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Disclaimer - It is important to remember that memories are just that. It is not uncommon that some facts may be incorrect and should not be considered to be historically factual. They are a good indicator of their time period, but should be taken as memories.

Was It Worth the Time and Trouble?
LHS, 1941-45
Richard R. Renner

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 War

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 less clear.

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 infantile paralysis.

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 possible.

Mr. Stover

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 was.

Accreditation

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.

Changing Times

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.

Memorable Moments

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 be done.

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 teams.

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 to dry.

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 walking!

“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.

Extracurricular Activities

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 Stavely,

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 in 2000.

? 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 English.

? 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 the Army.

? 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 goes!
It was the best time of my life! I’ll never forget my wonderful classmates.

? 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 build character.

? 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 it.

My Conclusions

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 area.

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 heaven!

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 traditions.

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 the “why?”
.
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 behind.

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 week.

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.

Changing Times

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 success.


August 1, 2006
Richard R. Renner

 

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Littlestown Area Historical Society
50 East King Street, Littlestown, PA 17340