I don't think there were any junior high schools in the U.S. at the time I entered high school. There were practically no kindergartens either, the public schools being divided into eight years of grade school and then four years of high school, twelve years schooling altogether. Many pupils dropped out of school after the eighth grade, some even before, and children outside the city limits, those who had gone to country schools, most of which consisted of one room, had to take the county examination and pass it before they were allowed to enter high school, whereas town children were admitted automatically. I didn't know anything about a county examination until Arthur Neeley and William Jackson, two of my classmates in the seventh grade, announced that they were going to take it just for fun; to see what it was like. They said they planned to give crazy answers to the questions to make it more fun, then, next year, when we would be in the eighth grade, they would really try to pass it. Russell Moran and I decided to join them.
The exam was given in the high school assembly room on the first Saturday after school was out in the spring. Russell and I wracked our brains to find preposterous answers to the questions and we supposed Arthur and Bill were doing the same but when the grades were mailed to us we found they had double-crossed us and passed.
The next spring, when I had finished the eighth grade, I took the exam again, this time with no foolishness, and passed. In order to receive the diploma showing we had finished the eighth grade, however, all students were required to give an oration or recite a poem at the ceremonies when the diplomas were handed out. Altho I had always hated reciting, which had been one of the weekly activities all thru grade school (always Friday afternoon, I believe), I decided I wanted the honor bad enough to go thru the ordeal. Most of the candidates recited the Declaration of Independence or the Gettysburg Address but I chose a humorous reading called "Sockery Setting a Hen." I don't remember how I got out to the country church were the ceremonies were held but that was where I received my first diploma indicating I had accomplished something. Even tho I didn't need it, it gave me a feeling of pride. I don't know what became of it.
The curriculum of the high schools of that time were very limited, especially in small towns. There were practically no electives, no manual arts, no music, no art classes. The art teacher in the grades (in small school systems the art and music teachers were always the same person), tried to form an art class when I was a senior and the students who wanted it, as well as the teacher, asked me to join but I didn't want to take the time so I turned them down. They didn't get enough to form a class and I was sorry afterward that I had. Everyone took two years of math. One of Algebra and one of geometry - four years of a foreign language; almost all schools offered either Latin or German, but you could take two years of each, four years of English, three years of science and, in the senior year, either chemistry or physics. I chose physics. One half year of U.S. Government and one half year of U.S. History were also required, and, in the second year, we had a course in world history taught by a young, brown-eyed teacher with whom I immediately fell in love. I think she got married the following year.
Since we had a choice between Latin and German, I asked my father which I should take. He said he thought German would be most useful and I agreed. But when I discovered that all my close friends were going to take Latin, I signed up for it too tho I had no idea what good it would ever do me.
In 1913, what I entered first year of high school, Latin still had a high prestige value because of its history, and I suppose the idea that a man was not really educated unless he could quote a few Latin phrases had rubbed off on me. First year Latin consisted in learning the rudiments of the grammar and reciting such lists as "Hic, Haec, Hoc" by rote, words which made so sense by themselves but they had to be memorized as one memorized the multiplication table. Arthur Neeley and Bill Jackson took their books home and studied but it all seemed too silly to me to be bothered with. Anyway, I was more interested in playing basketball. As a consequence I didn't know much Latin by the end of the first year altho I got a passing grade. The second year consisted in reading Caesar's Gallic Wars, the third year was simply called "Cicero" and the fourth "Vergil." I managed to pass Caesar with the aid of Bill Jackson. I never took my book home to study; it would have been hopeless anyway as I didn't know enough grammar and had to look up too many words in the vocabulary at the end of the book. So, during our study period in the study hall, I would ask to speak to Bill Jackson, who sat in the next aisle, and he would read the day's lesson to me. Luckily I had a good memory and could thus pretend to translate the passage the teacher asked me to. I had no difficulty reading in Latin even tho I didn't know what I was reading. If I was asked to explain the grammar, however, I was naturally stuck.
I knew very well that, unless I went back and reviewed the first two years, I would never be able to pass Cicero, so in my junior year I switched from Latin to German. Instead of wasting my time as I had in first year Latin I really studied so that I was probably the best student in the class. All of the other students tried to get me to help them before class the way Bill Jackson had helped me with my Latin but I was not as obliging as Bill had been. The second year we read some German short stories such as "Immensee" and "Germelshausen" and I became so interested that I had read then thru long before the term as over. Occasionally I would have a chance to practice speaking German with some of the Germans who came into the store. My dad was right; it was more practical than Latin, at least for someone who was not going to be a doctor or a lawyer. Lucky for me World War One did not affect the study of German until I had graduated from high school. After that time, for many years, French was substituted for German in high schools. Later Spanish became more popular. No school wanted to be caught teaching German after America entered the war, a reaction which didn't make much sense. Raymond entered high school a year after I did and took German from the beginning - he was very good at it - but when Evelyn came along in her turn, she studied French, carried it along into college and became a French teacher.
I wasn't much interested in algebra either and didn't do any more studying than I had to to get by. It was easy for me; I just wasn't interested. The next year, however, when we got into geometry, I really took off. I had all of the kids asking me for help. I couldn't understand what was troubling them. Everything seemed so logical and simple that the problems just sort of solved themselves. I took my geometry book home and did my homework but I didn't have to work very hard.
