The Secret School

SecretSchoolSuggested by Anniel • Ida attends s one-room schoolhouse in 1925 Colorado. One day her teacher is called away to take care of her sick mother. The school board agrees to close the school and finish next year. But Ida doesn’t want to wait. She dreams of being a teacher and, with the help of fellow students,  conspires to do just that.
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7 Responses to The Secret School

  1. Anniel says:

    Avi is my favorite children’s book author. This particular book celebrates learning, hard work and the rewards of finishing what you start. The history of the time is a plus that kids can learn a lot from. My son says even his youngest children want to discuss their ideas about Avi’s books as they read aloud and then with each other later. He says no other books evoke that much response.

  2. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    It’s a short book. And for four dollars I decided, What the heck.

    I’m 58% into it. It’s a warm, nostalgic, Little-House-on-the-Prairie look at a small farming community. “Wholesome” and “decent” are words that are out of favor. But this book has it in spades. You’re not knocked over the head with it. The plot and characters are not treacly or syrupy. But the story is simple, devoid of f-bombs, and describes a time when things were indeed simpler and Americans were, by and large, more decent than they are now.

    Just by contrast, you glimpse the indecency of what now passes for common life. None of this is made an issue in the book. But simply by contrast, the book shines a harsh light on our trashy era.

    This is back in the time when people, at least by today’s standards, were relatively poor. But what they had they cherished. And they worked hard. We’ve become a nation of ninnies. Kids are now given way too much and expecting children to work is now equated with child abuse. The kids in this book, living on farms as they did, did real work. They got up at the crack of dawn to milk the cows and feed the chickens.

    And they were certainly free range kids. Ida (14) drove (with the help of her brother moving the brake and clutch pedals) a Model T to school every morning. The book has some charming details about that, including the passenger door being tied shut with a length of rope, reaching out the window to blow the circus-type horn mounted outside, and having to hand-crank the engine to start it.

    There’s a nice section where her friend, Tom (who is sweet on Ida…Ida wasn’t her whore, slut, or his bitch, by the way…this was a time when a man could still be “sweet” on a woman) built a radio from instructions he read in Popular Mechanics. He brings the radio to class and the children are fascinated as they tune in stations from all over the nation.

    Reading this, you realize how jaded we have all become. We don’t appreciate the wonders of technology. If something breaks, we throw it away. We are a disposable people because of this. But through Tom, we reengage with the wonder and miracle of these things.

    And a one-room schoolhouse is no piece of cake, even if there are less than a dozen pupils. I’m just at the point in the book where Ida is exhausted trying to do her own work (both school work and farm work) and be a teacher at the same time. And what a contrast with today’s time. We see “Ida” become “Miss Bidson.” She puts her hair up in pins to look more adult-like and insists that the children call her “Miss Bidson.” This is in sharp contrast to our times when adults tend to want to act like children and be their buddy. Nope. Not with Miss Bidson. She knows instinctively that she needs to be the authority figure.

  3. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    In this little one-room schoolhouse in rural Colorado, the teacher starts each day with a song. It sounds as if it is typical for one of the girls (who is an especially good singer) to come up to the front and start them off by singing alone the first stanza of “Amazing Grace.” On subsequent verses the class sings along.

    Libertarians and liberals should note that the earth did not sudden open up and swallow our republic.

    The teacher also has a short poem that is a standard in her classroom:

    Do what conscience says is right;
    Do what reason says is best;
    Do with all your mind and might;
    Do your duty, and be blest.

    We can have a geeky discussion on the reliability of conscience, how much of it is in need of development in order to be a trustworthy guide, how reason can say what is best (when so often it has led people to the worst), etc. But there is a general tone and tenor to this short poem that is character-building as opposed to the slop I can only imagine is being recited or sung in today’s classrooms. Certainly stuff such as this has occurred. To teach respect for important Americans such as Washington and Lincoln (whose pictures both hang in this little one-room schoolhouse) is one thing, to pass on the goodness and history of our culture. It’s quite another to obsequiously deify a sitting president as you would Mussolini.

    There is innocence in singing “Amazing Grace.” It is a perversion of our youth to have them sing the praises of a would-be dictator, Obama. And if you can’t tell the difference, you are part of the problem.

  4. Anniel says:

    Brad, Thank you for reading and posting about this book. I, too, love that Avi doesn’t hit the readers over the head with his themes but presents them as contrasts. The president of the school board is such an unsympathetic character without being really horrible that even he seems believable and his relatively mild comeuppance is handled well.

