A pioneer in a more primitive time for education was Georgian Alice McLellan Birney, credited with founding the country’s first Parent Teachers Association.
I heard one of her descendants give this as her philosophy of education.
“Ram it in, cram it in, kid’s heads are hollow.
Ram it in, cram it in, there is much more to follow.”
The same relative said her philosophy of discipline was:
“Shall we place it on their little ears vocally,
Or on their little rears locally?”
Those concepts are doubtless frowned upon by modern educators and most citizens. However, for her era they obviously worked in that some outstanding students resulted and a better society with a broader base of knowledge was produced. “Dumbing down” as a popular concept had not emerged.
There is a verse that identifies the most important primary factor in education.
“Mark Hopkins sat on one end of a log
And a farm boy sat on the other.
Mark Hopkins came as a pedagogue
And taught as an elder brother.
I don’t care what Mark Hopkins taught,
If his Latin was small and his Greek was naught,
For the farm boy he thought, thought he,
All through the lecture time and quiz,
‘The kind of a man I mean to be
Is the kind of a man Mark Hopkins is.’
Not all the books on all the shelves,
But what the teachers are, themselves.
For Education is, Making Men;
So it is now, so was it when
Mark Hopkins sat on one end of a log
And James Garfield sat on the other.”
Mark Hopkins was an educator and theologian who became president of Williams College.
James A. Garfield was the last of the log-cabin era presidents. He fought against political corruption and gained back a bit of respect for the presidency lost during the Reconstruction era.
In the New Testament era, Gamaliel, a member of the Jewish Sanhedrin, the Supreme Court of the time, was the foremost scholar. This brilliant Jew insisted that his students study the Greek poets. Doubtless many of them thought it was absurd to have to study Greek poets in Israel.
Years later one of his students became a follower of Jesus Christ. Upon going to Greece he found it difficult to establish common ground for communicating his new-found faith to Greeks.
Out of his fertile mind was resurrected this popular line of two of the best-known Greek poets that had been taught him by Gamaliel years before;
“In him we live and move and have our being.” That student, Paul the Apostle, used that line to introduce to a broader sphere of the world his new found faith.
As a word of encouragement to school teachers and parents I offer this: You never know the potential of the children on “the other end of the log,” nor how your influence on them will influence the world tomorrow.
Mark Hopkins proves the thing studied most by students is the teacher personally. It is the people, people.
It can be hoped the Cobb County School Board will engage as superintendent a person of character who is committed to avoiding some of the modern extremes in education and establish the core values of America’s history and economy.
The Rev. Dr. Nelson Price is pastor emeritus of Roswell Street Baptist Church in Marietta.