Neither Raymond no I could see any sense in studying English grammar, especially parsing and diagramming sentences. We argued that we already knew enough grammar to talk so why should we have to learn about it. However when I started studying German I found I had to have a knowledge of the parts of speech. I learned more English grammar studying German that I did in English class. Third year English consisted in studying American literature, Whittier, Longfellow, Poe and Emerson and I rather enjoyed that, as I liked to read.
In American and English literature class we were also required to write an original composition once a week and hand it in on Friday. I usually got my ideas out of stories I read in the Saturday Evening Post or Colliers, the magazines that Uncle Scott subscribed to. Miss Leatherman, our English teacher, would sometimes put notes on my papers to encourage me saying something like, "you should be able to do something worthwhile in the short story line." I never copied a story, just imitated the style, but I knew I was not very original. Toward the end of my senior year, however, I wrote a short piece which I entitled, "An L.E.G." (elegy) which was entirely original and Miss Leatherman picked it to read to the class. I brought into it many of the class and also the faculty. It put everybody in stitches and I was so gratified that I tried to hide my face so no one could see I was nervous bit I didn't succeed. The whole class wanted to know who had written it, then someone looked at me and they knew. The story was incorporated in the 1916 Year Book. Later, after I became a little more mature, I wished it hadn't been, but I was quite proud at the time.
Tho we all grumbled about having to memorize poems and parts of Shakespeare's plays, I think most of us enjoyed them. What captivated me was not so much the meaning, much of which was rather obscure with so many obsolete words, but the rhythm and swing of the phrasing. When we tried to act out scenes we must have looked ludicrous. There was only one girl in the class who as any kind of an actress, Sarah Ross. I thought she was wonderful. I have seen a Shakespeare play from time to time since I left high school but very seldom read the plays as so many people do.
William (Bill, we called him but not to his face) Manahan coached all of the boy's athletic teams all thru my four years of high school and was also quite a ham actor. He taught Freshman English and delighted in reciting poetry. The first thing he did in our first class was to recite a poem called "The Toy Dog." I think it was by Eugene Field. He had taken his college work at the college in Bowling Green, Ohio, which wasn't far from Paulding, and attempted to repeat in Paulding many of the activities he had taken part in in Bowling Green. He got himself in trouble once by describing to the students what had occurred at football rallies and after games in college, such things as barging into the movie houses without paying, which naturally gave the wilder students in Paulding ideas. In my senior year, he organized a minstrel show which he gave in the study hall of the high school. To open the show, all of the older boys sang the Soldier's Chorus from Faust, by Gould. During the intermissions I played the violin with Frances Dittenhaver playing the accompaniments. Manahan was the "interlocutor" but he also did a pantomime in black face of "Old Black Joe" while the chorus sang the melody very softly. It was quite touching. Two or three years after I had finished high school, Manahan married one of the girls of our class, Veda Goodwin. I had had no idea he had singled her out but Arthur Neeley told me he had noticed it. He was later elected County Superintendant of Schools and held the office for a long time. He died several years ago. I forgot to mention that Manahan also taught a class in agriculture which all students were required to take. That was where the farm boys shone. I was probably lucky to get a passing grade as I had no interest whatever in the subject. I don't think Manahan had much interest in it either. But, since the main occupation in Paulding County was farming, it was a required subject and somebody had to teach it.
We gave nicknames to all of our teachers and called our principal "Pop" Elder. Besides his work as principal, Mr. Elder taught physics, chemistry and math. As I had always tried to figure out how things worked, I enjoyed my work in physics and got good grades. I also liked American History, I had already read a lot of history on my own, for pleasure, but I never opened by book in Civics to do any studying except for the 10 minutes or so while waiting for the class to start.
In my junior year, somebody on the school board or the faculty, or both, decided that the student body was not getting enough practice in public speaking. To remedy the situation, the whole high school was divided into two groups, you had to belong to one or the other, and one Friday of each month set aside for recitation and speeches. Each group was given a Greek name, probably taken from college debating societies. I don't remember them now. It was announced that it was to be a contest between individuals with the faculty being the judges of who had won and if anyone refused to take part he as to be expelled from school. Why that condition was made I don't know but I had never liked to speak in public, it made me extremely nervous, and I resented the threat. When the lists of the two teams were made up, I found I was to compete by playing a violin solo against a girl by the name of Audry Harper. I was a fairly good violinist by that time and Audry was just beginning to learn her instrument so I felt it wasn't a fair contest.
It just happened that, when the Friday of the contest arrived my parents were out of town and grandma Bashore had come to stay with us in their absence. I took advantage of the situation to stay out of school tho I knew I was letting myself in for trouble. When school began the next week I remained at home and didn't say a word to my grandmother about why I wasn't in school. My parents didn't come home for several days; it was during winter and quite cold and I just sat next to the base burner and read. When they finally got back from their trip, however, I had to face the music. My father made me go and talk to Mr. Elder at his rooming house where he set a date for me to play my solo. I didn't find out until that time that I was not alone in refusing to perform. One of the senior boys, Reilley Ennis, also had skipped school until this father made him go back to class and give is oration. He was a big strong fellow but very shy, as I was, and we were both rather pig-headed, I suppose. We were just at the age when we resented having anyone tell us, "you do this - or else."
Last modified on 14 June 2009 @ 10:09