From the Journal of a Teacher, Autumn, 1959 ARLINGTON Today I am looking at a stack of test papers for American literature. This is the count-downthe Canaveral and the White Sands for several weeks of teacher talking and, I hope, of student reading. Talking is much easier than looking at its results. “Read for enjoyment,” I said the first day, blithelyand then sententiously as I could, “but also read to find out what Americans arewhat you are.” \(Parenthetically I thought . . if you I looked at them that first day with considerable liking and some regrets. They are young so young, so beautiful, and so ignorant! Five girls sit on the first row; the rest are twenty-five boys, nearly all seeking to be engineers, all in the neighborhood of twenty years of their life. They believe much and know little. They say next to nothingin class at least. The American literature class coveredno, sped acrossPuritanism, Rationalism, and Romanticism. I must confess that I lean away from the Puritans and toward the Rationalists and the Romantics. For why should God give a man his brain and his heart but to use it? But I don’t tell the students this. Let them make up their own minds. I have read to them, for example, for that relic of Puritan literacy, The Day of Doom Somehow the author’s name, Reverend Michael Wiggleworth, gives me a vicious satisfaction, as though God had punished him with it. “Please note the couplet on page sixteen,” I say to the class: You sinners are, and such a share as sinners may expect; Such you shall have, for I do save none but mine own elect: \(If they can stomach that, there “This,” I say, “is an example of doggerel verse. Note the internal Austin, Corpus Differ on Slums AUSTIN Urban renewal was approved by Austin voters by a 55-vote margin out of 6,793 votes cast on the same day Corpus Christi voters rejected the slums-replacing program for their blighted area by a margin of almost five to one. In Austin Mayor Tom Miller announced an urban renewal commission will be designated shortly to proceed with the clearing of slums. Of the urban renewal elections in Texas cities before last Saturday’s, 22 passed and 11 failed, AP reported. Cities which had approved the program in cooperation with the federal government: Barstow, Beeville, Crystal City, Clute, Daingerfield, Edcouch, Edinburg, Eldorado, Grand Prairie, Los Fresnos, Lubbock, Marshall, Mercedes, Mission, Pineville, Port Arthur, Port Isabel, San Antonio, Savoy, Stanton, Waco, andWink. Cities whose voters said no to urban renewal before last Saturday: Brownwood, Colorado City, Corsicana, Donna, Fort Worth, Orange, South Houston, Snyder, Texas City, Uvalde, and Vernon. City elections , on the program were made possible by a law authorizing them passed by the 1957 legislature. THE TEXAS OBSERVER Page 6 December 11, 1959 rhymes are visual only, not true rhymes; this is not true poetry, of course, but it is most effective for conveying ideas, because it is easily remembered!’ Mr. Robbins, who sits on the second row and nods frequently, nods agreement. “In fact, like the jingles of TV commercials, you keep remembering when you wish you could forget.” Mr. Jarrell, also on the second row, asks how to spell “doggerel.” On another day, wondering why his individualistic views, so full of faith, have caused him to be damned as an atheist, I read a passage from Thomas Paine, firebrand of the American Revolution, ending: “My own mind is my own church.” “Yes, Mr. Williams.” Mr. Williams is a, young man who sits on the back row. I have not seen him till now, but he is holding up his hand. Hooray! A volunteer. “Yes, Mr. Williams?” Mr. Williams is overcome with the desire to speak. He goes suddenly into gear, and as the hotrodders say when they make the wheels of their peculiar vehicles spin with excessive speed, he “digs out”: “Donlyouthinkhe’sright? Inever he a r d o f thiswriterbefore,buttfon’t youthinkhemakessense? Imean don’tyouthinkhe’ -sright?” Here is a chance for discussion. I look inquiringly at the class. There is a clammy silence, a stillness that comes from some powerful fear of expression, perhaps from a time before the invention of speech. I am about to throw the question to the class, then postpone the thought. But should I give an unorthodox view before so many tender orthodoxies? One of the students is a ministerial student. At least one. Our area produces a large number of ministers. I choose a parliamentary approach: “Mr. Williams, the chair does not usually vote. I enjoy giving my views out of class, any time, anywhere people are disposed to listen: If I hesitate in class, it ig