The Experience of a Teacher in a Western Settlement

May 1 1920


The Experience of a Teacher in a Western Settlement

May 1 1920


The Experience of a Teacher in a Western Settlement

THE civic garment in which all man kind is clothed may be of silken stuff, but it is the selvedge edge that shows the quality. Here in Canada we are weaving the woof of citizenship, but look at the selvedge edge!

I accepted a rural school in one of the Western provinces, undertaking to “make good Canadians” out of a “swarm” of German children whose parents, uncles and aunts had been wished out of the U. S. A. This owing

to certain prejudices of the sect—one being an objection to conscription-yet Canada had thrown open her gates, and the anti-conscriptionists had walked in and taken possession.

They brought money with them (oodles of it), many farm possessions, and they also brought preachers and — teachers. Canada does not interfere with the religious belief of anyone, but lately we have come to know that in an English-speaking country, English must be taught the rising generation; thus there was an objection (departmental) to having a German school taught by a German teacher. The newcomers were politely told so. But the newcomers were German—they said so, and moreover, they said they wanted German teachers and they wanted German taught. They had brought their objections to many things with them and they determined these objections should be accepted with other community ideas. Most of all they objected to British institutions, and they said so. They were at least frank about stating their thoughts, and they had a certain amount of backing in saying so.

“Backing?” you ask?

Reader, do you know the game of Politics? It is a pretty game for two opposing players, one on this side, one on that; sometimes the Country is the stake, but always it is a game, one on this side, one on that; and so the game goes on.

The Law of the Sect

Í SHALL not name this particular sect, but they are a tribal people having a Leader (or Elder) whose word is LAW. This Elder holds no ordination papers of Church or State, he simply IS! He is appointed by the “colony” in prayerful-wise, but here politics takes a hand in the game too, and—well, AND. The Elder baptizes, marries, divorces and decides even the names of the babies. He is banker and buyer; he is autocrat, and his title is “Uncle.” Two rules there are in the colony; one is that none shall wed without communal walls. Another rule is that none, save community souls, shall enter wedded communal walls; the Elders accompanying the youth whenever (for business purposes) they mingle with outsiders. The women (young) are never permitted to go out, unless under guard, and then only on extreme demand. Neither doctor nor nurse is called except in extreme need, the Elder’s wife, or other woman of experience, attending to maternity cases, etc. Thus it. is not surprising to find the young mothers ailing in health, while the children betray signs of defective eyesight, hearing and speech.

Some sort of marriage rules hold, as brothers and sisters do not wed; but beyond this there seems to be a terrible tangle in relationship, and you will find cases where three brothers, or sisters, marry widowed ones; you see, in no cuse, must one of the community wed outside the community, a sort of royal decree which -well, WHI CH.

I Arrive in the Neighborhood

\X7TTHIN six months of their arrival ’ ’ the Department seems to have realized that things educational were not right. Immediately the machinery of the School Act began to move, but the newcomers declared against any interference in their “citizens’ rights”!

It took considerable work to make these alien people understand that our Canadian laws are made to be obeyed, but finally the stolid German mind opened to the fact that a Canadian school, with a Canadian teacher, must replace the German arrangement. And thus I found myself standing at a railway “siding” one late autumn morning, in a drizzle of rain, ankle deep in mud, and nobody there to meet me, as I had been assured.

A general store, a farmhouse in the distance and an elevator proclaimed a “new” town; it was still in its birth throes, however, and there I was.

The shop-owner, finding I was not a customer, but a “teacher for the Colony,” scowled heavily, and “didn’t know nothin’ about it,” when appealed to. But when dinner time came and nobody had shown up to take me off his hands, the shop-keeper growled, “Come along an’ have a bite!” I humbly trailed half a mile thro'ugh the mud and found myself the uninvited guest of a prairie farm. Now prairie hospitality is a perennial flower, it blooms at all times and seasons; but when the farm wife (who

seasons; smiled) heard my objective point was “the Colony,” she scowled heavily, and while the family ate at a well-filled table, I feasted on farm fare off a plate set on a chair. I rather expected to be given a bone on the mat!

