Remember the start of the school year when that happened only after Labor Day?
There were big tablets with big lines written on with big pencils. Blank sheets of paper were a gift for drawing and big crayons made the colors.
Lots of big school supplies for little people!
Remember when book satchels were carried instead of backpacks?
Remember the clean smell of all the workbooks stacked to be sold at Eckles?
And there was always recess – the slide, the “monkey bars,” and possibly even a wooden merry-go-round.
John Thomas White was a teacher in Robertson County who remembered gratefully his days as a student; a “scholar.”
White was born near Cross Plains, the son of Josiah Estes White and Mary Ann Chowning.
He was “home-schooled” for two years but then became a student of Capt. Tobias Smithdeal in a private school. He also studied at Neophogen College under Prof. John Walton.
In 1884, when he was only 16, he passed the exam for certification as a teacher in Robertson County. He taught in the same school where he had been a student.
Later, according to Mrs. W.I. Shannon, he taught in several other schools in the county – Balthrops, Doziers, Fykes Grove, Sadlersville, and State Line.
While he was at Doziers School, one of his students was John F. Draughon. This student eventually founded Draughon’s Business College. There were several of these early business colleges, including one in Nashville. The first Draughon’s Business College, however, was in Texarkana, Ark.
Mr. White, like most teachers, continued his own education. White trained with Prof. Daniel Borthick, who was the principal at Orlinda Normal Academy. At the time, a “normal school” was primarily for the training/education of teachers.
He went on to study at Battle Creek College in Michigan and Illinois College in Jacksonsville, Ill.
He taught part-time at both places and received his bachelor’s degree in 1899. Apparently, he did well as a student and was elected Class Poet on Class Day as well as President of the Athletic Association.
Of all the teachers with whom John White studied, he most often paid tribute to Capt. Smithdeal in Robertson County.
White doubted that there were any other one-room schools that offered as much “practical and cultural knowledge” with so little equipment.
He named the supplies in the one-room school – a few books, a few slates, some writing paper, a box of crayons, and Smithdeal’s “beloved violin.”
Mrs. Shannon listed subjects taught with this minimum of supplies – reading “with expression,” spelling, grammar, rhetoric and composition, arithmetic, public speaking, “Spenserian penmanship,” bookkeeping, and “singing by note.”
White noted that Smithdeal was “imbued with thoroughness and patience.”
John White also remembered his teacher’s lessons on morality and good behavior.
Capt. Tobias Smithdeal had been wounded during the Civil War. Apparently, his students benefitted from the teaching of the “true Southern gentleman.” John Thomas White was one of them.
In the Eagle’s Eye is sponsored by the Robertson County Historical Society. Call 615-382-7173 for more information.