Ever heard of Dick Tracy? If you haven’t
you may be too young to respond. to this. I can report
that he is alive and well and living in Florida. More later.
A great deal has changed since the sixty-one years ago
that I completed four years at LHS. How does that experience
look today? I write this not as an historian but one
who tries to recollect how things were then, and to ponder
them in the perspective of time. How does my version
compare with yours?
Remember, I was not your typical LHS student. Unlike 90 percent of
my classmates, I entered high school with the intention of going on
to college. I was sure that my high school courses would be a useful
step toward that more distant goal.
The Germans invaded Poland on September 3, 1939; a year
later the Battle of Britain was underway. In my freshman
year at LHS, on a somber December 7, 1941, Japan attacked
Pearl Harbor and our country finally declared war on
Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan. At least one of our
teachers was drafted into the military and it is likely
that some other promising prospects disappeared into
well-paid war work in nearby Baltimore. Unlike my elementary
school, staffed by a Depression-generated surplus of
capable teachers, the capability of LHS teachers was
If I were going qualify for college admission, I needed
to enroll in the school’s Academic curriculum;
on the other hand, over half of LHS students in my class
of ’45 were in Industrial Arts, Agriculture, Home
Economics, or Secretarial Studies.
All of us shared courses in history, problems of democracy,
biology, health and gym. Although high hopes deterred
us from feeling critical of our teachers, in that particular
cluster of courses only our biology teacher’s familiarity
with his subject seemed to extend well beyond the required
text. Even in biology learning suffered because that
teacher’s responsibilities as an administrator
frequently caused him to be absent from class. If there
actually was a wartime teacher-staffing problem, we LHS
students were unaware of it. Fortunately, a key person
in my science and mathematics instruction, Mr. H. Dean
Stover, was draft exempt due to diabetes, although we
did not know his condition at the time.
Of the 21 males in my class expecting to graduate in
1945, five were in military service before school ended.
One other, Bill Crouse, missed his senior year due to
In those days our four-year high school had about 200
students. I estimate that about half came from the eight-grade
one-teacher rural schools in adjacent townships. Because
wartime had made farming profitable and labor in short
supply, a number of farm boys attended for a year or
two and then dropped out. Farm labor was often draft-deferred,
if my recollection is correct. Despite their seemingly
good grounding in the basics of arithmetic and language,
few of my rural fellow students aspired to, or felt that
they could afford, college. I was unusual because I had
been squirreling cash all my life to make college economically
What made my high school worthwhile?
For me, and for many others who happened to take his
classes, it was the good teaching by H. Dean Stover.
With him I studied freshman math, algebra I and II, plane
geometry, trigonometry, general science, chemistry, physics,
and Spanish I and II--about 40% of my course work.
Why was his teaching consistently the best? Every class
contained a brief presentation of something new and clearly
pertinent to the subject. He was businesslike, direct,
and well organized. He usually referred to his students
by their last names (I hope I am remembering this correctly)
as Renner, Harner, Jacobs, Mathias, etc. not Richard,
Louella, Robert or John. That was a small step toward
treating us as adults and his hint that we should live
up to that status. Stover had an MA in French; he learned
his Spanish one summer from a Chilean professor at Penn
State. His Spanish accent was very good, but then, of
course, everything he did was thorough. Except for Spanish,
I had little initial interest in any of the subjects
he taught but his mastery and sound pedagogy led me to
especially appreciate physics, chemistry and geometry.
Mr. Stover nearly always assigned homework. In fact, in my last two
years I spent nearly four hours every night just doing assignments,
most of them for his classes. It provided the groundwork for many of
my college courses. Was it worth it? Thanks to Mr. Stover, it certainly
Why did I take the courses I did? Well before I entered
LHS, work by the North Central Association of Colleges
and Secondary Schools had done much to standardize the
high school curricula so that LHS could qualify to teach
programs acceptable for admission to any of the Association’s
member colleges. Without such pressure, it would have
been difficult for most small public high schools to
resist the importunities of influential parents on behalf
of their offspring.. The notion that “my child
is a genius and his teachers are too stupid to recognize
it” was a common problem for local public school
administrators. The Association also represented an effort
to produce high school graduates capable of coping with
the demands of college academics... The prevailing assumption
by Association-affiliated colleges then was that if a
student wasn’t qualified to meet the academic demands
of college instruction he should not be admitted. The
result was that the courses that about 20 of my high
school program-mates took were largely those specified
by the North Central Association.
My Sample Curriculum
Why did I choose to report only two of my four years?
Because only two report cards provided the class size
data given below:
10th grade, 1942-43:
English 22, Algebra II 29, World History 45, Biology 47, Latin I 21,
Health II 28, Biology lab 47.
11th grade, 1943-44
English 24, History 45, Plane geometry 17, Health 22, Latin II 10,
Spanish 13, Chemistry, 22.
