Southern Books Should be Used in Southern Schools – Bill Arp, 5/28/1891
Since writing a late letter on Southern school books, my mail has been flooded with pamphlets and reports going to
prove that a State cannot safely publish or prescribe her own school books. Ohio tried it and came to grief. California
tried it and after losing a quarter of a million of the Stte’s money, abandoned the experiment. Many adverse reports
of the State Superintendents have been sent me. They come from Appleton and Barnes, and Ivison Blakeman & Co.
and Van Antwerp & Co., all of whom are interested parties, but are publishers of the highest respectability. The burden
of all these is to prove that the trustees of every school should have exclusive jurisdiction over the choice of their text books.
They are all opposed to State uniformity and give substantial and overwhelming reasons for it. State uniformity means
a series of text books prescribed by the State authorities to be used in every school. But is there any good reason why
an association of the prominent and leading educators in our State should not meet together in convention and examine,
discuss and select a triple or quadruple series of textbooks and commend them to all the schools of the State, and at the
same time give preference to Southern publishers in all cases where the public service would not suffer? There are half a
dozen series of arithmetics by Southern authors, and two or more geographies, and three series of spellers and readers,
and several histories, and three of English literature, to say nothing of Latin and Greek, and astronomy and the higher mathematics. Would it not be choice enough to let the teachers or the school boards select from these? Would it not
relieve the boards from embarrasment and cause them to feel that they could not make any grave mistake? I speak for
myself and our school board when I say it would relieve us-I had rather trust the wisdom of our Georgia teachers than
all the school boards in the State. One of the pamphlets sent me is the very able report of the superintendent of public
instruction in the State of Virginia. While opposed to State uniformity, he says: “The common run of publishers do not
favor the professional cultivation of teachers.
They prefer that teachers should not be able to discriminate between a poor book and a good one. They know that there
will be a great winnowing out of the schoolbook trash whenever it comes under the searching criticism of really competent
teachers. They know that there is yet a large proportion of blind followers of the text book that is put into their hands and
when they learn what is in that particular book they want no other, and to put them in a new book is like learning a new
branch of knowledge. This class of dead, motionless teachers is the Sargasso sea into which text books float and stay,
and into this sea every bookmaker seeks to float his book. “Hence the prodigious importance of putting into the hands of
such teachers only the most carefully selected books-those of real merit and of the most improved methods of instruction.
Such books are few, and are the product of peculiar talent and large experience in the instruction of young children.” This
extract seems to settle it that there are competent teachers and a large proportion of incompetent ones; that the latter are
“not fitten to choose their books and not fitten to get fitten ;” that the really competent ones are the only class qualified for
searching criticism. This is all that we have contended for on that line-a convention of the best teachers to winnow out the schoolbook trash and commend their choice to all the schools of the State. Now about publishing, let me say the proposition
is not for the State to undertake it, but for the superintendent to encourage it wherever it is practicable and prudent to do so.
I have before me a book called “The Pearl Speaker,” compiled by Professor Graham, of Clarksville, Tenn., and published
by the great publishing house of the Methodists at Nashville. It is gotten up in good style and no money went North for paper
or printing or binding. It is having a large sale and deserves it, for besides the old standards it contains six speeches from
that grand Virginia orator, John W. Daniel; five from our peerless Grady, one from General William B. Bate, one from Proctor
Knott, two from Randolph Tucker and also choice selections from Dr. J.W. Lee, John B. Gordon, John Temple Graves, Father Ryan, Breckinridge, Hope, Dr. Deems, Col. House, Henderson, Webb, Charlton Hilliard, Eugenius A. Nisbet, Dawson and
And it closes with speeches of Ben Hill, of Georgia, and Dr. B.F. Ward, of Mississippi, the two greatest defenders of the
South and her people Now here are twenty-two distinguished Southern orators whose eloquent speeches have not been surpassed and some of them not equalled North of the line since the war-and yet not one of them can be found in an,
Northern book. This book typifies what we mean by Southern literature and Southern textbooks. I have before me in painful contrast another Speaker that until recently has been used in our schools, and is a mixture of old England and New England
-not a Southern author or orator in it, but it does insult us with a sickly poem from John G. Whittier, who calls our soldiers
“the famished rebel horde,” and has Stonewall Jackson ordering his soldiers to fire upon an old woman because she displayed
the federal flag as they were marching by. The old crank-nearly half the poetry in his book is sentimental slush about the downtrodden, crushed, manacled, bleeding slaves of the South. Professor Graham has also had published an admirable
primary series of arithmetics for the first three grades of pupils, I see that Professors Slaton, of Atlanta, and Ruth, of Knoxville, have adopted them, and pronounce them superior to all others. Where there is a will there is a way. If we can get one book published at home we can get others. We can all and keep our money at home, and give employment to hundreds, yes, thousands, of our boys and girls whose willing hands are waiting for work. Now, if the American Book Company does not like
this they have a remedy. Let them bring a liberal portion of their immense capital down South and build a branch publishing
house, like they have done in Chicago and Cincinnati. Why not? What is the matter with the South? Does she not always
give hearty welcome to Northern men and Northern enterprise? The Equitable Life, of New York, has set a good example.
It is building a mammoth block in Atlanta, that, when finished and furnished, will cost near half a million, and our boys will
be working there. The American Book Company are drawing their book pap through too long a tube. Let them bring their
milk pots nearer to us,and then they may suck away and be welcome.
The Appletons can do this and profit by it. The Appletons have long been favorites with our people. They have always been
kind and tolerant. Their last “Cyclopedia of American Biography” is a grateful proof of their fairness and good will towards the South. One of the house has recently captured or been captured by one of Georgia’s fairest daughters. Now let him show
his gratitude, and come to a fair divide with our section. Our poor girls and boys can work in a publishing house all the year
round with but little fire and less clothing. Our own rags will make the paper, and they are better rags than they used to be.
They are not so ragged. My good, friend, Robert E. Park, who represents the book trust, writes me a kind remonstrance about
my former letter, but I know he will agree to what I have said in this. He is a Georgia gentleman to the core, and faithfully represents his employers, but I know he agrees with that great and good man, M.F. Maury, whose maps and charts are
know to all the world. Maury said: “All hail the day when the South will make her own paper and ink and type, and publish
her own books and establish her own literature, and be able to defend herself and her honor against the slanders of her
enemies.” It is a shame upon our people that they will countenance such a work as the Encylopedia Britannica,” that says,
“The few thinkers of America born South of Mason and Dixon’s line are outnumbered by those belonging to the single State
of Massachusetts, and mainly by their connections with the North the Carolinas have been saved from sinking to the level
of Mexico or the Antiles.” If, through ignorance or careless inspection, our people have disgraced their libraries with this
book, they should at least neutralize the poison by sending to Montgomery for Mr. Ogleby’s answer to that charge and his
masterly vindication of the South. For the sake of your children get that pamphlet and seal it in the volume that contains
the slander. We must write our own history and establish our glorious past before the civilized world. What good will
Columbian fairs do to us at Chicago as long as such publications are patronized at home and accredited abroad?
Last Updated on April 26, 2021 by Bill Arp
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