Early Bloomers

Jan 25, 2012 | 1 comment

The Oysterville Primary School, 1916 - Espy children are: Mona, top row second from right; Willard, front row left; Edwin, front row third from left.

     Now that I’ve been retired for ten-plus years, I don’t really know what the current educational trends are, especially with regard to the rate at which individual kids learn.  During my thirty-nine years in the classroom, kindergarten teachers, especially, were big on the ‘late bloomers,’ and advocating ‘the gift of time.’  Parents needed a lot of TLC and support to understand that giving their child a second chance didn’t mean failure.
     We had to work even harder to provide for the ‘early bloomers,’ but in that case it was often  the  ‘system’ that was balky.  Somehow, we had locked into the idea of dividing kids by birth date, presenting the curriculum in “age appropriate” chunks, and thinking all would be well.  Never mind that none of us really learns that way.
     As I’ve been gathering information for the book I’m working on, those thoughts have been on my mind – especially with regard to my uncle Willard.  On April 5, 1915, the day after Easter, Willard’s brother Edwin (who was older by two years) began school.  Willard, who could already read and write with ease, was devastated that he could not go along, too.  He pleaded his case with Mama and Papa, but they were firm in the belief that he should wait at least until the following fall.  After all, he was not yet four and a half years old.
     In September Willard joyfully joined the twenty-one other youngsters in Mrs. Anna Brooks’ primary schoolroom.  The fact that Edwin had completed the work of the first three grades by mid-June, before school was let out for summer, did not seem to daunt Willard in the least.  Before his fifth birthday on December 10th, Willard had caught up with his older brother.  The two boys finished out fourth grade together that year and continued as classmates throughout high school, an interim business course, and on through college graduation in 1930.
     It wasn’t that Mama and Papa didn’t worry.  As Mama would later write:  In school Willard made phenomenal progress and he was constantly writing.   In those early years, anxiety became coupled with our pride.  It looked as though we might be faced as the years went on with a freak.  He had seemingly no social interests, being content to read continually, ignoring playfellows.  This, at times, reached a point that made him a public nuisance, when for instance he lay prone on his stomach in the center of a baseball field with face in a book, unmindful of requests to remove himself.
     Fortunately, Willard was also oblivious to any concerns about his phenomenal progress.  His greatest angst came when he entered the University of Redlands at fifteen.  He swore the family to secrecy about his age, terrified that his dating opportunities with his “older women” classmates would be thwarted.  Not only did he breeze through college and graduate school, he went on, to have a brilliant career, become a best-selling author and be considered a charming host – all the social graces place.
     Hats off to wise parents and teachers, one-room schools (or multigraded facsimiles), and blooming learners of every variety!   

1 Comment

  1. Stephanie Frieze

    My father’s education was largely the product of one and two room schools in the Missouri Ozarks. Like your Uncle Willard, he soaked up the lessons of the older students and “skipped” a grade. His great-grandson is home schooled and academically well beyond his years. He still takes classes at the YMCA with children his own age. I think that the public schools would do well to rethink the “one fiver-year-old fits all” strategy for teaching.


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