This morning we took two of our daughters to the high school for their first day of classes for the year. Actually for one of my daughters, this is her first day of public school ever. (But that is another story for another time.) As I watched my two “High School” daughters, get up extra early on their own, I could see the anticipation in their eyes of what they might expect on the first school day of the year.
Now, I know that I am a guy, but I’m not that stupid. (I do have other daughters who have been through this as well.) They are certainly more interested in the social aspect of a new year than they are in the academics. But I have studied the history of education and schooling as it pertains to our family, and I don’t take the opportunities for a good education, which my children have, for granted like they do.
My 2 Greats Grandpa, John Smith, or Jock as he was called, had no education. In the Scottish coal mining community of the 1820’s where he grew up, family survival necessitated another strong back to carry the coal out of the pits. So Jock was cheated out of the few meager years of schooling that was offered to the Scottish children. Throughout his life, Jock was reminded what a disadvantage he was in because he couldn’t read or write. Once, after working for years to satisfy the requirements of the Homestead Act, Jock missed the posted filing date, and his neighbor jumped his claim, leaving Jock with only a notice of eviction from his own farm.
Jock made sure the schooling for his children in the 1850’s and 60’s was better than he had… a little better any way. But public schools didn’t exist in the Utah territory of the mid 1800’s. So only those who could afford too, sent their children to school. Jock could afford to send only one of his children. Robert, Jock’s oldest son attended. When he couldn’t make it for some reason, his next younger brother, James would take his place for the day. My Great Grandpa, Adam was 3rd in line. So it took him a few years of substituting for his older brothers before he learned to read and write. But Adam learned to write very well. His handwriting was beautiful. It puts mine, and most handwriting I have seen now days to shame.
The story is the same with many of my other ancestors. My 2 Greats Grandpa, Johann Tillack had immigrated from Prussia to Australia. He donated the land and petitioned his Lutheran Church to get the first school started where he lived outside of Melbourne in 1873. That school still exists and thrives today, and is called the Bayswater Elementary School.
So with the new school year starting, school stories from my family are on my mind. Parents raiding the cellar for vegetables to send with their children as their part of the teacher’s salary… a Baptist church from the South setting up free schools in the poor Utah communities as a way to proselyte among the Mormons… school teachers boarding with the families of his students as part of his salary. My dad said that changing from 4th to 5th grade was a big deal. He said that instead of just moving over a row in the same class room, you got to change rooms to the older class in the school. Grades 1 through 4 in one room, and 5through 8 in the other room.
So I will watch my two “High School” daughters boarding the school bus each morning, while thinking of my Grandpa, George Haroldsen, hitching up the sled and going around the rural neighborhood on the cold Idaho winter school days to give them a ride to school.
While listening to my children complain about how hard their school work is, or of how much homework they have, or of the many other problems caused by the school or teacher, I will be thinking of my parents, and their parents, and theirs… on back as far as I have information. They wanted their children to get a better education than they had…(and we got it), to have better opportunities (and we got that too.) That’s the same thing I want… for my children to learn more… to get more education… to be able to have more opportunities than I have.
Yes… the start of a school year is exciting to me as well as to my children. It’s not only a time to look forward to new beginnings and new opportunities. It’s also a time to look back, with thankfulness, for the opportunities that I now have… a fulfillment of someone else’s dreams… my parents… and their parents… and theirs.