Does class size matter? Usually it does. A teacher with
45 students cannot assign and react to students’ work
adequately if he lacks time for reading and grading homework
and tests. Tests are a way of making sure that students
have done their assignments.
Until quite recently, the assumption in American public
schools has been, that a student’s teachers, not “public
tests” (i.e. external exams NOT administered by
the student’s teacher) should determine what students
are supposed to learn. You should be aware that external
examinations are widely administered in most of the other
developed nations and represent an effort to guarantee
that specific subject matter has actually been learned.
These tests are not necessarily multiple choice in format.
When I was in high school, there were no external exams;
it was deemed sufficient to assume that most teachers
were conscientious, dedicated and well qualified. They
composed and administered their own tests. Understandably,
opinions as to what should be learned varied considerably
from one responsible teacher to another. In short, standards
were sometimes very unclear. It was not rare, for instance,
for public high schools to graduate students who could
barely read. That historical era of public education
began to end with the recent Bush push to get the “No
Child Left Behind” federal accountability legislation
accepted by the educational systems of the various American
states. External tests were to be administered at the
elementary and high school levels.
Some memories are scanty but still linger. One was the
two-day frenzy by several of us students, on our own
time, trying to trisect an angle using a compass. This
was inspired by Mr.Stover who said he had heard it couldn’t
Learning to use the slide rule, (a sliding ruler that
was useful in estimating, within three digits, multiplication,
division and square roots)—the ancestor of today’s
cheap hand-held calculator.
Advice given in social studies class that when you go
to work you should remember to take your tools with you—regularly
used as an admonition to various students when they neglected
to bring a pencil to class.
Playing soccer on the field in gym class. It was great
exercise, interesting, just to do, and not used as a
covert training session for jocks. Basketball was the
main varsity sport. I heard it said that football was
not a sponsored sport because of the cost of uniforms
and the potential for injury. But I do remember attending
several extramural soccer matches with other out-of-town
As I recall, gym class was required about twice weekly;
our classes seemed to reflect the pressure on the instructor
to shape up a winning varsity basketball team. A winning
team is good community entertainment--something like
providing good singing at a school operetta. The difference?
A PE class should not become a practice session for jocks.
In South Australia I watched dozens of teen teams meet
their basketball physical education requirement all at
once out of doors on Saturday mornings. A coach told
me that they always matched teams as equally as possible—two
opposing hot jock teams and two opposing bored-with-PE
teams—both great contests, but very different
Unforgettable is the instructor who frequently placed
a moist well-used handkerchief on the classroom radiator
I developed genuine respect for Mr. Paul Harner’s
role as LHS band director; years earlier, I had been
a bugler in the American Legion kids’ marching
band. Even today, I try to stay in shape “marching” in
my neighborhood as I listen to Sousa tapes—he speeds
up my pace. John Phillip is one of the best for quality
“Strap” Trostle and many others referred
to me as Tracy. Dick Tracy was perhaps the most widely
read comic strip character of that decade. He was a police
detective with a penchant for “figuring things
out.” Only my classmates knew me by my real name!
War brought an emergency short course in practical electricity
for senior boys. I recall trying unsuccessfully to use
my fist and fingers as a means to determine inductance.
Had there been a good Internet browser available in those
days, I could have figured it out in a few minutes. Alas,
no Net, no quickie knowledge.
I read Silas Marner in English class. I still wonder
why; but I didn’t wonder enough to take the trouble,
even now, sadly, to even look him up on the Net.
Although I once enjoyed a Brazilian troupe doing its
unique version of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night at
the Globe in London, I couldn’t get excited about
his works in LHS English classes. Bill’s antiquated
English communicates poorly today and while I have since
spent a lot of time experimenting with odd languages,
from Glutz to Egyptian hieroglyphics to Russian, none
of my high school humanities teachers seemed able to
make decoding the Bard’s stuff fun, or even worthwhile.
Literature ought to be important, I guess, but nobody
seemed to know enough about it to make the case.
One of my teachers, either Mr. King or Mr. Stover, let
it slip that Charles Darwin’s, “The Origin
of the Species,” had changed the world. How, I
wondered, since it was never discussed in any of my classes.
I found a copy on the top shelf of the school library
and I read the whole thing to the end. It was boring.
But it did demonstrate how several species of birds (and
other small animals) could have evolved into quite different
creatures. Old Chuck made his point!
I fashioned an angle iron and wooden tie rack in shop
class. It satisfied my wondering about how that beveling
was done in metal. I think that it was also in this course
that we studied a bit of mechanical drawing. The task
there was to take a simple two-dimensional “blueprint” and
re-draw it into its three-dimensional form. The only
reason that I remember this is that I was surprised that
I was apparently the only person in the unsupervised “lab” class
that had a concept of how to do it. Genius? No. I received
an Erector Set for Christmas when I was about ten that
provided material and instructions about how to construct
mechanical toys and metal structures. None of my classmates
seem to have had this experience.
