Another piece from the interview I did with my father in January 2005, when I was still writing for The Harris County Journal…hope you enjoy.
“Most folks don’t realize it, but at one time there were eight high schools in Harris County — eight of them — and only one county-wide administrator, which was the superintendent.”
I knew my dad was about to make a point of which he wanted me to take great heed. He leaned forward in his chair and commanded my full attention with his gaze.
“The one requirement for the job of superintendent was a college degree and it mattered not in what discipline. When the search ensued for the right candidate, I heard Mr. Wiley Wisdom was selected because he was the only male college graduate in the county.
“Mr. Wiley’s mama was Mrs. Jessie Wisdom for whom Jessie Wisdom Institute was named. It was located a couple of hundred yards south of the Crossroads. Your grandmother went there for both elementary and high school and it’s where I went to grammar school.”
There were schools in every little community in the county at that time. There were no paved roads and no significant means of transportation. The children walked to school.
“When I went to Jesse Wisdom Institute, teachers were paid $65.00 a month. There were seven grades and two teachers. We bought our own books and were assessed an incidental fee of fifty cents before and after Christmas for chalk, erasers, and any other supplies we needed.”
After transportation improved in the early 1930’s, the community schools were consolidated somewhat, which, of course, caused a great deal of animosity. People are usually never eager to give up their schools. At that time, my father entered high school in Chipley.
“It’s true that our schools were primitive by modern standards, but we certainly did not lack for an education. Money does not guarantee anything – dedication does; and we certainly had dedicated teachers such as Miss Janie O’Neal and Mr. J. B. Patrick. At that time, there was never a graduate of Chipley High School who failed in college. Everyone who received a diploma from Chipley and attended college, graduated.”
As I listened to my father, I heard the pride in his voice as he spoke about Harris County and his heritage. I felt his passion about the value of hard work and education. I admired his appreciation for the opportunities with which he had been blessed. His drive to turn those opportunities into success is a daily inspiration for those of us who know him.
But more than anything, I was struck by the differences in the world in which he grew up and the one in which we live today.
No longer is the primary concern in our schools educating the students. Now the main agenda is protecting them from one another or an intruder.
No longer do the majority of parents require their children to obey them or their teachers. Instead, we prepare our children to become top-notch, insubordinate employees.
We have become the most entitled society in the world – one that believes privileges should be guaranteed whether or not responsibilities are met.
Is it because we have been given so much? Is it because we have not truly suffered? Is it because we are lazy and spoiled?
There is no single reason. There is no easy remedy. But the crisis is real and epidemic in scope.
In the book of Leviticus, Moses told the parents of an unruly son who engaged in fighting and cursing to take him to the city gates and stone him to death. Perhaps a bit harsh by today’s standards, but the extreme of over indulging our children is just as inappropriate.
Until we, as a society, realize that practicing dedication and discipline should supersede acquiring economic gain and social status, success will not be ours. Our demise will be almost certain.
“So what can we do?” I asked my father.
“Nothing,” he said,” but your best.”