A Rose among all the thorns
“Let us sit upon the ground and tell sad stories about the deaths of kings…” — William Shakespeare
By Ray Mosby
Having just finished what seems Mississippi’s destined to be annual war over public education and its funding (with education losing yet again), and apparently without any scheduled attempt to address the subject anew in the looming legislative session, it occurs to me that one factor in this unbalanced equation which I touched on many years ago might bear mentioning again.
The problem with education in Mississippi — indeed, in the whole country — is that they are not making any more Rose Schercks. Well, that and the fact that there are not enough homes with mommas and dads in them who under threats of beatings make their kids pay attention to the folks who are trying to teach them something or another.
Of course, if you were a kid in Coahoma County in the late 1960s, if you didn’t pay attention to Mrs. Scherck, she would beat you herself — at least figuratively.
Mrs. Scherck, usually called “Miss Scherck” within that generation-spanning tendency of high schoolers to refuse acknowledgment that their female instructors might ever have been thought of “in that way” by any male, was in many ways a real life inkblot from Sinclair Lewis’ pen.
Mrs. Scherck was the prototypical senior English teacher: mean, unreasonable, demanding. She did not buy the very best excuses from the very best young minds at any given time. The woman had a B.A. in B.S. recognition.
“Our Town” had one.
Our town of Clarksdale had her.
Mrs. Scherck approached the sadly lost art of diagramming a sentence (“at the board, young man, at the board”), the proper placement of the world’s predicate adjectives with a fervor and passion of perfected detail, rivaled only by one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s blueprints.
She insisted that we read. The good stuff, the classics.
She told us that it was not only O.K. to do so, but that it would actually help us in life to do so. Not a one of us ever let on that we paid any attention to her, but as she no doubt fervently hoped, a few of us actually did.
And she insisted that we read the whole blasted thing, too.
Mrs. Scherck hated a Cliff Note like I hate a hypocrite, and for a while there, my concept of hell was not being prepared for her class. I think that if you are a teacher that is a very good thing.
She had a certain stare in such an instance which could put frost on a fireplace log; a certain acidity of wit which could turn the big man on campus into the adolescent in the woodshed.
She was, purely and simply, a teacher.
She did not merely occupy a teaching position and receive taxpayer funded compensation for it, she was a teacher.
And like most of what now frequently seems to be a nearly extinct species, she was extremely unpopular among those of us not yet old nor wise enough to comprehend the concept. It was years after before most of us came to realize truly how much we owed her.
She never sent a bill.
As a public school teacher in 1969, Mrs. Scherck was never adequately paid for that which she so adamantly forced our class to borrow from her — her knowledge of the English language and her knowledge of the importance of that knowledge, itself.
She indeed forced us, coerced us into taking that priceless loan that she was never to ask any of us to pay back.
But an entire generation of students in Clarksdale and its environs share that debt to the mean old woman of our teenage years who somehow became the remarkably warm, caring and considerate and oh, so wise Southern Lady of our adulthoods.
Give or take a few years, I suppose that I am now just about the age that Rose Scherck was when she was teaching us and that was a long, long time ago.
But you know what? I can still diagram a sentence.
Ray Mosby is editor and publisher of The Deer Creek Pilot in Rolling Fork.