“Honc hanc honc, horam harum horum, his his his “ etc.
enabled me to communicate with others of my age that
I, too, was a member of an “elite” cluster
of students who hadn’t learned much of value in
Latin class. I found out much later that Greece and Rome
are fascinating cultures with much to teach modern Americans.
Practices and rehearsals, except for band and voice,
usually took place after school hours. Farm kids, though
often very talented, were frequently not a part of extra
curricular affairs. Many had to catch a ride home, or
were too young to drive. Gasoline was rationed. Then
too, they had chores at home bedding the animals, milking
cows, feeding the wutzes, etc.
The school’s newspaper, The Littonian, was published
about twice a year under the supervision of Mr. Lloyd
There were one or two plays a year and an operetta,
occasionally spiced up by between-the-acts stunts. One
I remember is when I somehow rode my bike, complete with
fox tails dangling from its handlebars, up to the stage
where I then romanced a male friend posing as my (female)
sweetheart while a small chorus sang a romantic song
of the day. On another occasion I donned my dad’s
old World War I Army uniform and played the role of Hitler
while another student played Tojo, while a chorus sang “In
Der Fuehrer’s Face,” from a popular movie.
I was upset afterward to discover that a teacher who
did my makeup gave me a Tojo, not a Hitler, moustache!
About twenty years after I graduated I happened to attend
a LHS basketball game and I got to chatting with a younger
alumnus who said, “You’re the guy who got
killed in that play and then your brother came in and
took over.” Well, was I ever surprised - I didn’t
remember the name of the play but I do remember that
I played both roles. I was amazed that he remembered
me at all, let alone that he actually perceived me as
the play intended, as one of two distinct characters!
Actually, I participated in several non-singing events,
because, I guess, in a small school, they are hard up
for people inclined to perform, or to put it more positively,
there are always many such opportunities in a small school.
A second reason, as student actor, I worked hard to memorize
my lines and there were usually of lot of them to learn.
Also, I was willing to study the character and get into
his skin. Teachers knew this so I was often invited.
Finally, building on this experience a decade later,
I performed with a couple of acting groups in Washington
D.C. There I met my first (and only, so far) wife, a
good-looking chick who dumped an attractive young multi-millionaire
gun-runner serving one of the federal spook agencies
for me! Imagine….!
These are my memories as of August, 2006. Now, consider
the “mini” recollections by some of my LHS
classmates, reported anonymously in a survey I conducted
? Too much about sports and not enough about real life.
? I liked the way Dean Stover conducted the class and
was able to learn.
? I love the four years I spent at LHS. It did wonders
in helping me go in the right direction.
? I liked accounting or bookkeeping, shop courses and
? The war climate did not provide the time for a great
social life during high school. Example: I worked at
night at Cambridge Rubber Company making raincoats for
? Were you treated fairly as a student? Yes. I was expelled
twice and deserved it both times.
? Being a “country Jake” as you “town
pups” called us. I learned more of the social graces
such as you don’t wear brown socks to blue trousers
or a red skirt to a green sweater. Now—anything
It was the best time of my life! I’ll never forget my wonderful
? I came in from a country school and did not do well
in high school. My father kept me out of school a lot
in the first two years and I got behind in my work and
lost all interest in going to school.
? I liked Mrs.Wingert—she helped me in many ways.
I liked Mr. Stavely—he said if you want something
done, ask a busy person.
? I am a fifty-year member of the Masonic Organization.
Their main cause is building character. I feel LHS helped
? I liked Miss Manbeck. She got me started singing in
public. She gave good advice. And Mr. Stover took time
to explain things—even though he was “gruff” about
Was it worth the time and trouble?
Yes, for me, because it gave me a chance to experience
the kind of public education that millions of Americans
were getting elsewhere. Those insights, both good and
bad, were irreplaceable.
Were there many lost opportunities to learn? Sure.
High schools can’t teach everything. They are only
schools; life and labor teaches a lot, too.
