231. Green Books Campaign: Making the Grade, Plucky Schoolmarms of Kittitas Country

Making the Grade: Plucky Schoolmarms of Kittitas Country by Barb Owens

This review is part of the Green Books campaign.Today 200 bloggers take a stand to support books printed in an eco-friendly manner by simultaneously publishing reviews of 200 books printed on recycled or FSC-certified paper. By turning a spotlight on books printed using eco- friendly paper, we hope to raise the awareness of book buyers and encourage everyone to take the environment into consideration when purchasing books.

The campaign is organized for the second time by Eco-Libris, a green company working to make reading more sustainable. We invite you to join the discussion on "green" books and support books printed in an eco-friendly manner! A full list of participating blogs and links to their reviews is available on Eco-Libris website.

Making the Grade: Plucky Schoolmarms of Kittitas Country by Barb Owens

Pages: 224
Ages: 18+
Finished: Oct. 28, 2010
First Published: 2008
Publisher: Washington State University Press
Genre: non-fiction, social history, education
Rating: 3.5/5

First sentence:

In late August 1861, a 16-year-old cowboy, A.J. Splawn, first set eyes on the Kittitas Valley: "It...was the loveliest spot I'd ever seen - to the west the great Cascade range, to the northwest the needle peaks of the [Peshastin] stood as silent sentinels over the beautiful dell below, where the Yakima wound its way the length of the valley and disappeared down the grand canyon.

Green Characteristics: printed on pH neutral, acid-free paper

Reason for Reading: I love early 20th century history and the old school system is of interest to me.

Making the Grade starts with a lengthy Introduction which gives a background history on the state of Washington, settling specifically on Kittitas County, and speaking of national/world events only if they affected the County especially. Many historical details of Kittitas County are followed from its founding, the railway, the great flu epidemic but it quickly narrows down to the focus of education from the teaching college called Normal School in Ellensburg to the rural one or two room school house which this book is devoted to.

What follows are the reminiscences of 13 former Kittitas country schoolmarms from 1914 to 1942, with the majority of them being from before the depression years. These tales are told in the words of the ladies themselves from taped interviews stored in the library archives and their journals donated by their respective families for the purpose of this book. Then there are the author's actual interviews in person she was able to conduct with a handful of 90-odd year old teachers who spoke directly to her.

Each teacher's reflections on teaching in Kititas county take on the same form as the reminisce about the way one taught a group of different ages in a one room schoolhouse having anywhere from a total of seven to twenty-five students. They spoke of the treks to school, walking or taking horses, the wood burning stove that the teacher was responsible for but usually hired an older boy to take care of, the water fetched from a nearby well or often times a further creek. The teachers had a curricula to follow which they all said was helpful but they pulled it off using books that the children brought to class themselves which was always a hodgepodge of books handed down from older siblings and even parents. The teachers all talked of their days at Normal School (teachers college) and how much fun they had there. As the tales progress, names pop up again as one teacher takes over from one we've heard from before or a teacher is assigned to a school we've heard about earlier on. Surprisingly, all the stories are positive, none of the women says they had much problem with discipline, saying they found that the poorer and more rural an area they were in the more well-mannered were the children. Some of the teachers only taught a few years as they were not allowed to continue once they married, but others went on for quite some years. While the ladies see some positives in modern school, the majority of them miss the good old days of the one room schoolhouse and think it was an excellent setting for a good education.

The back of the book contains the Washington State 8th Grade exam which students needed to pass to get their school certificate and it also includes a teachers exam from Normal School as well. I'm not sure many of us would pass either exam today no matter what our background is!

A very enjoyable look inside the lives of early 20th century rural families, what they did for entertainment, how important community was to their way of life, how respected "Teacher" was in the community and a look inside the educational system at work from the teacher's point of view.

There does get to be a certain sameness to the stories when reading and I think this book is best enjoyed by reading a few entries, then coming back to it for a few more, rather sitting down and reading straight through.


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