I asked: “Could I hire a horse and driver to take me to my destination?”

The question met a dead silence. At this moment a loud “Who—oa!” reverberated outside; a loud “hallo—a!” sounded, and the shopman jumped to his feet.

In a high wagon sat a grizzled settler. To him I appealed. At mention of “the Colony” his lip tightened, but he said, “Hop in, ma’am,” turning his horses' heads due north. On the way to the colony I learned the meaning of my pariah-like situation.

Here is the Scotch settler’s story:—

“Urn, yes—they’ve fetched them Germans in. They

had the money, them Germans. They bought out A-

lock, stock and bar’l—a goin’ concern it was—and he sold out to them Germans!" The words brought about a silence that shrieked! Then, heaving a big sigh, the settler went on: “Us fellows came out here before a railway was dreamt about. We had hard times—bitter bard it was for the women folk, but they held on. Yes, it was bard times them days. We fought poverty, early frost, smut, drought, hail; birth and death cornin’ and goin’ amongst us, but we held on! Only for the women we’d never a-done it”; he said simply, adding, “Lord! how them women worked! And us fellows, we dug the ground round here up, dug it with our teeth, by God! an’ what are we gettin’ for all that?” His voice raised and what he said then was an impeachment of Canadian politics — an impeachment at the bar of God’s justice!

“What are we gettin’for it all?” The words were a moan. “Them foreigners brought in—buyin’ up all the land around us — squeezin’ good Canadians to the wall, by God!” Then he said very quietly: “That school you’re goin’ to belongs to our school section, but them Germans have it now—our children walk miles to learn a few things, an’—well, themGermans got us, guts and aii/—Geddap!”

The School Was Not Ready

E had reached a great gateway with a flaring sign. It was the sign of a new occupation, and it rose high, like a yell, above the sod “dug by the teeth” of the men who had gone before and cleared the way—the pioneers.

“Here’s your teacher!” my guide and friend called.

I was in the new colony. The place seemed all shingles. Building was going on everywhere; a jumble of dogs, geese, hens, turkeys, pigs, ran in all directions at our approach, and I found myself ankle-deep in mud, surrounded by a swarm of dirty children and untidy mothers, with a sprinkle of old men in sheepskin coats.


Now the Elder approached. “There iss no place,” he said, frowning darkly. “There iss no

school reaty. I told that fellow P--we was

not reaty—there is no place!”

My Scotchman interrupted: “Pretty hard to

Ûsend away again,” the lady he said, “there’s no train until tomorrow.”

“There iss no

place!” the Elder said again. Then I spoke.

“I am sent to open school here to-day and I’m going to open school,” I said. “Please show me where the school-house is?”

“The school iss not reaty yet,” the Elder shouted. “We haf -our school—we do not want a T’chers—there iss no place!”

“Show me where the schoolhouse is!” I

said’again.^“Good-bye, Mr.-,1 thank you for fetching

me,” I said. “I’m all right now; good-bye.” We shook hands and, greatly to the disgust of the Elder, I repeated “Take me to the school.”

Scolding volubly he took me to an extremely dirty interior of a building. “Thiss iss our Church!” he sputtered. “We use it for a schools until our new schools iss biiilt. You must not come until our school iss built!”

“I want the children called,” I said, and, spying a bell on a bench, I went to the door and rang the bell loudly. The place was full in five minutes. Every seat was taken —every window and doorway jammed by elders; growling, frowning, chattering elders, men and women, and over all the whispering of eight-and-forty children, greatly exdted at the advent of “T’cher!”

Of the forty-eight entered, between the (school) age of five and fifteen, thirty could not understand one word of English. The rest knew a little.

A Real Friend—Aunt Karina

SO far I had conquered, but what of the night? All lived under a single roof, ate at a common board, labored as one body,'and thought as one man—that man was the Elder. With him I knew I must deal. With him I must temporize; but along came the solution of all things: Aunt Karina, fat, fair and

things: Karina, fat, fifty! She came down like an avalanche and at her coming even the Elder quailed.