because I have a captive audience. And if I do happen to air an opinion, it is not to request agreement With that opinion, but by example to invite free speech. “When I tell you to read Tom Paine or any other writer, that is an order; but I don’t ask you to agree with him. If you read the assignment, I am pleased; if you understand it, I am delighted; if you are enthusiastic about your reading, I cheer wildly.” \(A few forced smiles at the I look inquiringly at the class. “What is your reaction to Mr. Paine’s essay?” There is a motionless void, a grand canyon of -silence. I examine my class roll for a name. Let us try an “M,” a middleof-the-alphabet name. “Mr. Miller.” No answer. “Is Mr. Miller absent?” A boy emerges from behind another boy on the second row, who hides behind a girl on the first row. I am abundantly familiar with a frontal view of the brunet with her A-plus coloring, curves and smile, but this is the first time I have seen Mr. Miller. “Mr. Miller, what do you think of Paine’s essay on deism?” Mr. Millet is wearing a deep frown, which, I learn later, is his normal expression. He coughs. He bunches up from almost “horizontal to not quite almost horizontal. He gives a pained sidelong glance. There is no way out: his anonymity is invaded and -speaking is necessary. “Well, if this guy don’t b’lieve in Moses and church and all he says he don’t b’lieve in, well …” Mr. Miller hesitates. “Well, he’s probably burning in a hot place right now.” I look inquiringly at the class. Mr. Williams is holding up his hand. Should I recognize Mr. Williams? He could emerge as a disrupting minority. But we have so few raised hands these days. “Mr. Williams?” “Wheredoeshegetth’ideathisguyis inahotspot? Paineisn’tagainst churches! Hejustsayshsmindishis church. Tellme,don’tyouthinkhe’s right?” Thomas Sutherland \(Could Mr. Williams be trying to get me fired? Probably isn’t “I want to emphasize the fact,” I say in my lecturing voice, “that Thomas Paine and Thomas Jefferson represent a way of thinking new and different on religious matters from that of the Puritans, just as their opinion differed on political and economic matters from that of the rulers of Britain. They believed that Man has a God-given power, the faculty. of reason, by which to understand and by which to stand alone with his understanding. They believed in God and they believed in Man. “But let these two points of view speak for themselves,” I continue. “Turn to page thirty-six and look again at what the eloquent Puritan, Jonathan Edwards, said: 0 sinner! consider the fearful danger you are in. ‘Tis a great furnace of wrath, a wide and bottomless pit, full of the fire of wrath, that you are held over in the hand of that God whose wrath is provoked and incensed as much against you as against many of the damned of hell. You hang by a slender thread, with the flames of divine wrath flashing about it, and ready every moment to singe it and burn it asunder; and you have … nothing to lay hold of to save yourself, nothing to keep off the flames of wrath, nothing that you can do, to induce God to spare you one -moment. “That was two hundred years ago,” I say. \(Today, I say to myself, we frighten little children with comic “Now will you turn to page ninety-five and contrast what Mr. Jonathan Edwards has said with the words of Mr. Thomas Jefferson on religious freedom: , , It is error alone which needs the support of government. Truth can stand by itself. Subject opinion to coercion: whom will you make your inquisitors? Fallible men; men governed by bad passions, by private as well as public reasons. And why subject it to coercion? To produce uniformity? But is uniformity of opinion desirable? No more than of face or stature. Introduce the bed of Procrustes then, and as there is danger that the large men may beat the small, make us all of a size, lopping the former and stretching the latter. Difference of opinion is advantageous in religion … What has been the effect of coercion? To make one half the world fools, and the other half hypocrites … I look inquiringly at the class. They are on their feet: the bell is ringing. And so here is the test. I shuffle through the stack, shuddering now and then at the spelling, at the almost illegible script. Is this the product of the world’s great experiment in free, public education? Now, this seems to be the writing Of a bright boy. I can see at a glance that he writes With a flood of newly learned words not used by the pedestrian majority a veritable hotrodder of the discussion questions. I will grade his paper first to give myself encouragement. But as I read his