'They look too exciting for so early in the evening'.
Thank You, Mr Morgan
Censorship didn’t begin with social media. Long before the first suspension from Youtube or Twitter, access to information was limited more organically. You want to read books? We’re not going to let you read that one. Or that one. That one, either. I experienced this firsthand, circa fifth grade.
My sister Barb taught me to read as a bit of a practice run when she was in college. She lived to regret this when-a couple years later- she took a job teaching first grade in our hometown, in a classroom that happened to include me. Her primary task was to teach us to read, but I was already well acquainted with the first grade reading book. Second grade, too. The small in-room library wasn’t particularly exciting. At her wit’s end, Barb let me wander across the hall and borrow books from the third and fourth grade room. Bliss!
K-12 was housed in one small building. Over time, I moved on to books from the fifth and sixth grade room, but also borrowed books from my grandparents’ neighbor, a retired schoolteacher named Miss Fjon. Then one day, on my way from the cafeteria to recess, I poked my head into the high school study hall/English classroom/library. Books! Floor to ceiling books! And as in the lower grades, you signed them out with just your name and grade. So I did, but that ‘5’ on the card got me in trouble.
I was midway through Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’urbervilles, and finding it pretty fascinating, when the high school English teacher came to our room and demanded I return it and refrain from borrowing others. Something about it being ‘inappropriate’. Apparently, fifth graders weren’t supposed to read about the lord of the manor exploiting poor servants, let alone rape and illegitimate children. Oops!
At some point, I related this tale to Mr Morgan, the long-retired School Superintendent, while I was serving him pie and coffee at my parents’ cafe. After a hearty chuckle, he told me I should consider borrowing books from the South Dakota State Library. A few days later, he returned with instructions for calling or writing to request books, and two ‘100 Best’ lists-one to read before age 18, the other more of a bucket list. I wrote to request some titles, which arrived a few weeks later, postage free. When I finished the books, I’d mail them back-also postage free-and request more. Over time, I worked my way through both those lists, reading Anna Karenina, Animal Farm, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, 1984, Heart of Darkness, and many, many more. (Yes, I also finished Tess.)
Those books opened up worlds far beyond my tiny prairie town; through the pages of a book, you can travel anywhere, to any time, and be absolutely anyone. And although I thanked Mr Morgan at the time, in retrospect, I don’t believe I thanked him enough. So as National Teacher Appreciation Week ends, thank you, Mr Morgan. You changed my life.
Now please excuse me; my book and glass are calling.