T h e    T a l e s

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
   Tom Sawyer's adventures give us a scamp's eye view of 19th century education. The school-based excerpts from Twain's celebrated novel follow Tom's trials as a reluctant scholar with the author's usual wit and insight.

A Death in the School-Room (A Fact) by Walt Whitman
   This story, written by the famous poet when he was 21, is a damning indictment of what Whitman calls "the old-fashion'd school-masters" and their emphasis on discipline and corporal punishment. It was Whitman's first published work of fiction and his first piece published in a prestigious journal.

The Goosepond School by Richard Malcolm Johnston
   The schoolmaster in this comic/serious tale is a tyrant who turns corporal punishment into a sadistic carnival. The way the students eventually overthrow the master is a triumph of integrity and bravery over cruelty.

Hard Times by Charles Dickens
   In his 1854 novel, "Hard Times," Dickens puts the poverty-ridden factory towns of 19th century England on trial. The excerpt included here begins the novel, using the town's school to recreate the dehumanizing industrial world in microcosm. In the process, we see a scathingly satirical -- and all too accurate -- portrait of the factory-like charity schools common in U.S. and English urban centers in the first half of the 19th century.

The Hoosier Schoolmaster by Edward Eggleston
   This novel about an enlightened schoolmaster in a fictional Indiana community is famous both for its enduring popularity and for its innovative use of regional dialect. The first four chapters, which are included here, contain a wealth of information about Hoosier culture, community, and education in the 1850s, and the chapter on the Spelling School is possibly the best description of this popular rural amusement to be found anywhere.

The Idyl of Red Gulch by Bret Harte
   Harte's tale of a small town in California during the Gold Rush centers on a young schoolmistress, a drunken but charming young man, and a prostitute. The unusual triangle creates a quiet, moralistic tale with a few unexpected twists and turns.

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving
   Ichabod Crane, the schoolmaster in Washington Irving's classic tale, is one of the earliest portrayals of a country schoolmaster in U.S. fiction -- and very possibly the best. The tale captures the essence of the town, its inhabitants, and its comic schoolmaster with skill, insight, and humor.

Locke Amsden, or The Schoolmaster by Daniel Pierce Thompson
   In Thompson's novel, a brilliant farm boy frustrates his schoolmasters with questions they can't answer, gets a chance to further his education and decides to become a schoolmaster himself. His successes and failures as student and teacher illustrate the changing nature of the country's common schools from the beginning to the middle of the 19th century.

Making an Orator by Stephen Crane
   Crane's fame rests on his Civil War novel, "The Red Badge of Courage," and a few well known short stories, but he also wrote a series of boyhood tales. This story follows the plight of a boy who is traumatized when he has to recite a memorized poem in front of the class.

A Negro Schoolmaster in the New South by W.E.B. Du Bois
   Unlike the fictional works that make up most of this collection, Du Bois' narrative is a factual account of his experiences as a schoolmaster in a rural black community in Tennessee for two summers when he was a college student. The essay discusses his experiences during those summers as well as a visit to the community a decade later. Du Bois included this narrative in his classic work, "The Souls of Black Folk," under a different title.

The Old Five by Constance Fenimore Woolson
A schoolmistress in a small mining town on the shore of Lake Superior battles with her emotions. While she affects the sophistication of the upper classes, she struggles to contain her passion for a local miner. At an abandoned mine known as the Old Five, circumstances force her to make a choice.

Putting in the Summer Professionally by D. S. Richardson
A "beardless youth" teaches for a summer in the wilds of Northern California. There is no schoolhouse, and the boys carry shotguns and rifles to school. A few weeks into the term, the older students barricade the door, wait inside and dare the new schoolmaster to find a break in and stand his ground. His success or failure in the District will be determined by what he decides to do.

The Schoolmaster's Progress by Caroline Kirkland
   Kirkland takes us to a small frontier community outside of Detroit, Michigan, in the 1840s. In this lightly comic short story, we see a raw, rudimentarily educated schoolmaster learn his trade in the classroom and stumble his way through the uncharted pathways of romance.

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