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HOW THE SCHOLARS THINK AND WRITE
HUMOR, it is said, consists in the unexpectedness of an idea or expression. Even a good joke heard a second time has lost something of its flavor; and a popular bit of slang, which originally may have had an agreeable tang about it, wearies and disturbs by its frequent repetition.
The thoughts of a child continually wander aside from the routine paths to which the minds of its elders are apt to confine themselves, and hence its speech and action are full of unconscious humor. Indeed, the humor must be unconscious to have any charm, for the child who tries to be funny is certain to make a dismal failure of it. Children are readily enkindled with interest and enthusiasm, and their thought at such times is often very happy and luminous. It many times runs far astray, but that does not make it less interesting. Nor is a wrong answer always indicative of dulness or poor teaching. It is as frequently due to brightness and originality.
The child, when it begins to absorb our spoken language, finds the medley of sounds which it encounters, with all their different meanings, bewildering, and, as is to be expected, often uses one word instead of another which to some degree resembles it. Children jump to conclusions even more frequently than grown-up people do — which is saying a good deal — and they at times make a wild use of disconnected ideas that they have chanced to pick up; but they at other times will make an explanation with a simplicity and patness that might well move the most learned to envy.
In writing, children get badly entangled by the words which are not spelled as pronounced. They have a strong inclination to spell phonetically, but those queerly constructed words they have learned haunt their minds and they sometimes spell one of the simple words the long way. Punctuation is likewise a trouble to them. Usually they put in an occasional period, and may even venture to use a comma, but they are sparing in the use of both, and are inclined to avoid other marks altogether. Capitals are another disturbing element to the limpid flow of the child’s thought when writing. Children, however, are pretty sure to start with a capital and begin most sentences with one. A few are sprinkled in promiscuously, and if some are misplaced, others are lacking elsewhere, so that the average is about right. A scientific division of the words which fall last on the lines the child is writing and still need room, is understood by few. Most put in a hyphen after the final letter the line will contain, with entire independence of syllables, and begin the next line where they left off. Others avoid the dilemma by leaving a margin along the right border of the page, so that long words can run over into that without necessity for division. Still others turn such words downward along the edge till written out in a cramped fulness.
The scholars are most entertaining and do their best when writing on a subject which engages their personal feeling and interest — something which is a part of their own experience and observation. What they write of things far off is, as a rule, dry and stiff. Given such topics the children express themselves more correctly than when writing of things about home — on the same principle that one does not stumble so often when walking sedately as when in enthusiastic haste. But culture comes from love of learning, not from present correctness of expression, and the children undoubtedly gain far more in putting on paper what they have learned by sight and hearing than in writing out what they have gained from books.
The looking-glass in the entry.
In the preceding chapter the ways of a rustic school in the little village of Riverbend were described. At this school on Friday afternoon, the final session of the week, the usual routine was abandoned for something more entertaining. On one such occasion the teacher read aloud to her scholars Longfellow’s poem, “The Building of the Ship,” and the children listened attentively. They seemed to enjoy the story and the music of the poetry thoroughly.
The second class in reading.
When the teacher finished reading, she distributed pencils and paper and said, “Now you may write the four lines of the poem that I will repeat to you; and I will read them very slowly one line at a time: —
“Thou, too, sail on, O ship of State!
Sail on, O Union, strong and great!
We know what Master laid thy keel,
What Workman wrought thy ribs of steel.”
The slow ones had not yet done writing when the teacher noticed that May Tyler’s hand was up, and gave her leave to speak.
“Sometimes” — the little girl began, and then letting her eyes wander about among the other scholars, lost the thread of her intended remark.
“What is it, ‘sometimes’?” questioned the teacher.
“Sometimes you let us draw a picture to go with what we write,” was May’s response.
“And would you like to draw a picture to go with what you have written to-day?” said the teacher.
“Yes, yes!” exclaimed May and half a dozen of the others eagerly.
“Well,” the teacher said, doubtfully, “I don’t know that I object, if you think you can do it.”
The children were sure they could, and the teacher gave them fresh slips of paper. She was curious to see what they would make out of the subject. A “ship of state” seemed to her to offer no chance for a picture. But the scholars bent intently to their task, and showed no signs of lack of inspiration.
Now a hand went up. It was Tommy Halpin’s. Tommy was one of the smaller children who sat on the front seats. His eyes were still on the paper which contained his picture. When the teacher asked him what he wanted, Tommy said, “Can I put a name on my ship?”
“Yes,” the teacher replied, and Tommy printed it right on, and then, forgetting in his enthusiasm to ask permission, came trotting across the floor to show his finished drawing to the teacher.