“Hein!” Aunt Karina said, “Wass T’cher? Hoongry, yes? Coom!” She led the way, blotting out the landscape, but uttering little breathless staccato cries: “Wass T’ch’r —too mooch muds—hei! mein hea—rrrt!” (she paused to explain her delicacy of health.) “Ach! hier iss Rebecca— coom, T’ch’r hoongry!” And so I was ushered into the only separate house in the colony. It was the home of the Elder. Aunt Karina had acted as a battering ram, you see, and I was inside. It was going to take a battering ram to put me out.

I was not a welcome guest. A cash arrangement was, however, made; my room apportioned, where, in and under feathers, I slept that night. My lullaby was a medley of German tongues below, while wafted up ever and always two words, “Schwein T’ch’r!”

The seats in the school were of an obsolete pattern; they were carved and stained and paintless; “dishonorable scars,” you’d say; but the books in use were and had been German. Flies tormented. Hens, geese, pigs, dogs, turkeys tormented; but most of all mothers, aunts and grandmothers haunted the place, and it was difficult to keep order. Daily Aunt Karina descended upon the school, breaking into the lessons, exhorting the “kinder”; disqualifying T’ch’r at times by taking over the class in order to show her knowledge of English, and saying, as she waddled up and down the aisles (swatting uneasy ones): “What wass der goundre und der gapital, yess? it was Ameriga, yess, und it wass a good goundre—ee, yess!” This exhausting Aunt Karina’s English vocabulary away she would go, returning with a gallon jug of buttermilk, which she would solemnly drink from, then pass it to me, saying: “Wass goot, yess!”

Do Not Allow Flags

TWO small school flags which had been placed with school supplies did not turn up, so I asked the Elder (who had opened the box) where they were.

“We do not allow vlags!” he said, frowning, adding “I haf them.”

“A Canadian school always flies the British flag,” I said, “but these are two small ones for my school walls.

I shall put them up with a portrait of the King, to-morrow.”

“No vlags shall go oop!” the Elder said.

“No bictures shall go oop!” It was the Elder’s wife spoke. She too frowned.

“Certainly I shall not put up the King’s picture on

the dirty walls,” I said, “but when we move into the new building both portrait and flags go up.”

“It iss against the religion!” the Elder’s wife said.

“It iss idolatry!” the Elder said.

“It is a Canadian law—school law!” I answered.

“It iss not a school—it iss a church!” the Elder said, “Our religion says no vlags—no bictures. They shall not gooopl"

Clearly the Elder was within his rights. It was a church. “I have no wish to interfere with anyone’s religious belief,” I answered. “Therefore I shall not put up the flags in your church, but when we move into the new building I certainly shall put up both!”

“The new building iss also our church!” the Elder said. “It is a schoolroom as far as I am concerned, Mr. Elder,” I said, “and the day I go into the school both portrait and flags go up. Understand that—they GO UP!”

“What will you do when I takes them down!” he smiled. “Shoot!” I said. The bang my fist gave to the table made the dishes jump.

The Elder’s wife said something in German. The Elder said nothing, but his eye met mine. They collided, you might say. “That iss strong words!" he said.

“It’s not half so damn ‘strong’ as what would happen if you or anybody else touch the British flag!” I roared. You see I quite forgot I was a “lady”—Quite forgot I was “T’ch’r,” and expected to be very proper. I was only a poor country teacher, but I was British! I think the Elder realized that.

We moved into the new building and I put up the portrait and the flags.

I Prohibit the German Tongue

WITHIN a month my thirty little infants were singing “God Save the King,” as all the school sung it each morning, and it warmed my ardor to hear little lisping tongues each day repeat: “Wed says be bwave— b’oo says be twoo—w’ite says be pue —ee, and We say ‘Gwand ol Vlagg,’

’oo take ca’ of wus, we take ca’ of

My greatest difficulty was getting the older girls and boys to talk English. They would relapse into German—they answered in German— they whispered in German—and I knew the Elder was backing them in their determination to retain the guttural tongue. The first month I made it a rule “No word of German must be spoken inside the school walls.” It was as a bombshell to the colony. “Schwein T’ch’r!” came floating from all sides. Dark looks made me shiver.