speeding sophomoric sentences, encouragement suddenly falls off a cliff: my eyes have arrived at his definition. of transcendentalism: The transcendentalist is a philosophical attitude which deals with the baser, animal man. The transcendentalist achieved a type of ‘nirvana’ through communism with nature. Oh well, there are likely to be a few bugs in the best conceived rockets. I make a note of the definition to pass on to Dr. A. V. Goyne, who collects boners. And so goes the grading, tedious, eye-killing, wearing on the body and the will; for here the master must stare long at all the imperfections that his mind and spirit abhor. And if the teacher is able to endure, it is because he is soothed and sustained by an unfaltering trust that somewhere in each batch of the unending papers he must read, in the rows of faces that flash before him as they expose themselves to the inexorable court of language, somewhere there is a jewel mind that glitters in the dark, a Daniel come to judgment, a Portia at the ‘bar. The teacher believes that he will find ‘at least one such face looking Nat him from each stack of papers. Otherwise the task would be unbearable. Sure enough, I find him toward the end. As I read his paper, I discover a Lincolnesque command of the simple truth and I can see his face. He is on the second row, a fellow who leans a little to the left to see and hear, a sharp and inquisitive nose and chin, the ‘face of a boy on the frame of a giant; and he has held my attention frequently because he seemed to be half listening to me, half listening to his own daemon. His phrases satisfy: “Rationalists liked common sense, not hearsay.” “Hawthorne didn’t like for ministers to be ashamed.” “Whitman and Melville tried to write about everything.” But the last question, as he answered it, was both ludicrous and satisfying. To snare the students who had heard but not read, I had copied ten quotations from America’s most notable voices of those earlier years and had asked that DALLAS “The men who run Dallas” through the Dalas Citizens Council were given an unusual insight into the purposes of the council by Mayor R. L. Thornton, a founder in 1937. “We needed people who could say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ right away, to determine if a project could be done quickly and efficiently,” Thornton said at the annual membership meeting at the Baker Hotel. “In fact, I wanted to call it ‘Yes-or-No,’ but was overruled.” The Dallas Citizens Council has 250 members. They are all business executives and leaders. Thornton praised the “quiet, unpublicized” work of the council and said “it lends stability and confidence to the things it supports.” Fred Florence, the banker, said the “council has “been instrumental” in “great things” for Dallas. “We must think ahead for the welfare of the city, and more great things will be done.” the author of each excerpt be named: And there was a totally correct answer by my young member of the million-footed crowd. Scribbling rapidly against time and with a misspelled word or two, he had reduced the textbook giants to a familiar and a democratic modesty: Mike Wigglesworth John Edwards Ben Franklin Tom Pain Tom Jefferson J. F. Cooper W. C. Bryant Ed. Poe Abe Lincoln Walt Whitman I slammed the paper down with a loud laugh, then looked out the window at the endless sky for a full minute. 11105farlouto Assessment Sir: As a citizen and a social worker, I can say that the Texas Observer has been of invaluable service in providing many of the facts and statistics needed for personal information as well as for community interpretation. I am impressed with the detail and accuracy with which Texas news is presented, especially considering the size of your staff. Your biases are evident also, but are put in the open with straight talk and honesty. My only criticism ‘is that sometimes an issue of the paper covers an event or occurrence so well that the reporting becomes repetitious and tiring to the readJohn A. Riefenberg, 302 Louisiana, Corpus Christi. Another View Sir: For many months mywife and I have read every word of every issue of the Observer and continue to be astounded at the excellent quality of thejob you are doing. Having never been near Texas, I tend to doubt its existence, and I have next to no interest in what happens in Texas, and am amazed each week to find myself absorbed by articles about events that ordinarily would escape my notice. Yours is the only paper I’ve ever seen that is all that a local paper should be . . . Lee Peery, RFD 4, Douglasville,
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