She laughed a little when she saw Tommy’s “ship of state,” but she told him he had made a very good drawing. The vessel in his picture looked like a small two-masted sailboat, and its name, JOLLY JO, printed in mammoth letters that practically covered one side from stem to stern, seemed very well suited to such a craft.
The ships of state drawn by the other children were of the same mild character, and there was not a war ship in the lot. May Tyler, who had proposed making the pictures, called her ship the BLUEBELL. She was the last to finish; for she drew as a background a long mountain range, with the sun coming up over it. Hers was an open boat without a deck, but she explained she had to draw it that way in order to show its “ribs of steel,” which she had made very plain and black.
An illustration by one of the little girls.
The teacher thought the drawings spirited in their way; but she was not altogether pleased to have the ship of state appear so uniformly as a pleasure craft, and she took pains to explain to the children the real meaning of the extract they had written. In concluding she had each pupil draw a United States flag on their vessels, and this established a certain relationship with the sentiment of the verse the picture illustrated, though they were still more humorous than impressive.
What I have related of this Friday afternoon was characteristic of most of the other Friday afternoons, and in the pages which follow I give various examples of the children’s off-hand writing and illustrating, and a list of definitions garnered from their spelling lessons.
A dwarf is one that holds up a lady’s train.
Sister: If there was a girl and she lived at your house and she was your mother’s daughter, then she would be your sister.
Missionary: One who makes hats. One who surveys land.
The missionaries went to invert the Indians.
Remember means to know afterwards what you know now.
Some kinds of poultry are chickens, hens, and lambs.
A territory is a small place down in a valley.
Work is keeping at something all the time.
Cutlery is knives, forks, and sewing-machines.
Work is keeping at something all the time.
History is studying an examination.
Trouble is having something that you don’t like.
History is studying an examination.
Crying is shidding tears.
News is to hear something that we have not heared before.
Scholars are children studying.
Work is to help the poor; that is the best of work.
A hillside schoolhouse.
If there was a poor old lady living alone, it would be kindness to do her work.
History is a study of the United States.
History is a history telling about olden times.
History tells about wars.
History is a book that the scholars study about.
News is to here things.
News is when anything new happens.
To be contented is to have everything you want.
Contented means to be happy wherever you are.
Contented is when you have enough.
You are contented when you are asleep.
To cry is to feel very bad.
Work means to do something hard.
Bussy is when you have a lot of work to do.
A laugh is when you are happy.
Vegitables are all kinds of fruit.
The diameter of the earth was Noah’s dove.
Colors are different shades.
Study is to learn.
Arithmetic is to do different sums.
Arithmetic is used to trade with.
Fire is very hot and the color of red.
A picture is to repersent anything.
A picture is something that looks like what it was drawn from.
A picture is something to look at.
Writeing is made of ink and lead.
Write is to talk with letters.
Paper is to right.
Reading is talking.
An animal is something that has 4 or more legs.
An animal is a cow who gives milk.
Animals are made of flesh and bones.
Dirt is something we could not live without.
An oasis is a desert place.
An oasis is a flock of trees in a desert.
A gizzard is where the gravel goes.
A gizzard is a kind of fowl.
Bacon is a streak of lean and fat.
Shoulder is the joints of animals which holds them up.
A favor is to do something good.
Henpecked means to be governed by your wife.
Flowers are a vegitable.
Favor is a bottle of water that smells good.
Favor means when you tell some one to go after something and they go. The one that asks the boy is the one who does the favor.
Favor is when a boy does something for his mother.
A flag is what you wave.
Metal is a stone.
Metal is something good to wear.
The Primer class.
A city is a large place.
A city is a lot of buildings.
A city is a place where they sell groceries.
A city is a place where they sell grain for horses and cows.
Desire means to know everything.
Velvet means the fur on a cat’s ear.
Whisker means a hair on a cat’s mouth.
Noiseless means to make a little noise.
Spkled means little dogs.
Toothsome means hard.
Almonds are a kind of pudding.
Occupations of people in Hadley: Farming, grinding, making broomes, keep store, keep postoffice, make whips, make candy, they bild houses, they eat, they drink.
Luncheon means to eat between meals.
Feast means to have a good deal.
Sky is made up of fog.
The sky is where the moon and sun is.
Air is a good deal like weather.
Air is wind.
Air is what you breave.
Eat is to make your jaws go.
Eat means the digestion of food.
To eat is to swallow anything.
To eat is to satisfy your appetite.
When the door is locked.
Home is the place of your parents.
Home is you’s house.
Calendars are made of paper and numbers.
Calendars are used in telling how warm and cold it is.
Fruits is a bige apples is a red and it is about bigs as a pair that is sweet.
A fruit is something that comes on a tree.
