This essay first appeared as “Early Childhood Education- 1938 Version”, as a Guest Author, in NOVEMBER 5, 2015, LAURA GRACE WELDON: Free Range Learning lauragraceweldon.com/blog-2
“Catch that bird! Don’t let that chicken get away, Charles!”
I was four years old, enrolled in Grandmother’s Biology & History class. On that morning, we covered the food chain, the hunt, the kill, butchering, anatomy of a hen, and introduction to animal reproduction.
The time and place were 1938 Oklahoma. Money was scarce for everyone. My great inherited fortune was not money, but family. I was an only child and only grandchild of a doting family. I was kind of a “prince” of an infinitely small principality consisting of five adults and one little boy.
I didn’t know it then, but the entire country was mired in the Great Depression. In our state, dust bowl conditions were destroying farms and forcing “Okies” into a desperate exodus in pursuit of California jobs.
Oklahoma images, 1930’s
Back to the morning’s Biology & History lesson. Grandmother and I were “the hunters.” We caught that chicken, terminated its earthly journey, then plucked and cleaned it. I learned comparative anatomy as Grandmother identified the hen’s internal structures. She talked about the chicken and egg as a circle of life. Then she coated the pieces in egg and flour and fried it along with fresh okra that we picked from her garden (we were the “gatherers” too).
After lunch was my Music lesson, which meant Grandmother sang.That was just the morning.
My grandmother was a seamstress; work that she did in our home. She was certain not to neglect that responsibility. Her sewing machine was a Singer foot trade model. She sat with both feet on the treadle. Pumping it back and forth moved a belt from the treadle up to a pulley attached to the needle mechanism. I didn’t realize it then, but observing the mechanical action was itself a Physics lesson.
Grandmother would spread the material out on the floor and pin the pattern pieces. She trusted me to cut pieces around the patterns with pinking shears. I knew a mistake could cause waste and expense, so I took this responsibility very seriously.
While she was making a dress, I had my little sewing projects. I learned how to thread a needle and sew two pieces of cloth together making a small pocket for coins. It seemed like a way to pass the time, but that early sewing experience came in handy years later when I became a physician and surgeon.
After I had completed sewing, it was Art class using coloring books and Crayola colors. I think I had eight colors. I was very careful to “stay-within-the-lines.” (another lesson for Life.)
After dinner, Grandmother read to me. (“The Little Engine That Could,” story book was my favorite. I could say it by heart and turn the pictures pages as if I were reading.)
Grandmother had plenty of other things to do, but whatever she was doing I was part of her team.
Often she impressed upon me that I needed to learn my lessons well because I was going to grow up and have children and students and it would be my sacred responsibility to teach them the things she taught me just as her parents had taught her when she was a girl.
Grandmother’s love was undeniable. Also, she certainly knew as the poet wrote,
“The hand that rocks the cradle is the hand that rules the world.”
Every waking moment was an education. That suited me just fine. It did not occur to me that the immersive learning of my early years was in any way unusual. My “preschool/homeschool” didn’t have any names or labels. It was just Life. I thought it was what everyone did.
George Gershwin and DuBois Heyward wrote the opera, Porgy & Bess in 1934, my birth year.
The lyrics of its immortal song, “Summertime”, could have been the theme of my preschool years:
“One of these mornings you’re gonna rise up singing,
And you’ll spread your wings and you’ll take to the sky,
But ’til that morning, there ain’t nothin’ can harm you….
hush little baby, don’t you cry.”
Dedicated to Christa Belle Stevenson Clanton: Grandmother to Jan, Christy, Boscoe, Buz, Hank, Candy and Charles
Charles Clanton Rogers November 10, 2015
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