At first I sat at the Elder’s table. After the flag incident a place was set for me alone, apart. Quite suddenly a strange dizziness seemed to attack me after meals. Between the Elder and myself a sort of armed neutrality rose.up. Between the Elder’s wife and myself excellent relationship existed, but ever and anon I could hear, “Schwein T’ch’r!” float through the air; and now a numbness attacked my extremities. Still the work went on.

Then one day the Elder walked into the school and proceeded to address the children (uninvited) in German. I asked him to “kindly speak English to the class.” He answered that “they will understand me better in their own language."

“You must speak in English or not at all,” I said. Much affronted he went away.

The Infants Are Taken Away

N EXT day every one of my infant class was absent.

Enquiry brought out: “Kinders wass on der housess, yess. The Elder wass teaches der kinders Germans on der housess efery days now, yess!”

I immediately sent the older sisters and brothers after the little ones. Back the deputation came to explain: “Elder says T’ch’r hass too mooch schools, yes—too many kinders vor T’ch’r, yess.

Elder wass teachess now, yess!”

I sent for Aunt Karina. She was to be my gatling gun. She came.

Aunt Karina wept on my bosom. She confided that : “My Lisbet, yess, zhe wass gry und gry for T’ch’r! all der kinders wass gry vor der sghools, yess—boot,

Elder say, kinders wass go on der housess: und Elder wass teachess.

I said: “Aunt Karina, go to the Elder now and tell him that if all my children aren’t in their places at one o’clock to-day, I shall close the school and go into town and complain to the Department!”

Aunt Karina waddled away, weeping and wringing her fat hands. But at one o’clock the

entire baby class was back, singing “GottZave derGingl"

The result of that coup was a serious illness of days when I lay in bed unattended, even a drink of water asked was withheld.

“Schwein T’ch’r” floated on the air regularly now.

THE woman of this sect dress as did their foremothers three hundred years ago. Handkerchief on head, apron, full skirt to the ground, with coarse hob-nailed shoes. In an Eaton catalogue some of the elder girls grew interested, especially in pictures of pretty aprons, and one girl of sixteen asked me one day: “How much that apron

costs?” I offered to cut the pattern for her, and did so. forming the pleats in tissue paper, making belt and bows, with pretty pockets. She was delighted and carried it

The next day she and a companion girl were withdrawn from the school altogether.

Afterwards they would come in during the singing lesson and sit in the seats they once occupied, their eyes full of longing—and tears! I had already gone to the Elder to protest against their leaving school, but he said “they were fifteen,” an age when “girls must leave school and begin work.” On this point he was adamant, but I well knew 1 had deprived the girls of some months schooling by reason of my pattern-making proclivities. For, if there is any-

EDITOR’S Note.—The accompanying article wa,s written by a young Canadian school teacher who believed that the conditions she had encountered in a community settlement to which she had been assigned were such that the people of Canada as a whole should know of them. The members of the settlement in question are nf German descent and. as far as the adults are concernd, they have no intention of becoming assimilated or C anadio,nized, The article is published in MACLEAN’S not only because it shows the danger of admitting (dien people with strange religious beliefs, but, more important still, because it demonstrates most effectively that alien children ham the makings of good Canadians if we see to it that they are educated right mid are given a chance.

Communities such as this exist in various parts of the West. Are we doing as much as we should to see that Canadian ideas mid Canadian ideals are inculcated there?

thing these people want to guard against it is British “aprons,” British beliefs and British institutions.

The Flags Torn From Walls

THEN the Elder scored one. I went into my schoolroom one morning to find the King’s portrait turned face to wall! Whispering, grinning, and glances exchanged, told me the test had come. I righted the picture, replaced the flags, which had been thrown to the floor, and opened school as usual. During the National Anthem some nudging was noticeable. Calling the school to order, I said: “Children, a very great indignity has been offered to our King. Somebody turned our King’s face to the wall, an offence which must never be repeated here!" The faces grew grave suddenly. “I am not going to ask, nor do I wish to know who it was did so dastardly a thing,” (subdued cries,

“Sturn der Ging’s facess!”) I went on, unheeding

the Elder’s name, “and, if it occurs again, I shall walk out of this school and out of this colony and into town, and I shall lay a complaint before the authorities!"

