On this day in 1914, Archduke Francis Ferdinand of Austria and his wife Sofia were assassinated, an event that marked the beginning of World War I. Five years later, on the same date in 1919, the Treaty of Versailles was signed to end fighting between Germany and the Allies. I thought I’d take this occasion to find references to the War in our digitized state publications from that time period. I ended up finding so many interesting quotes that I’ll do a few more posts on this same topic in the coming months. Today’s post looks at references from education documents.
North Carolina schools struggled with high prices and loss of labor during the War, just like businesses and families. What struck me in my reading was the note of perseverance and patriotism that prevailed despite these conditions. The Biennial report of the Superintendent of Public Instruction from 1916-1918 explains that:
It was expected that the World War would affect adversely the operation of the schools of the State, … and the statistics which follow show that this was the case, but in view of the unprecedented conditions existent in this country during this time of world wide upheaval, the extent which the schools were crippled was remarkably small. (p. 7)
That things could be much worse and that those “at home” had much to be thankful for compared to those on the front are two ideas that recur in the documents mentioned today and in those that I’ll feature from other state agencies.
The same document states that schools:
felt the enormous increase in the cost of everything, and the supply of teachers was very materially affected by the great demand for clerical workers. It was often the case that the scarcity of labor on the farms necessitated children being taken from the schools to replace their older brothers who had been called in the draft. (p. 7)
School enrollment dropped during the War years. In the 1915-16 school year, 649,246 students were enrolled. In 1917-18, that number had dropped by 14, 996 students to 634,250. There were 3,167 fewer white students and 11,829 fewer black students enrolled during the 1917-18 school year than before the War (numbers taken from 1915-16 and 1917-18 reports, part 2, table X).
For the children who were able to enroll in school, patriotism was part of the curriculum. The Program of Exercises for North Carolina Day, December 14, 1917 had the theme “Thrift, Conservation, Patriotism.” North Carolina Day was part of an early 20th century initiative to encourage interest in North Carolina’s history and culture. It was “one day out of the school year to focus on one aspect of the state’s history” (this quote and more on North Carolina Day at the NCpedia). The 1917 Day focused on the United States in WWI; the 1921 Day was scheduled for Armistice Day (November 11).
Below is the exhortation to teachers found in the 1917 pamphlet:
It is the patriotic duty of every teacher to use every effort to secure the largest possible attendance of children and adults at every school-house on North Carolina Day, to have the program carefully prepared and well presented and to make the day a splendid patriotic rally for increasing the loyalty, zeal, and enthusiasm of all and for enlisting their active cooperation in the movements, State and national, explained in this pamphlet, for helping to win the war.
The 1917 pamphlet includes patriotic songs, instructions for creating a tableaux in which children play the different countries of the War, and a record of precisely what North Carolina had contributed in the War to date. There’s a pretty involved responsive reading called “Why we are at war” with questions like “What is meant by ‘ruthless submarine warfare’?” and “Describe the German Emperor’s methods of carrying on war.” I can imagine students sitting in hard wooden desks, heads bent, impressed with the weight of family troubles, reading these explanations in unison.
It seems to me that how we educate younger children about a war in which their country is currently engaged has changed over time. What hasn’t changed is the idea that educating children is the key to civilization. In that light, I leave you with this quote from the 1917 North Carolina Day pamphlet:
Let us not forget that the preservation and the perpetuation of the freedom and the civilization that we shall save by victory, that the rapid repair of the waste and wreck and ruin of war, that preparation for the new duties of the finer civilization that shall follow, demand the proper education of the present generation of children. (p. 7)
Stay tuned for more posts on World War I and State Publications in the coming months.