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What-are-you-reading-Wednesday: Three Cheers for Schoolteachers

August 19, 2009

As students are heading back to school, this is a good time to think and read about schools and schoolteachers. In the Humanities To Go collection — multiple copies of books that can be borrowed by book clubs throughout Indiana — we have three titles that depict the trials, tribulations, and triumphs of schoolteachers, over the years and in different locales.

The first one, from I.U. Press’s Library of Indiana Classics, is The Hoosier School-Master, first published in 1871. The author, Edward Eggleston, captured a lighthearted backwoods world of the late 19th century, in a setting somewhere near Madison, Indiana. This humorous tale depicted the homespun dialect and social customs of courtship and recreation while dramatizing Ralph Hartsook, the teacher, in his fight to bring civilization to a largely resistant rural population.

Another book from the Ohio River Valley, Jesse Stuart’s The Thread That Runs So True, is a memoir, published in 1949. Stuart began his teaching career at the age of 18 in Greenwood County, Kentucky. Even more isolated than its Indiana counterpart, the one-room schoolhouse where Jesse teaches has little in the way of luxuries, but it has something even better – students who want to learn. For them Jesse is willing to walk 17 miles in the December snow carrying a suitcase of borrowed books because they have already read all of his.

Set in quite a different world from the first two books is perhaps the most beloved schoolteacher novel ever, Goodbye, Mr. Chips. Written by James Hilton, this story about a schoolmaster at an English boarding school takes place over the 50-year career of the hero, spanning World War I. A true character, Arthur Chipping seems stern at first but eventually comes to be loved for his Latin jokes and his eccentricity. (And for American readers unfamiliar with the English school system, this short novel is good background for Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, another title available through Humanities to Go.)

As Jesse Stuart writes in his preface, “And I am firm in my belief that a teacher lives on and on through his students….Tell me how can good teaching ever die? Good teaching is forever and the teacher is immortal.”

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