I was a-tremble with rage. The children were a-tremble with fear, but my brave Elder had scooted for town that morning to avoid possible well, possibilities! Then I asked: “Is there a girl or a boy in this school who will act as guardian of their King's picture and see to it that the portrait remains face out?” • Utter and awed silence.

I repeated the question twice over before any response came, and then a little girl of fourteen rose in her place and said, “I will, Tch’r.”

Record the name in Canadian archives. It is the name of a little German girl child of German parents living in a German colony, surrounded by German prejudices, but constituting herself guardian to lier King and Country. The name is SUSIE DECKER!

Susie’s act has a deep significance to me. It shows that, given an opportunity, surrounded by right motives, and trained in Canadian citizenship, alien children soon acquire

much loyalty and love for their new country.

Soon after that one of the small flags was found broken and hanging disconsolately by a thread of its woof. I “sensed” the culprit from the accusing grins around me, and I summoned him. It was the Elder’s son and heir.

“Bring me two small splints and some twine,” I said, which he did with a conscious grin. Between us we bound up the broken stern, and the flag was rehung in its place. Then I told the school the Story of the Flag. I gave its origin, its history, its meaning, and, as the words sunk in, I could see that the little red Rag above my head was becoming a symbol to these little ones. I told how it had been threatened, attacked, insulted and betrayed, but that it would still fly “while grass grows and water runs!” Then, I said, "Now that some wicked person has so hurt our dear flag shall we not love It all the more?” A chorus: “Yus, T’ch’r!” told me they would.

/"\N a later occasion proof of the hatred of all things British came in an incident trifling in itself, but indicative of my argument: A lady had sent me three Victory Bond pictures, artistic, educative and beautiful to look upon. Thinking to instil a grain of Art-love in my pupils, by using the tones of the color scheme with my infant class in English, I showed them to the school, and (cautiously) said, “If you’d like these beautiful pictures set upon the walls, children, bring me a hammer and tacks this afternoon and I’ll put them up.”

Thus, I left it to the children themselves, to avoid conflict. They brought hammer and tacks and the pictures went up. One was a picture of the Angel of Peace bearing a Light. The colors were exquisite. The children gazed upon this picture with rapt expression, and from it I gave a lesson on “primary colors.”

When I went to my school next afternoon, the beautiful picture had been torn from the wall, and lay, a twisted wisp, upon my table. This intimation was all I had of the “offence.” Expecting some such action, I had kept another picture out of sight, and this I produced immediately; tacking it upon the wall each morning, taking it away each noon, and replacing it every afternoon, with its accompanying lesson, unmolested!

Was My Food Doctored?

THEN bodily strength gave out entirely. How I came to know it, I may not put down in black and white, my lips being locked; but the suggestion is, my food was being doctored! It would not be the first occurrence of the kind in rural places.

And so I left the work unfinished, undone, but in good Canadian hands. “Trivial,” I hear someone say. Well, these things may be trivial to the unthinking, but they are vital to Canada! More, they are menacing, sinister, and I wonder how long it is going to take Canada, East and West, to learn and to realize that the worm alienism is at work eating, eating at the heart of oak and maple?

At this very hour the highways of young Canada, paved with the human hearts of our ancestors, resound to the tread of alien, enemy feet. These alien ones are possessing themselves of the very ground “dug with the teeth" of the old-timer—the brave ones who led the way into the wilderness—whose very bones must cry out at this partition of our heritage; their gift at the price of their lives.

Bring in the alien? Why, yes, but only if the alien becomes a good Canadian and subscribes to Canadian ways

In an ,,irlii issu, MAC I.IOANS will print an article by Ira Stratton, who is lining such remarkable work in Maní tuba in the matter of Caiuuhanizing oar alien people through the medium, of our schools. Mr. Stratton is successfully applying ideas that might he adopted elsewhere; and he will tell all about THEM.-THE EDITOR,