Moonlight Schools for the Emancipation of Adult Illiterates
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Additional Transcriber’s Notes are at theend.
FOR THE EMANCIPATION
OF ADULT ILLITERATES
CORA WILSON STEWART
Chairman Illiteracy Commission, National Education
Association; Chairman Illiteracy Committees:
National Council of Education, and General
Federation Womens’ Clubs.
E. P. DUTTON & COMPANY
681 Fifth Avenue
By E. P. Dutton & Company
All Rights Reserved
PRINTED IN THE UNITED
STATES OF AMERICA
TO THE VOLUNTEER TEACHERS IN THE MOONLIGHT
SCHOOLS, WHOSE VISION, COURAGE AND SELF-SACRIFICE
MADE IT POSSIBLE TO BLAZE THE
TRAIL FOR THE EMANCIPATION OF
THE NATION’S ILLITERATES, THIS
VOLUME IS GRATEFULLY
Grateful acknowledgments are made for assistanceand helpful suggestions to the following: Mr. ErwinA. Holt, Mrs. Cornelia Steketee Hulst, Dr. J. G.Crabbe, Miss Linda Neville, General William H.Sears, Mr. Everett Dix, and Dr. Louise McDanellBrowne.
Many requests have come for a book tellingthe story of the moonlight schools. Teachershave expressed their need of such a book fortheir inspiration and guidance, and the generalpublic has evidenced a desire to know more ofthe dramatic story of the origin, developmentand goal of these schools.
“I have but one lamp by which my feet areguided, and that is the lamp of experience,” saidPatrick Henry. The crying need of “the lampof experience” to guide the teachers who areengaged in the fight on illiteracy impels theauthor to present the experience of years ofstrenuous campaigning against illiteracy in bookform and likewise to show forth the achievementsof adults who have passed from the darknessof illiteracy into light through the portalsof the moonlight schools.
This book is purposely written in simplelanguage and kept free from technical terms. Itis a message to the teachers of every land andwould be as easy and accessible to those whohave had little preparation for teaching as tothose who are experienced and trained. Not forthe teacher alone is it written but even those whoare not engaged in teaching will find a message,it is hoped, within its covers.
|I.||The People Who Gave the Moonlight Schools to the World||1|
|II.||The Origin of the Moonlight Schools||8|
|III.||Surprises of the First Session||14|
|IV.||Pioneer Methods in Dealing with Illiterates||21|
|V.||A Moonlight School Institute||32|
|VI.||The Results of the Second Session||38|
|VII.||To Wipe Out Illiteracy the Teacher’s Goal||47|
|VIII.||The Movement Extends to the Whole State of Kentucky||57|
|IX.||The First Text-Books for Adult Illiterates||70|
|X.||Moonlight Schools in War Time||81|
|XI.||Moonlight Schools in Reconstruction Days||106|
|XII.||The Illiteracy Crusade Spreads from State to State||124|
|XIII.||The Purpose of the Moonlight Schools||145|
|XIV.||The Need of Moonlight Schools||167|
|XV.||The Call of the Illiterates||189|
|The Spelling Match||Frontispiece|
|They Came Carrying Babes in Arms||16|
|Young Men and Women Whose Chance Had Come||18|
|Arithmetic Was a Popular Study||28|
|A Man Aged 87 Entered and Put to Shame the Record of the Proud School Girl of 86 of the Year Before||38|
|They Were Schoolmates, and That is a Tie That Binds||44|
|Letter From a Home Department Pupil||45|
|A Class of Moonlight School Pupils All Past 50 Years of Age||48|
|Letter Written After Three Lessons||80|
|Letter Written After Six Lessons||80|
|Letter From Pupil After Attending Full Session of Moonlight School||80|
|Letter From Man of Draft Age||94|
|Letter From a War Veteran||108|
|Letter From a Student in Prison||118|
|Letter From an Alabama Pupil||124[xii]|
|Letter From an Alabama Pupil||125|
|Letter From a North Carolina Pupil||126|
|A North Carolina Moonlight School||128|
|Oklahoma Moonlight School||130|
|Letter to the State Superintendent of Schools, Oklahoma||130|
|A Class of Mexican Mothers in California Learning to Read and Write||132|
|Letter From New Mexico Moonlight School||132|
|Letter From a Georgia Moonlight School||134|
|Jewish Mothers in New York Improving Their Education||140|
|Mother of Twelve Children Learns to Read and Write||190|
|Alex Webb, Aged 98, Who Learned to Read and Write in the Moonlight Schools||192|
It has been said that every great movementfor freedom originated among mountain people.However true or untrue this may be, the movementto emancipate the illiterates of Americaoriginated among the people of the mountains ofKentucky. It is not something that America isdoing for the mountain people, but somethingwhich they have contributed to the nation andto the world.