Unfortunately, my courses in the social studies reflected the emptiness
of middle America’s local-public-school-induced political thinking—no
issues were questioned or examined critically because a teacher who
did so would likely not have had his or her contract renewed. I say
this not because I know that that’s what went on in the Littlestown
but because it went on in most public schools in the USA then, and
to a lesser extent, still does. But the expansion of the mass media,
and the Internet in particular, is beginning to enable a more multi-faceted
examination of our world. There was even a time in public education
in my current state (Florida), long after desegregation, that a teacher
whose contract was not renewed in the northern part of the state for
expressing too many “liberal” ideas, could use that dismissal
to serve as a recommendation to a good teaching position in the Miami
We studied almost nothing about religion. Like schools
in most small communities, teachers didn’t dare
encourage thoughtful examination of religion, it was
regarded as the proper business of churches. Nor was
teaching about religion expected in the North Central
Association’s standards. There was little about
religion as an explainer of values—as if that were
too sensitive a topic to be exposed in high school. But
I am pleased to note, that as part of a sermon delivered
in a Littlestown church in the 1980’s, a local
minister remarked, incidentally, “if there be a
God…” An honest man—may he thrive in
Our history classes consisted of a look at national
heroes and information that served to explain their significance
and/or greatness. It was clear who were the good guys
and the not so good guys. . Textbooks were written to
cater to the preconceptions of school boards or other
politically attuned adopters who, in most states, determine
which texts were available to teachers. If a teacher
wanted to educate rather than indoctrinate, he usually
had to make a special effort to overcome his required
text. Tenure and salary schedules are sometimes used
nowadays to encourage teacher candor.
As for political and economic history, we learned that
the USA was a private property, capitalistic, free enterprise
society, and that our principal civic responsibility
was to vote at election time. Honesty and hard work counted
for a lot if one were to hope for success in life. But
my classes offered no explanation about how the law,
the courts and corporations functioned in actual practice.
No explanation was made of how money could be spent legally
to influence voters so that the public’s interest
was not served. Nor was attention paid to ways by which
ignorant voters can be marshaled to undermine democratic
How Were We Different?
Not many American public schools teach anything about
their community’s history. If our teachers knew
anything about the area’s history, even if they
had been born here, they almost never mentioned anything
about it. But the German peasant sense of homeplace (Heimat)
seemed to linger in my childhood in the form of a vague
sense of moral obligation to our community and its customs.
Weikert’s Bakery and its Fastnacht Day observance
comes to mind, but we never learned in school what that
was all about. Our history and humanities were weak on
Unlike behavior some big city schools, LHS students of 1941- 45 did
not seem inclined to manipulate the system in order to get good grades.
We studied because the teacher assigned the work, and because we had
a moral obligation to do it, or try to. America was our land of opportunity
and LHS was the place to make the most of it. High school was not an
experience that everyone signed up for just to keep from being left
We students, and probably our teachers, supported our
nation’s opposition to German military aggression
and Nazi racism. The Japanese were acknowledged aggressors
in China. But the closest we ever got to student political
activism while I was at LHS was when I and four or five
of my friends started the bow tie movement. The idea
was to wear a bow tie to class every day as a way of
demonstrating that the school could not make us NOT wear
one. Such ties were slightly effeminate symbols of urban
male adornment that Littlestown teens would not normally
be caught dead wearing. Although the ties injected some
silliness into our classes, teachers handled our project
with great tact. I often wonder if Ikie Dern, Littlestown’s
only haberdasher, made an unexpected killing from us.
Our “demonstrations” lasted only about a
Littonians were relatively unique in their lack of
personal contact with foreigners, either those able to
speak English or not, or with American Negroes. The result
was very little, if any, hostility toward strangers.
We were spared negative opinions about American Negros
by being too close to the Maryland line (a slave state)
for escaping Negroes to linger long among us and become
a part of our community.
While schooling in 1941- 45 was believed to offer students
genuine economic opportunity, high school was intended
only for those willing to hustle. It was not supposed
to serve just anyone. But once Adams County allowed nearly
everyone who took the eighth grade high school admissions
test to pass it, (I believe that was about the year I
was admitted as a freshman), an important re-definition
of high school had begun. The high school experience,
that in our day had been a special opportunity, gradually
became a necessity. It came to mean, nationally at least,
that if you failed to graduate from high school you had
condemned yourself to becoming a “loser.”
In the Littlestown of my era, respect for a person seemed
linked more to moral and vocational competence than formal
schooling. It was still respectable for a teen to aspire
to learning a career on the job. Indeed, when we turned
sixteen, John Mathias, Doris Legore, myself and several
others worked late afternoons and Saturdays at a local
shoe factory for 40 cents an hour, the minimum wage.
Others earned more working at a local plant with military
contracts. While the LHS experience served as a great
opportunity for half of our town’s teens, the dark
shadow of the military draft remained in the background.
Finally, I have long been troubled that several of my
classmates, strong of character, keen in scholarship
and full of pep did not even plan on going to college
because they did not see how they could afford to. Our
world was virtually without scholarships, student loans
and, (fortunately in my view, without credit cards).
If you couldn’t pay for something you did without.
With a bit of help, my friends, who equaled the maturity
and talent of many who currently crowd our colleges and
universities, never had a chance to know that larger
world. Let’s hope that today’s LHS is able
to encourage its most talented students with greater
August 1, 2006
Richard R. Renner