The Goosepond School
Richard Malcolm Johnston

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.  Go to the tale

   B a c k g r o u n d

  • Story Setting: Dukesborough, Georgia
  • Story Date: The 1820's
  • Publication Date: 1892
  • Richard Johnston: 1822-98

  •    T h e    S t o r y
    (The links bookmark the tale.)

  • The beginning of the tale
  • Introduction to the town
  • About the school, the schoolmaster
  • Students gather before school
  • Brinkly, hardworking student
  • Enter the schoolmaster
  • The schoolmaster's checkered past
  • The students at work
  • Schoolmaster tests the students
  • Schoolmaster punishes the students
  • Brinkly resists
  • Brinkly fights back, and wins
  • Schoolmaster leaves in disgrace
  • Students react to their freedom
  • Brinkly talks with his mother

  •    T h e    T h e m e s
    (The links bookmark theme-related passages in the color-coded version of the tale.)

  • Students at Work: 1, 2
  • The Schoolmaster: 1, 2
  • Punishment, Revenge: 1, 2, 3
  • School & Community: 1
  • Schoolmates Together: 1, 2

  •    R e l a t e d    S i t e s

  • The Autobiography of Richard Malcolm Johnston

  • Works by Johnston at "Making of America"

  • Richard Malcolm Johnston

  •    I n t r o d u c t i o n

       "THE GOOSEPOND SCHOOL" is the first story in Johnston's "Dukesborough Tales," a collection of short stories set in the fictional village of Dukesborough and revolving around the lives of the townspeople. The story centers around the town's one room schoolhouse, its hated schoolmaster, and the students' triumph over his tyranny.

       Johnston based "The Goosepond School" on his own experiences as a seven year old schoolboy in Georgia. Since Johnston was born in 1822, that places the story in the late1820's. The schoolmaster of the tale, Israel Meadows, is the most despicable teacher I have encountered in 19th century literature. Not only does he delight in punishing his students, but he makes the whippings into perverse game-like rituals with sadistic, even sado-sexual overtones. Johnston wrote in his autobiography that the punishments he described in the story are factual. However, the real-life schoolmaster, though quite brutal, "was not as fierce as Israel Meadows." For excerpts from Johnston's autobiography where he discusses his early education, Click here.

       "The Goosepond School" is an unusually firm indictment of corporal punishment in the schools, a subject figuring prominently in many 19th century tales about schools but rarely treated in such a completely negative way. (Walt Whitman's "A Death in the School-Room," also included in this collection, is an equally damning indictment.) Another unusual aspect of the story is the respect it shows the students. We grow to admire the integrity and bravery of the children, who range in age from eight to eighteen. The largest boy who could easily be the school bully shows himself to be a strong willed young man who cares about his fellow students as much as he hates the schoolmaster, and the fifteen year old boy most picked on by the master first gains our pity but soon earns our respect. The entire class is portrayed with psychological realism and insight.

       Richard Malcolm Johnston was an educator for a great part of his life. He was a schoolmaster at 19, a college instructor in his 20's, and later the founder of two successful private schools, both of which were very progressive by the standards of the day. He was against not only corporal punishment but any form of excess authoritarianism on the part of teachers, and he put his beliefs into practice in his own teaching. A later story in "Dukesborough Tales" called "Old Friends and New" centers on a gifted teacher guided by Johnston's principles, someone as kind and enlightened as Israel Meadows of "The Goosepond School" is cruel and ignorant.