This summer, I’m re-posting the 10 Most-Read Stories Behind the Stories from this blog. I’ve rewritten each essay somewhat and included the most-often-asked question about the book.
This book is #8 on the most-read list, my 41st book.
The Secret School
The way The Secret School begins, with fourteen-year-old Ida driving a Model T Ford, but being so short her brother needed to be on the floor working the clutch and brakes, is a true tale, told to me by a bookstore owner who had gone to a one-room school house in Iowa. Though very young she had a special driver’s license which allowed her to drive-but only back and forth to her one-room school house.
I think it was hearing that story that led me to write The Secret School.
“Consolidated School District,” is a term common across the landscape of American schools. What is not always realized is that in many cases the consolidation was of one-room school houses into large school systems. It happened following World War Two, when there were massive population shifts, and car transportation became truly mass transportation. But prior to this time there were thousands of one-room school houses in rural areas. In my Colorado home area, I can identify at least seven buildings that were once one-room school houses. Though greatly reduced in number they still exist. When you learn about their architecture you can spot them everywhere.
Some years ago I also visited a small campus of The University of Montana which had the only program in the country for would-be teachers in one-room school houses. Aside from standard education courses, you were required to take classes in plumbing, accounting and other such practical skills.
One-room schools pop up everywhere in memoirs, and those who went through the systems are fiercely loyal to their schools and educators. Their strength lay in community, dedicated teachers and that students taught one another. Their weakness lay in their isolation, (physical, cultural, racial) and courses of study beyond the academic strength of individual teachers, more often than not, science. This kind of problem was remedied, in one case, by the State of Wisconsin, which broadcast (radio) classes for the scattered students.
In any case, I was fascinated by these schools and was able to interview folks who had been students in such schools. I also was able to visit some still-existing schools. There is any number of books about these schools, too.
The Secret School was originally written and serialized in newspapers for Breakfast Serials.
One of the pleasures of publishing the story came from readers who shared memories of their (or their grandparents’) one-room school experiences, including the ninety-year-old newspaper reader who corrected my placement of those Model T clutch pedals.
Most often asked question:
“Would you consider writing a sequel which would tell about Ida’s high school experience?”
I have considered it, did some research and once even spoke to a publisher about such a project. The honest answer is I just never got around to it. Perhaps I will.