The entries were written with ink and beginning to fade, so I decided to transcribe the entire diary. A project came up, and I never got beyond a couple of pages. This summer, I came across the slim diary and decided again to take up the task. The ink is now so faded, I have to use a magnifying glass.
It was kept by one Jonathan Whittington, a young man charged with teaching in a one-room schoolhouse in Michigan. His students ranged from age 5 to 19, and attendance by some was sporadic at best. Throughout the term, Jonathan had forty-two pupils, and he was paid nine dollars a week. The term was three and a half months, beginning in November and ending in February, “a matter of mutual decision” between Jonathan and the School Board. On that day, he wrote, “I was much relieved.” When he turned in his final report, he listed each student by name, age, days attended and the number of times each was absent. He stated that “Harry King received the first prize for not whispering” and “Charles Case the second.”
At the end of his term, Jonathan went home and chopped wood, and later recorded, “I did not do more than two days worth.” A few days later, he worked at “making a watering trough from the bole of a tree” and “can testify that it is hard work, by the way my bones and muscles feel. Thursday hauled some wood and then did not do much more during the day. I felt somewhat as if I had been tortured on the rack or went through a patent stretching machine of 40 horsepower. This is what a person gets for changing business.” He soon decided to enroll in a nearby Institute for further schooling.
I’ve translated through the month of February, and noted that in 1877, “March came in more like a lamb than like a lion. And hence, according to the weather prophets, it will go out like a lion.”
I don’t yet know if Jonathan accepted another school assignment or whether any friendship or relationship developed between him and one of the attendees at a “donation party for the benefit of Mr. Raisin, a blind music teacher,” where he recorded, “There was a large number present, and we had considerable music and fun playing ‘Snap and Ketch’um’ and similar new and entertaining games.” I can only hope he did.
Jonathan was serious and interested in politics. He recorded details about the various subjects and texts of speakers and preachers who spoke or visited in one of the area churches: --the Methodist, Baptist, Presbyterian, Lutheran, and Catholic. Wherever there was a speaker or Lyceum, Jonathan attended. One thing of which I am certain, Jonathan studied and craved learning much more than do present day students
Currently I am reading William A Henry’s book In Defense of Elitism. In it, he writes, “Where a generation ago people felt entitled to a chance at education, they now feel entitled to the credential offering that they have completed a course of study regardless of their actual mastery.”
He discussed the purpose of education, saying “The very essence of school is elitism. Schools exist to teach, to test, to rank hierarchically, to promote the idea that knowing and understanding more is better than knowing and understanding less. Education is elitist. Civilization is elitist. Egalitarianism celebrates the blissful ignorance of the Garden of Eden, where there were no Newtons to perceive the constructive use of an apple.”
I was on a sailboat recently and while tuning in the Coast Guard channel, I overheard someone advertising some town’s public schools as “a place students are given a great education.” I wondered what Jonathan would say--- or for that matter, what would William Henry think?