She was merely approximately five pess tall and likely ne’er weighed more than 100 lbs. but Miss Bessie was a eminent presence in the schoolroom. She was the lone adult female tough plenty to do me read Beowulf and believe for a few foolish yearss that I liked it From 1938 to 1942. when I attended Bernard High School in McMinnville. Tenn. . she taught me English. history. civics—and a batch more than I realized.
I shall ne’er bury the twenty-four hours she scolded me into reading Beowulf.
“But Miss Bessie. ” I complained. “I ain’t much interested in it. ”
Her big brown eyes became daggerish slits. “Boy. ” she said. “how daring you say ain’t to me! I’ve taught you better than that.
“Miss Bessie. ” I pleaded. “I’m seeking to do first-string terminal on the football squad. and if I go around stating ‘it isn’t’ and ‘they aren’t. ’ the cats are gon na laugh me off the squad. ”
“Boy. ” she responded. “you’ll drama football because you have backbones. But do you cognize what truly takes backbones? Refusing to take down your criterions to those of the crowd. It takes backbones to state you’ve got to populate and be person 50 after all the football games are over. ”
I started stating “it isn’t” and “they aren’t. ” and I still made first-string end—and category valedictorian—without losing my buddies’ regard. During her singular 44-year calling. Mrs. Bessie Taylor Gwynn taught 100s of economically deprived black youngsters—including my female parent. my brother. my sisters. and me. I remember her now with gratitude and affection—especially in this epoch when Americans are so wrought-up about “rising tide of mediocrity” in public instruction and the jobs of happening competent. caring instructors. Miss Bessie was an illustration of an illustration of an informed. dedicated instructor. a approval to kids and an plus to the state.
Born in 1895 in poorness. she grew up in Athens. Ala. . where there was no public school for inkinesss. She attended Trinity School. a private establishment for inkinesss run by the American Missionary. and in 1911 graduated from the Normal School ( a “super” high school ) at Fisk University in Nashville. Mrs. Gwynn. the kernel of pride and privateness. ne’er talked about her old ages in Athens ; merely in the minutes before her decease did she uncover that she had ne’er attended Fisk University itself because she could non afford the four-year class.
At Normal School she learned a batch about Shakespeare. but most of all about the profound importance of education—especially for people seeking to travel up from bondage. “What you put in your caput. boy” she said. “can ne’er be pulled out by the Ku Klux Klan. the Congress. or anybody. ”
Miss Bessie’s bearing of self-respect told anyone who met her that she was “educated” in the best sense of the word. There was ne’er a subject job in her categories. We didn’t dare muss with a adult female who knew about the Battle of Hastings. the Magna Carta. and the Bill of Rights—and who could besides play the piano.
This frail-looking adult female could do sense of Shakespeare. Milton. Voltaire. and convey to life Booker T. Washington and W. E. DuBois. Believing that it was of import to cognize who the functionaries were that spent the taxpayers’ money and made public policy. she made us memorise the names of everyone on the Supreme Court and in the President’s Cabinet. It could be abashing to be unprepared when Miss Bessie said. “Get up and state the category who Frances Perkins is and what you think about her. ”
Miss Bessie knew that my household. like so many others during the Depression. couldn’t afford to subscribe to a newspaper. She knew we didn’t even ain wireless. Still. she prodded me to “look out for your hereafter and happen some manner to maintain up with what’s traveling on in the universe. ” So I became a bringing male child for the Chattanooga Times. I seldom made a dollar a hebdomad. but I got to read a newspaper every twenty-four hours.
Miss Bessie noticed things that had nil to make with school assignment. but were critical to a youngster’s development. Once a few schoolmates made merriment of my frayed. hand-down greatcoat. naming me “Strings. ” As I was go forthing school. Miss Bessie patted me on the dorsum of that old greatcoat and said. “Carol. ne’er fret about what you don’t hold. Just make the most of what you do have—a encephalon. ”
Among the things that I did non hold was electricity in the small frame house that my male parent had built for $ 400 with his World War I bonus. But because her inspiration. I spent many hours squi9nting beside a kerosine lamp reading Shakespeare and Thoreau. Samuel Pepys and William Cullen Bryant.
No 1 in my household had of all time graduated from high school. so there was no tradition of committedness to larning for me to tilt on. Like 1000000s of childs in today’s ghettos and barrios. I needed the push and stimulation of a instructor who genuinely cared. Miss Bessie gave plentifulness of both. as she immersed me in a fantastic universe of similes. metaphors. and even onomatopoeia.
