With family members attending and teaching in-person classes in public school, I find myself thinking of them often and trying to imagine how frustrated they might be.
They seem to be faring well. Their young lives are defined by constant change, even when there is no pandemic. Life itself is a challenge, and somehow humanity accepts the challenge and persists. While today’s challenges might involve face coverings and a new, revised structure, students from a century ago faced a different set of challenges, just as daunting, perhaps, and just as well-met.
An item in Glenn Hubbard’s mementos from Preservation Woodstock’s files is a little note pad, not much bigger than a cell phone. It contains (like a cell phone!) a plethora of bits of information. Inside the front cover is the name J. C. Elliott, presumably the owner. The name Joel Elliott can be found in other listings as a teacher in the 1920s at Othello School which was located west of Woodstock on Bells Ferry Road. How Glenn’s family came into possession of Mr. Elliott’s records can possibly be explained by the fact that Glenn’s sister, Ouida Hubbard, taught at Othello later, and it may have been passed on to her. The little book contained many school records which would have been helpful to the teachers who followed Mr. Elliott. In the booklet, for two consecutive years, he noted the best spellers in each grade, one through seven, by name and ability. Ouida’s name topped the list of 7th grade spellers in the 1924/25 term. Glenn’s name was first in 3rd grade, 1922/23. Enrollment lists added up to a total of 54 pupils in the 1922/23 school year, and 52 in 1923/24. Other entries included school expenses such as the purchase of crayons, stove wood, water bucket and dipper, window shutter and sash, and lights. Song books were purchased but had to be paid for by students. Chores were assigned to the children. Boys served as water boys and as “firemen,” responsible for keeping the fire going. Girls were “floor sweepers.” There are lists of parents who contributed cash to help with some expenses, such as the purchase of a new stove and for building repairs when needed. In Glenn’s memoir, “Before Allatoona,” he gives vivid details about the school and its activities. He transferred to Woodstock School after five years, his parents paying to do so since he did not live in the district. But his memories of Othello and his learning experience there followed him throughout his life.
The first few pages in Mr. Elliott’s record book seem to be notes taken in 1921 while attending Ellijay Normal Institute. The first class session on July 5th was on English and Literature, and appears to have been taught by E.A. Pound from the State Department of Education. There was focus on grammar. Second period was History/Biography, touching on major events and Grecian, Roman, British and European personalities. He made special note of the cost of the Panama Canal, Teddy Roosevelt’s presidency, and the settling of the West, this last of which the American public never seems to tire. The third period was Civics, a subject we have given other names to over the years. The last session notes entered seem to be introspective. It may be a quote not ascribed to anyone, or it may have been his own observation. “Is it better to know right and do wrong, or not to know right and do wrong? Sometimes we know right, but habit compels us to do wrong. Habit is stronger than knowledge. Habits are developed by example and association. Habit is stronger than knowledge until knowledge is enforced by will power and example.” I never knew Mr. Elliott, but reading this, along with the walk through Othello’s “diary,” gave me a bit of insight into those values and ethics that we all admired in Glenn Hubbard.
I was reminded of Bel Kaufman’s book “Up the Down Staircase” where we were introduced in 1964 to the slings and arrows of public education in big cities, hampered by a tiresome emphasis on reports and statistics and a disregard for meaningful discipline and sound teaching. (Sound familiar?) Today’s problems are certainly different, logistically. But we have managed to be schooled throughout our history, from the one-room, six-month, seven-year Othello School where three-to-a seat was not uncommon , children brought their lunch in a bucket, and textbooks were later passed down to other students, to today’s social distanced students whose textbooks are in a “device” and their lunch is served. Othello’s boys and girls sat on opposite sides of the room, and the lone heater stood in the center of the floor between them. One other difference might be worthy of note. Othello was named for a little girl, Othello Jones, who was a young customer in the store owned by Jim McClain who organized the school and gave the land for it. And there were no protests about the naming of the school.