All Gaul..

by JOHN COULD

A country editor widely known for the pungency of the columns he wrote for the Lisbon Falls Enterprise, JOHN GOULD is also the author of many books and articles about the peculiarities of life in Maine.

As AN old-school boy who can still repeat “Spartacus to the Gladiators,”I had a lot of fun watching our spanking-new high school building open and undertake the instruction of our youth. I used to take a continuing interest in our schools, but when I suggested some years back that locks on the fire escape doors were not my idea of a perfect arrangement, and was promptly rebuked for daring to insert a nonprofessional word into the closed corporation purposely set up to provide the very best for our chee-ildren, I put my head in a bag and have since been frequently mistaken for a deaf-mute.

Our new high school is a jim-dandy. It was constructed after every precept of modern usage, including the bond issue. The stage in the gymnasium will seat the entire band, with an apron large enough to accommodate the baton antics of the majorettes without killing very many people at once. The mechanical arts and home economics (manual training and domestic science) rooms are spacious and magnificent. The typewriter facilities are extensive. The lounge rooms for teachers are commodious and tastefully decorated, and from his red-leather chair the principal can speak to the remotest corners over the intercommunications. The screen upon which promotional photoplays are projected makes the names of gasoline and automobile companies supplying the films visible in the very back of the large auditorium. Everything has been provided. No expense has been spared. From basketry to ballroom dancing the large and utilitarian building encompasses every facility for teaching the young.

And off a back hall, under the stairs, the foresighted Educators even provided a small, closetlike room where freaks could be taught Latin, if the indoctrination program during earlier years hadn’t knocked that silly idea out of them. To be consistent, they had engaged an English teacher with the provision that, if occasion required, she should double in this outmoded subject.

The P.T.A. held a big soiree to make the opening a success, at which the band played and the majorettes twirled, cookies and punch were enjoyed, and tours were conducted to demonstrate all the facilities. I thought the local paper keynoted the great cultural achievement by reporting that “the program was in charge of a committee comprised off . . .”

The next day school opened, and out of seventy-two freshmen, twentynine went to the Latin room at the proper time. It clogged the hallway, and pupils taking hand weaving and finger painting had to go around another way, and the Latin teaehcr was astonished. “This,”she said, “is a Latin class!”

The pupils crowded closer. “But,” she said, “this is the college course!" Our community is largely industrial and has never nurtured many humanists, so reference to college is fraught with significance. “Are you all taking Latin?” she asked. They all were.

The teacher, having mastered her first astonishment, was now delighted, because it turns out she is a good teacher, and also a good Latin teacher, and has smarted for years under the odium assigned to her pet subject by the system which employs her. She immediately applied for a room large enough to accommodate these unexpected classicists, and asked for twenty-six new books to supplement the three provided.

The higher powers belittled the evidence and said it was all a great mistake. What with the nice utilitarian facilities for good functional education, what would twenty-nine freshmen be taking Latin for? True, all twenty-nine had written down their intentions the year before when asked to do so by the superintendent, but the figure was too absurd to be taken seriously. The administrators waggled their heads, agitating their degrees in social graces from their various teachers colleges, and opined that before the week was out most of the twenty-nine would be glad to swap off to social arithmetic, whatever that is, or at least general science. Shortly, they said, the class would be whittied down to the size of the cuddy under the stairs.

I don’t know why twenty-nine are taking Latin. My guess is that happenstance asserted itself. The class has challenged its teachers right along through the grades and merely chances to have a liberal arts ambition. The first Latin quiz turned up all A’s and B’s except for one C. The second quiz brought that C up to a B and produced three perfect papers. The teacher was visibly moved, and burst into assembly to read off the ranks, using them as leverage to get the twenty-six new books.

I understand this raised hell with plans to get the school shop a machine to grind lawn mowers, but I can’t say I’m despondent over it. I am an old-school man, myself, and have my thoughts. I have also wangled the chance to peruse some of the exam papers, and am satisfied the teacher is good and the pupils are deserving of their marks. Education, somehow, must stand aside while they do their Latin.

Of course, next year they may fire this teacher because she has encouraged this outrage, and for $1000 more they can probably get an English teacher who will double at coaching hockey. But perhaps not. We can only wait and see.