She led me to believe that I could compose sonnets every bit good as Shakespeare. or iambic-pentameter poetry to set Alexander Pope to dishonor. In those yearss the McMinnville school syst4em was stiffly “Jim Crow. ” and hapless black kids had to fight to set anything in their caputs. Our high school was merely somewhat larger than the one time t-typical small ruddy schoolhouse. and its library was outrageously inadequate—so little. I like to state that if two pupils were in it and one wanted to turn a page. the other 1 had to step outdoors.
Negroes. as we were called so. were non allowed in the town library. except to wipe up floors or dust tabular arraies. But through one of those secret Old South agreements between Whites of scruples and inkinesss of stature. Miss Bessie kept acquiring books smuggled out of the library. That is how she introduced me to the Brontes. Byron. Coleridge. Keats. and Tennyson. “If you don’t read. you can’t write. and if you can’t write. you might every bit good strop woolgathering. ” Miss Bessie one time told me.
So I read whatever Miss Bessie told me to and tried to retrieve the things she insisted I store off. Forty-five old ages subsequently. I can still declaim her “truths to populate by. ” such as Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s lines from “The Ladder of St. Augustine: ” `
The highs by great work forces reached and kept
Were non attained by sudden flight.
But they. while their comrades slept.
Were laboring upward in the dark.
Old ages subsequently. her inspiration. goad. choler. cajoling. and about complete extract of larning eventually led to that lovely twenty-four hours when Miss Bessie dropped a note stating. “I’m so proud to read your column in the Nashville Tennessean. ”
Miss Bessie was a agile 80 when I went back to McMinnville and visited her in a senior citizens’ flat edifice. Indicating out proudly that her edifice was racially integrated. she reached for two spectacless and a pint of Bourbon. I was momently shocked. because it would hold been disgraceful in the 1930s and ‘40s for word to acquire out that a instructor drank. and cipher had of all time raised a rumour that Miss Bessie did.
I felt a new sense of equality as she lifted her glass to mine. Then she revealed a softness and compassion that I had ne’er known as a pupil. “I’ve ne’er forgotten that scrutiny twenty-four hours. ” she said. “when Buster Martin held up seven fingers. evidently inquiring you for aid with inquiry figure seven. ‘Name a common bearer. ’ I can still visualize you looking at your exam paper and humming a few bars of ‘Chattanooga Choo Choo. ’ I was so tickled I couldn’t punish either of you. ”
Miss Bessie was stating me. with bourbon-laced grace. that I ne’er her for a minute.
When Miss Bessie died in 1980 at age 85. 100s of her former pupils mourned. They knew the step of a great instructor: love and motive. Her wisdom and influence had rippled out across coevalss.
Some of her pupils who might usually hold been doomed to poverty went on to go physicians. tooth doctors. and college professors. Many. guided by Miss Bessie’s illustration. became public school instructors.
“The memory of Miss Bessie and how she conducted her schoolroom did more for me than anything I learned in college. ” recalls Gladys Wood of Knoxville. Tenn. . a extremely respected English instructor who spent 43 old ages in the state’s school system. “So many times. when I faced a hard schoolroom job. I asked myself. How would Miss Bessie trade with this? And I’d remember that she would manage it with laughter and love.
No kid can acquire all the necessary support at place. and 1000000s of hapless kids get no support at all. This is what makes a wise. educated. warm-hearted instructor like Miss Bessie so critical to the heads. Black Marias. and psyche of this country’s kids.
1. What is Rowan’s intent in depicting Miss Bessie? What makes this instructor important to a middle-aged adult male?
2. What qualities of Miss Bessie does Rowan look up to?
3. Does Rowan offer Miss Bessie as a function theoretical account? How does he show that she is an “asset” to the state?
1. Rowan opens his essay with a physical description of Miss Bessie. Why are these inside informations of import to his intent?
2. Why would this article entreaty to readers of Reader’s Digest? What values does it reenforce?
3. Critical Thinking: Would some people object to Rowan’s article as being sentimental. Why or why non? Does this article suggest simple solutions to complex jobs? Would a Miss Bessie be able to win in a modern urban high school?
1. Analyze the words Rowan uses in depicting Miss Bessie. Which words have the most impact?
2. Rowan includes duologue in his article. What d you notice about Miss Bessie’s linguistic communication? What does this attention deficit disorder to the description?