    Maybe we should put Avi’s book, “Sophia’s War” on the Bookshelf. It is a true, and sometimes grisly, history of things that happened during the Revolution, including the Benedict Arnold affair. Young people and adults would love it.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      The best juveniles can appeal to adults as well as children. We can see that with The Hobbit as well as the many Robert Heinlein juveniles and the Harry Potter series. Lewis’s Narnia books sometimes come to the edge of being too juvenile for adults, but they don’t quite cross it. (The Giver, which I discussed here sometime back as part of a discussion of dystopian novels, is in this category as well.)

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      Can’t wait to finish it tonight, Annie. One of the reviews I read said it was a too pat ending. But I’ll judge for myself, as usual. And because I have superior taste, well, that will be that. 😀

      The president of the school board (haven’t really heard much from him thus far, other than that he’s a bit gruff and unlikely to support Ida’s plan, and you perhaps can’t blame him) is the kind of pedantic stickler that anything governmental always attracts. If their values and ideas are good, then it’s good that somebody is sticking up for them. But sometimes you just get those unbending personalities who make life harder because, well, there’s a lot of necessary grey area in life and it’s useful and good to bend a little when needed. There are, however, people who just like to lord themselves over other people.

      Maybe we should put Avi’s book, “Sophia’s War” on the Bookshelf.


      Avi doesn’t hit the readers over the head with his themes but presents them as contrasts.

      It’s a matter-of-fact writing style, at least in this one. You’re immersed in the time. It’s a children’s book, of course, but not childish (or juvenile, to sort of answer Timothy’s question/remark). This is a book aimed at children that is more mature than nine-tenths of the stuff you see in movies or TV that is aimed at adults.

  5. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    The core of America’s good is education, industry, faith in god, and hard work. The core of that country has been eaten away by the left who stand for hatred of Country, ignorance/political correctness, socialism, and moocherism.

    This long short story, or perhaps a novella, is a sketch of the decency that used to be taken for granted in America. We see people valuing education, hard work, and taking responsibility for their lives — all things opposite to today. You can count the number of young people on one hand who would have fought to continue their own education instead of taking an extended summer vacation. (We work here at StubbornThings to continue our education. If anyone is here just for recreational bitching only, you’ve come to the wrong place.)

    I can easily see this being made into a major motion picture. The central role of Ida is certainly friendy to modern feminist “hear me roar” notions. But there’s no bra-burning in this book. Ida has taken on a very female role of the lady schoolmarm in a rural school. And her friend, Tom, is not cast as the “boy” who longs to be an interior decorator or hair stylist. He’s portrayed as normal (sorry…there really is such thing as normal even if we make allowances for a diversity of pursuits) by his love of gadgetry, particularly electronics.

    Side stories, such as that of the failing farm and unhappy lives of the Bixlers, would necessarily be expanded in the movie. I can see Chris Cooper playing the father (perhaps grandfather) of young Herbert Bixler who is afraid of distancing himself from his father by becoming educated. That would provide all kinds of opportunities for drama. The president of the school board could certainly be inflated into a much scarier and bellicose character to good effect. Perhaps Brad Dourif could be cast in that role.

    And a movie treatment could delve more into how it was to actually live in that time in 1925 rural Colorado before iPhones, widespread pornography, welfare, and 57 flavors of gender. I was always fascinated by the stories my grandparents would tell of their farm life. What do city folk have to brag about except museums (fine) and the crime rate?

    As you might expect (spoiler coming) by the end of the book, Ida does indeed find a way to high school. And (gasp) her merit and hard work are appreciated and rewarded. The point of this book isn’t to caterwaul about the plight of the poor but to reward and shine the spotlight on good character and honest effort. Ida is going to get some free room and board when she attends high school which assures the reader that she will indeed be able to attend, whether her parent’s farm has a banner year or not. (Imagine when your life might be decided by the dictates of the weather…and now young people obsess over fake weather in the guise of global warming.)

    When we all went to high school, we probably not only took it for granted by might likely have been annoyed by having to do so. But in Ida and her pupils, we see young people (at least some of them) who have goals for their life and are willing to work to achieve them. And the goal is to pursue an interest rather than just to make money. We know in this story, for example, that Ida — even if she is successful becoming a school teacher — is never going to get rich. But that is quite beside the point.

    And that brings us to another thing that has rotted out America. Along with the poisonous influence of the Left there is the generation or two who simply forgot the idea of America and pursued little but material gain. And although this idea is inflated by such ninnies as the Pope into an indictment of our entire way of life (and, by contrast, an apologetic for statism and socialism), it was never the American Dream to get rich at the expense of our ideals.

    My first thought of director for this film was Ron Howard. Unfortunately, Howard is probably too much of a libtard to give this a good treatment. And if you aged the older kids a couple years (Ida and Tom), you could certainly throw in a mild romantic aspect. I’ll start writing the screenplay tomorrow. But perhaps the author of this book should shop it around first.

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