My father, Frank Murphy, began first grade in 1917. In that year he entered County Line School near Isaar in Outagamie County.
Across the road in Brown County at the time existed one of Wisconsin’s hundreds of local cheese factories where a couple of older boys were sent each morning for a pail of drinking water that served the school for the day. The school had no well or plumbing. Two outhouses sat about 50 yards behind the woodshed, a lean-to, at the rear of a single classroom.
I know this detail because I attended the same school as a first-grader in 1946. Not only had my dad, older brother and I attended County Line School, but my grandfather and great-grandfather also had tended to their formal learning in that very same unprepossessing building.
My dad graduated grade school a year early because the teacher and school board realized there was nothing more Frank could learn in that setting. The high school that served the area was in Seymour, eight miles away by horse. Frank’s formal education ended then, but his appetite for learning was voracious.
As a youngster, I was silly enough to think that I could challenge his knowledge on a wide range of topics. In my 20s having graduated high school (chemistry, physics, biology, etc.) and in my second year of college, I finally began to realize that debating Frank on dozens of topics could only lead to my embarrassment.
Frank could point to Ulan Bator on a globe, and tell you the gross and net profit of a grocery chain. The beauty of Frank’s education rested in emphasis on learning instead of teaching and bureaucracy.
This is the sort of learning emphasized in Abraham Lincoln’s life. Lincoln attended no school in achieving a remarkable panoply of knowledge, primarily constitutional. While making no attempt to equate Frank Murphy and Abraham Lincoln, I believe they would both be appalled by the notion of a “common core.”
Attempts to shoehorn the progeny of 315,000,000 Americans into such rigor as to place them all on the same page, in the same book, on any given day ignores the very nature of liberal education. Well over 100,000 occupations are listed by the labor department today. Veering from a rigid norm to reach out at the earliest point in a student’s life to search for the driving interest that will motivate beyond study hall toward a rewarding career is the basis for continued learning.
— Marvin J. Murphy, publisher