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Have we learned our lesson?

We interrupt this week’s only partially justified pandemic of panic over the COVID-19 coronavirus to bring you a news bulletin from 106 years ago.

Researching this week’s Memories in Focus photo of students at a rural grade school in 1914 was an education in its own right, a testament to the adage about how it takes a community to raise a child.

But first, some background.

Sometimes when you see republished old photos, all you get are the photos themselves, maybe a recap of what’s written on them, and a bunch of semi-informed speculation about the memories attached to them.

We never do that with Memories in Focus. We often spend a day or more researching every aspect of the photo lest we do more harm than good to the historical record by perpetuating myths and misunderstandings that inevitably creep into memories of historical events.

In this case, two of us spent a great portion of the weekend discovering that the year listed for the photo was five years off — probably attributable to someone mistaking a handwritten nine for a four.

We also found that one of the boys appearing in the picture was listed twice. His second appearance was actually that of his little sister, who had a similar first name.

All this required extensive research of each individual in the picture — consulting family trees, cemetery records, historical census documents, newspaper archives, and even the personal recollections of our second researcher and her uncanny insights into which particular family trees to investigate.

That might have been an education in itself, but our real schooling occurred when we found one particular name and realized its significance not only to the school but also to the other researcher checking these things.

Dobbs School, shown on Page 5 this week, was a shining example of what education was like in rural communities for three-quarters of a century.

A single, crowded classroom with a single teacher — often one of the more educated members of the local community itself — provided schooling for all eight elementary grade levels at once.

As anyone who does it for a living can attest, teaching well in such an environment is among the greatest challenges an educator could face.

But teach and teach well these educators did — so well, in fact, that some of their students ended up becoming teachers themselves.

That includes one particular Dobbs School student who ended up spending four years teaching language and literature to this particular researcher half a century after she appeared in the photo.

Young Hannah Schlotthauer, who grew up to become Mrs. Harvey Kruse, probably had no idea back in 1914 that 50 years later she would be presiding over her own classroom at Marion Elementary.

She certainly had no idea that, 50 years after that, one of her students would be researching and writing about her time at Dobbs School.

As much as the school itself was a shining example of education, Mrs. Kruse — I could never call any of my former teachers by their first names — was a shining example of community members paying their education forward, just as we are attempting to do in a much smaller way this week.

Long after she left Dobbs School, she became a dedicated educator, teaching in the 1960s at a time when education, just as it was in 1914, was perhaps more challenging than it is today.

Coping with classes of as many as 36 students — twice what’s now considered optimal — she was a strict grammarian but grandmotherly figure who taught English despite coming from a family that had emigrated from a land where English was not the native language.

But she did more than provide a generation of Marion young people with skills they still use today.

She and her husband ended up owning that land on which Dobbs School was situated, and rather than allow the building to be torn down after school consolidation and construction of Marion Reservoir, they donated it to the state’s teachers college, where it was moved stone-by-stone to become a museum modern educators frequently visit.

Exactly what Mrs. Kruse might think of modern education is something I find myself often wondering about.

All I know for sure is that she started a class in 1965 by announcing that we would continue to begin each day by reciting the Lord’s Prayer and that if the U.S. Supreme Court didn’t like it, its members could come and throw her in prison anytime they wished.

The challenge each of us faces nowadays is to act with the same loving resolve she demonstrated — not just about school prayer but more important about instilling in the next generation an appreciation for more than just extracurricular activities and education as a job ticket.

Young people need to learn to appreciate learning as an end in itself and to accept the responsibility for paying their education forward to keep our community healthy.

Where we are today is a testament to the vision and dedication of people like Mrs. Kruse and William B. Dobbs, who built her tiny schoolhouse, probably with his own hands. They invested of themselves in our community’s future by fostering intellectual curiosity. We dare not do anything less.

— ERIC MEYER

Last modified March 12, 2020

 

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