A whip is a stick and a lash on the end of it.
A whip is something good to lick horses with.
A mountain is lots of trees.
A mountain is a big pile of dirt.
Money is a round and has a sign on it.
Money is to by things with.
Sky is clouds.
Sky is air.
Sky is something that the rain falls out of.
Weather is rain or shine.
Eat means your mouth.
Play means when you are running around and hiding behind trees and houses.
Roasts is a part of a cow.
The cattle products of South America are hides, tallow, and silver.
They have stews at boarding-houses.
Government is the governor.
Fiercely is very uggly.
Ditches is a hole.
Destroy means to have a book tored up.
Pitfalls means to pitty anybody.
Suddenly meanes that think she will die.
Pounces means to jump up on a cat or anything.
The number of people on the earth was the reason for its being flattened at the poles.
Greedy means to eat some food away from another.
Eager is to watch and see what another eats.
Ravenous means hurry.
Extravigrant means to use all the money you can.
Lonesome means to have somebody gone away.
Carelessly means to lose a child.
Invitation means to go to a house to eat.
Business-like is a man that works.
Bordered is to have everything in.
Daughter is a man’s girl.
Enter is to go to the school house.
Unlike is to be puplite to anybody.
A ball is made out of leather and stuffins.
A bell is used to commence school with.
Dictionary is where they keep all the words people
Carelessly is not to be careless.
The almanac is to look up things with.
The almanac tells the date of the year.
Earth is ground.
A ball is to through.
Pair is to eat.
Pare is shoes.
A bill is when you oe somebody.
A book is a thing that has a stiff cover.
A bill is when you owe somebody.
Paint is something red.
Paint is a yellow color.
A blotter is some ink and is on the paper.
Income is to come in.
Helping a little one on with his things.
The sun is a thing that shines in my eyes.
Income means to go to a house.
Passion means to pass a car.
Trading is to biy things.
An elf is a small animal.
A sheaf is any bundle.
Huge means to feel bad.
Leaf is any thin piece.
A bell is something to ring made of tin and iron.
Almanac is a book with pictures in it.
The almanac shows us when it is going to rain and when there is going to be a knew moon.
Pair is a fruit that grows on a tall tree.
I was a cureious little boy when I first went to school I dident like to go anyway. I would torment the teacher the worst kind and I would do every thing that she dident want me to do and if she wanted me to do a thing I wouldent do it and she got so mad with me she would shut me up in the closit but that dident do no good. I would get out of the window and go home. when I got up to read I would say whatever came into my mind and she would send me to my seat. and I would sit and laugh over it like a monkey but she thought she would try a new rule to be sure. she would give me a good whipping with the ruelar when I dident mind. that I got use to after a while and didient mind it when I came to school in the winter time I would bring snow in on my feat she would tell me to go back out. I was so cold I dident want to and she would give me a good shaking and I liked it beau-cause it warmed me up. the next teacher we got was better than the first one she I liked very much she would give a card every night when I went home and she said I was the best boy in school. I carraid my dinner to school. there was a big tree near the school house us boys would get up in the tree to eat our dinners one of the boys got out to far on the limb and it broke and he fell but he loged on a nother limb down a little ways.
Composed on the 26th day of February.
As a warning
A blue bird
As a warning
That spring is near
And is all most here.
Harry made a tobogain Sataday. and we had som slides it was very very coald and it sleud so that we went down the hill backwards.
We have a new hierd man his name is Robert he seams a verry good man so far.
I can scate alone but I fall down a good many times. We scate on a pond opersite the male box.
It snowed yesterday and rained hard in the night. and so we have a crust and the trees look like glass ones and they look so graceful and pretty i carnt posably discrib them. every thing is beautyful.
go to school now and the week slips by so fast that we find sataday in the
middle of the week so we should think. We doant find much time to waist.
To day I had to see how many seconds it took me to add 8+9+5+4+8+7+8+9+8+7+6+6+7+8+9. it took me 30. but I did not get it wright.
Harry choped of a piece of a log of slipery elm yesterday and we pealed it and ate some.
Aunt Sahra is a bed with a headake. I have bin sow
P.S. this is the largest letter I ever rote.
P.S. You did not say any thing about my last letter so i think it was rite.
Once there was a boy who was very rich he become so rich he bought the world. One day he was out camping he throught he would go out fhishing so he got in one of the boats. he saw some whales down to the lower end of the river so he throught he would catch one, so rowed down to them. be four he got down there one came and upset the boat, and he swollow him and the boat floated down the river. so one day his mother came down to the camp, so she went out in the boat and throught she would catch one and she caught one and put it in the boat it eat her up and the boat floated down the river into the ocen