This is an excerpt from the book “Pathways” which will be released in mid-November.
I have joked to my classes that I went to the the only elementary school, called a primary school back then, that had a student parking lot. I did, but it was because I went to Indian Land School where kindergarten through twelve was housed in the same building that had just one parking lot. A long low brick building similar to all that were built in the late Forties, it sat on the top of a small hill overlooking Highway 521. The primary school was housed downstairs on one end while the junior high was up the stairs above it and separated from the high school by huge double doors. For my first eight years the only time we ventured into the realm of the upperclassmen was the occasional trip to the library or auditorium and daily, having lined up like Clementine’s little ducklings, when we quietly marched to the cafeteria for lunch. The only sounds allowed were the taps and clicks caused by hard soled shoes on the highly polished hardwood floors.
In order to meet the needs of a modern world, a gymnasium was built adjacent to the high school wing. Other buildings had been added to accommodate such non-core classes as Ag, shop and band, and to house sports facilities in the form of football and baseball locker rooms. These rooms surrounded a cannery that was opened in the summer months and used by all of the families… make that all white families in the area.
There was no kindergarten during those years either. In those days, parents were still responsible for teaching basic ABC’s, numbers, and colors and such – things that kindergarten teachers are now saddled with because parents are way too busy to teach them.
My kindergarten education was year-round and administered not only by my parents but also by my grandmother, Nannie, who was an exacting taskmaster. Even during the summer months between sessions of school my education continued. While other children frolicked, romped, hither and yon seemingly doing nothing educationally, a bookmobile would show up at Pettus’s Store. Every two weeks, like clockwork, my grandmother would take me by the hand and walk me down to Pettus’s Store “to meet the bookmobile,” a vehicle which looked a lot like a converted school bus of a great age. Inside, instead of seats, there were shelves with rows and rows of books on every subject. I would pick out three books that interested me and Nannie would pick out three books that she thought might interest me. Of course the books she picked were of some type of educational value like say Einstein’s Guide to Quantum Mechanics. That gave me a total of six possible books to read over a two week period.
There really wasn’t anything possible about it because I did not seem to have a choice. Sit your self down under yonder shade tree and read or walk yourself out to yonder hot sun and corn row and pick up a hoe. There did not seem to be anything to debate so I became an avid reader and still have not found a hoe that comfortably fits my hand…not that I am actively looking. At any time, while sitting under that shade tree, I might be called upon to read aloud and could expect to be quizzed with a Moon Pie as a treat instead of a carrot strung onto the end of a fishing pole. I did not realize how much I would appreciate that later…much later. During the winter months, activities might be changed due to the weather but still were focused on the three R’s and a healthy dose of Biblical study that went on 24/7 it would seem.
Because all children did not have the benefit of my grandmother and because “Some Children Are Left Behind”, regardless of what a former president might have passed into law in the far distant future, we could have had an elementary school with a student parking lot because the concept known as social promotion was several years down one of those pathways in South Carolina. That’s right – no social promotion! The good side of that equation was that there was no compulsory attendance rule either. Good side? I have been on both sides of the coin. I was a student when there was no social promotion or compulsory attendance and then a teacher under both systems. So which do I prefer? Unh-Unh! That is my secret but there are reasons why South Carolina’s education system ranks so low today and why we had no social promotion or compulsory attendance rule at the time.
Those reasons are connected. We are still trying to shake off and remove the cobwebs from the years when I was a public school student and cotton textiles were still king in the New South. I am not implying that it was the intent of mill owners or their politicians, held firmly in owner’s pockets, purposely to keep the state “stupid.” Well, maybe I am. One did not need a particularly “globally aware” or educated workforce to produce the raw materials and finished products associated with textiles. Remember, an educated workforce might actually ask for a raise or, worse, mention the word—union. You really did not need to know your multiplication tables to do most jobs in a cotton mill although I did, in fact, have to use a slide rule in one. Yeah and I still have yet to use Algebra in the last fifty years. I keep hoping my education was not for naught!
Textiles also provided the ultimate “alternative” school. Where does a “left behind” fourteen-year-old sixth grader go when he decides to drop out of school? In my day, they became solid, tax-paying citizens who labored in the lower recesses of the cotton mills doing those jobs that were highly repetitive, back-breaking and lower paying until they taught themselves something else that would elevate them to another highly repetitive, back-breaking but higher paying “low paying job.” Understand, these low paying jobs still provided a higher level of poverty than the rest of the world enjoyed. We were still taught that education was important and that a high school diploma was the only way to get the “better” jobs in the mill. The problem today is that we do not have that “alternative” school any more and there are only so many shifts at “Mickey Dee’s” or the like.