Thursday, March 24, 2011

Wallace history charts The SCEA's founding in 1881

South Carolina's modern historians owe a great debt to Dr. David Duncan Wallace (1874-1951), Wofford College class of 1894, professor of history at his alma mater from 1899 to 1947, and best-known for his four-volume "History of South Carolina" (1934). For lay historians, Wallace's "A Short History of South Carolina" (1951) is a dense but serviceable, "Readers Digest Condensed" version of the full set in a single volume.

But Wallace's mark on state history is felt in several corners of our culture. He published histories of a number of organizations, apparently by commission, including "History of the South Carolina Teachers' Association" (1924). The organization known by this name in that year had been birthed three times, he reported in the 56-page document, now exceedingly rare and difficult to find.

A foreword written by the Association's secretary, B.L. Parkinson, explains:

There has been a lack of agreement as to the origin, aims, purposes, accomplishments, and history of the South Carolina Teachers' Association. To set the records straight and to preserve in permanent form an account of the principal achievements of the association, the executive committee last fall secured the services of Dr. D.D. Wallace, professor of History and Economics, Wofford College, to write the association's history.

There follows a fascinating narrative by Wallace detailing, with pertinent contextual analysis, the evolution of the association that came later to be called The South Carolina Education Association.

"Information on the earlier years is scattered in small bits so widely through old newspapers and incidental references that it can hardly be expected that anyone will be found so patient as to discover them all," Wallace writes. The association's first birth occurred in 1850.

The State Free School System established in 1811 was early recognized as imperfect and inadequate. The acute realization of its deficiencies led Governor Whitemarsh B. Seabrook in 1850, in accordance with what he perceived to be the public wish, to summon through the public press a meeting of the teachers of the State in Columbia for the 12th of July, 1850, "to consider the subject of Free Schools, the preparation at home of elementary and other books for the use of our schools, the best mode of insuring the progress of education, and other kindred matters."

The educators gathered in that conference, called the Teachers' Convention of 1850, adopted the name "The Teachers Association of South Carolina," but Wallace points out it was hardly a representative body: nineteen of the forty-one attending represented Richland County. Still, it addressed its twin tasks: "It was called by the Governor with the two-fold purpose, first, of stirring public opinion to the necessity of reforming an antiquated, inefficient, poverty stricken and wrongly organized Free School System that was cruelly sacrificing the poor of the State, and secondly, of counteracting the influence of northern school books."

While at their business, those attending the convention elected the Reverend Dr. Thomas Curtis as its president.

In a note that surely stirs the hearts of modern educators of our state, Wallace finds,

The Journal of the South Carolina House of Representatives, December 3rd, 1850 contains the following:

"On motion of Mr. PRESTON,
"Resolved, That the use of this Hall be granted to 'The Teachers' Association of South Carolina,' this evening, for the purpose of hearing the inaugural address of Rev. Dr. Curtis, President of the Association."

How unimaginable in today's anti-public-education environment that the House chamber itself was filled with members of the teachers' professional association for the purpose of hearing their elected leader addressing the most important educational issues of the day.

When was the last time that even one member of the educators' professional association stood on the House floor, much less members filling every seat?

Unfortunately, Wallace writes that the organization did not last more than two years. Yet, when the National Teachers Association (later to be renamed the National Education Association) adopted its first constitution on August 26, 1857, one of the 43 signatures on that founding document is that of J.D. Giddings of Charleston, South Carolina. And among the vice presidents elected on that day was P.F. Smith of South Carolina.

The Civil War derailed any other attempts at organizing educators, but Wallace tells us, "The next effort at organization was a spontaneous movement among the teachers themselves..."

Says the Columbia correspondent of the Charleston Daily News writing May 19th, 1870:

"The State Convention of Teachers met tonight in the hall of the Nickerson House. Mr. Duckett, of Newberry, was called to the chair, and a State Association organized, Mr. H.S. Thompson being elected President. The association then adjourned until tomorrow."

The same newspaper, May 23rd, 1870, contains the following from its Columbia correspondent dated May 21:

"The second day of the Teachers' Convention matured the organization of a permanent association called 'The Educational Institute of South Carolina.'

Sadly, this attempt too was premature, born in "troublous times," Wallace tells. The "sickening corruption of the Reconstruction Legislature" and other distractions held educational progress at bay longer, though various newspapers report that local groups of teachers were organizing themselves; the oldest apparently being the Spartanburg County Teachers Convention in 1870.