This was acknowledged by the United StatesCommissioner of Education in a bulletin issuedin 1913 in which he said,
“I submit herewith, for publication as a Bulletinof the Bureau of Education, a statementshowing in some detail the amount of illiteracyin the United States among men, women andchildren over ten years of age according to theFederal Census of 1910; also a brief statement[xiv]of an experiment which has been conducted fornearly two years in one of the mountain countiesin eastern Kentucky having a large number ofilliterates in its population, to ascertain if itwere possible to teach these illiterate grown-upmen and women and older children to read andwrite, and whether other men, women andchildren with very meager education wouldrespond to the opportunity to learn more of thearts of the school. The success of this experiment,made under very difficult circumstances,has been so great as to inspire the hope that,with the cooperation of schools, churches, philanthropicsocieties, cities, counties, States and theNation, the great majority of the five and a halfmillion illiterates over ten years of age in theUnited States may, in a few years, be taught toread and write and something more.”
THE PEOPLE WHO GAVE THE MOONLIGHT SCHOOLS TO THE WORLD
In the mountains of Kentucky there has beenburied a treasure of citizenship richer far thanall its vast fields of coal, its oil, its timber ormineral wealth. Here lives a people so individualthat authors have chosen them as theirtheme and artists as their subjects to interpretto the world a people with a character distinctive,sturdy, independent and rugged.This is a stock in which great movementscan have their origin. No inferior people, nodegenerate stock can embrace and demonstratewith enthusiasm new truths. These people aredescended from the best ancestry—Virginia andNorth Carolina—that traces back to England,Scotland, Ireland and Wales. Theirs was, inthe main, an educated ancestry; some of theirforefathers read Latin, and some of themGreek. Here and there in the mountain cabinand farm-house may be found an ancient copyof Cæsar, Virgil, Chaucer and other rare oldbooks, useless to the possessors save as relicsof the past. They are a people of arrestedcivilization, who sing the ballads sung in Englandthree hundred years ago and forgottenthere now, and who use expressions that belongto the centuries past. Not all by any means,but some of them live lives such as were livedin rural England and in the hills of Scotlandtwo hundred years ago. They have the bloodand bearing of a noble people; they are a noblepeople. Possessed of a high degree of intelligence,they have not degenerated even thoughdeprived for years of educational opportunities,but have preserved the sturdy traits of theirScotch-Irish, English and Welsh ancestors.
Their capacity for learning has always beenimmense and their desire for it has beenequally so. Of all the authors who have chosenthem as their theme and the artists who haverecently begun to present them as a type, nonehave seemed to catch, or, at least, all havefailed to portray, the dominant thing in mountainlife, the strongest urge of the mountaineer’ssoul—his eager, hungry, insatiable desirefor knowledge. It is this which has sent mountaingirls and boys walking a hundred miles ormore to reach the school where they could worktheir way through. It is the thing which hascaused many a slender mountain maid and manya frail lad to assume the work of a man whenby so doing they could earn a little money toprovide for a few weeks in school. It is thesame desire that has caused many a mountaineerto give his last few acres of land, his laborand his last dollar to found a school where hischildren and his neighbor’s children might havean opportunity to learn. But, intense as thisfervor for education has been, it has had tosatisfy itself with looking back to the time when“Gran’pap was an educated man,” and forwardto the time when the children and grand-childrenwould have an education. There wasa lack of hope for the present and passinggeneration, a broad gap between the past andthe future culture, which seemed to condemnmany brilliant minds to an intellectual grave.Many of these people had never been permitted,for reasons all too tragic, to enter school, orif enrolled, they had been stopped at the endof a week, a month or at the close of their firstterm. There were married folk, who if theycould even have overcome their embarrassmentand summoned courage in later life to seek aschool, would have found none open to them.In a land where people live long, these menand women, thirty, forty and fifty years of age,with, perhaps, a good quarter of a century, andmany of them a half century, ahead of them—whatmust be done with them? Shall they beconsidered the wasted citizens of a state thatcares not to redeem and use them, and of anation that does not need such character andsuch brain?
These mountain people now stand at thethreshold of a new civilisation, eager and hopeful,anxious to enter in and take their part inthe work of the world. They need the world’shelp, its best thought, its modern conveniences,but not more than the world needs them. In aday when racial groups weld themselves togetherin America and seek to advance thewelfare of the country from which they camerather than the welfare of the nation whichhas received them into its bosom, it is comfortingto remember that in these mountains of thesouthern states America has a reservoir ofstrength and patriotism in the millions of pureAnglo-Saxon Americans. It is a reservoirthat should not be kept walled in, nor shouldit be turned back when it attempts to flow outover the land, but should be developed andpermitted to send its strength to every sectionto carry virility and the very essence of Americanismto communities where these preciousthings are diluted or dying out.
 From Roosevelt’s “Winning of the West.”
Along the western frontier of the colonies that were sosoon to be the United States, on the slopes of the woodedmountains, and in the long, trough-like valleys that lay betweenthe ranges, dwelt a peculiar and characteristicallyAmerican people.
These frontier folk, the people of the up-country, or back-countrywho lived near and among the forest-clad mountains,far away from the long settled district of flat coast plain andsluggish tidal river, were known to themselves and to othersas backwoodsmen. They all bore a strong likeness to oneanother in their habits of thought and ways of living anddiffered