reverence for learning, and not an attempt to garner status. Before the advent of the pulps, books were big and weighty because only the wealthy had time to read for fun. Other people were reading for business or to use the Bible.

    Of course, Dickens was also paid by the word. That may have been a factor, too.

  4. On 2/18 the question of the lack of contractions in the movie True Grit was brought up by a caller on the radio show A Way With Words. Thge male host of the show was quite adamant that contractions were in wide use for many years prior to the time period portrayed in the movie. He also maintained that the lack of contractions was a valid way for the playwrights to emphasize that the characters are not "us", and that the female lead was a bit of stickler for correctness. So, contractions were used by real people but not on the silver screen. YMMV I could be wrong, but, hey, it's the internet, so anything goes. 🙂 I appreciate your view on the use of language. Thanks for your imput.

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