W.C. Kirkland, principal of the famous boys' school at Reidville, writing under date of September 4th, 1871, in the Charleston Daily News of September 8th, says that the Spartanburg County Teachers' Convention has just completed its second annual meeting at New Prospect, August 29th, 30th and 31st, and urges the teachers of other counties to secure the great benefits that those of Spartanburg have derived from organization.

Wallace cites contemporary sources who reported, from memory, that "there was a vigorous County Teachers' Association in Abbeville in the early '80s."

Then Wallace tells of the third birth of the association, which yielded permanent fruit.

Through the void, or at least the darkness, of the decade following 1871, we come to the organization of the State Teachers Association in 1881, since which time we have fairly abundant records of its unbroken history.

And he finds evidence of what occurred at that meeting:

Dr. J.L.M. Curry made a powerful address, as also did State Superintendent H.S. Thompson, the latter outlining plans for improved school legislation. This is the background for a movement by the teachers themselves for the improvement of their own profession, themselves, and the State. Says the Charleston News and Courier correspondent writing August 10th, 1881:

"One hundred and twenty-five teachers met yesterday in the Opera-house to organize a State Teachers' Association. Professor H.P. Archer addressed the meeting, setting forth in clear, forcible terms the advantages to be derived from such an organization, not only to the teachers themselves, but to the great work in which they are engaged, the education of the youth of the country."

Wallace names the first several presidents of the association: Dr. James H. Carlisle (1881-1884), D.B. Johnson (1884-1888), Professor Henry P. Archer (1888-1889) and Dr. W.M. Grier (1889-1890). By 1885, the association included 197 dues-paying members on its rolls. But progress during this period was slow and difficult; "Hard times, small salaries, and lack of co-operation of school trustees militated against vigorous development," Wallace reports.

For much of the next twenty years, Wallace identifies a recurring theme: "Though the Proceedings for some years read very much like the book of Lamentations, yet they were laments not of despair, but of determination for something better."

The educational history of South Carolina for the past fifty years might be traced in broad outline from the proceedings of the State Teachers' Association. ... Study of the discussions that have occupied its attention shows that they might be grouped around five great interests: 1. How to make ourselves better teachers; 2. How to teach particular subjects; 3. How to organize the work; 4. How to bring the public to the support of the schools; and 5. How to make the children into the best citizens. But programs have progressively become richer, more varied, more helpful professionally.

wallace credits the leadership of the association with progressive improvements in the quality of public education in the state: "It was the teachers in the famous private schools, such as Moses Waddel, who won fame for their wonderful work before the War of Secession. While we still have such men in the work, they are as commonly found now in the public schools as in the private, and the black sheep is rarely found in either. The State Teachers' Association has been a powerful influence in accomplishing both changes; it has made the system thoroughly democratic, and it has elevated the professional character of the teacher."

Even in the early years of the association, the overwhelming influence of educators on the state's political process was a topic of discussion. In highlighting the work of one leader, Wallace refers to this internal debate and the effectiveness of teachers working in concerted pursuit of a political and legislative agenda.

The inspiring life of W.K. Tate will always be remembered by those who knew him as a member of the Association. He helped to bring in the Charleston teachers in larger numbers, and was also largely responsible for extending the programs of the Association beyond the distinctly intra-professional lines within which they has generally been confined into broader fields. His urging that the Association should exercise its influence for school legislation alarmed many, who objected to "going into politics." At the 1895 meeting Mr. H. Frank Wilson, then teaching in Sumter, but later a lawyer, read an able paper that is considered to have exercised strong influence in inducing the Constitutional Convention of that year to increase the provisions for the common schools. On motion of State Superintendent of Education Mayfield the subject was urged upon the attention of the Convention soon to assemble, and Mr. Wilson's paper was directed to be published in the papers of the State.

Is it possible that lawmakers in the last decade of the nineteenth century paid greater respect and heed to the state's professional association of educators than today's lawmakers give to that organization's modern generations in The South Carolina Education Association? Wallace indicates the record is clear.

These scattering references to striking incidents or personalities by no means exhaust the list of men and women who have rendered to the State through the Association splendid service as brilliant scholars, able administrators, and vigorous leaders of educational thought. Their names are in the common consciousness and their marks in the minds and characters of tens of thousands of South Carolinians whom they have taught.

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