In their classrooms there were no signs of sophisticated visual aids or modern technology. All they had for teaching those subjects were their own knowledge, an adopted textbook, a world globe and a series of maps. The maps were like window shades affixed to a wooden box which was bolted to the wall in the center of the room above the blackboard.
During some lesson or other, the teacher took a 3-foot-long dowel stick with a hook on its end, caught a ring on the desired map and pulled it down as far as it would go. In bright colors, and somewhat frayed edges, the maps illustrated some point the teacher was making with regards to history or geography.
In those days, history and geography appeared on report cards and were important, separate subjects. They were a part of the prescribed curriculum. In recent years, however, those subjects have been eliminated as such and have been lumped together with other subject areas to create what is currently called “social studies.”
Back in those early days, at least during the ‘30s and ‘40s, there was something else which appeared on the six-weeks report card in addition to letter or numerical grades. Of course, there was the number of “Days Present,” “Days Absent,” “Times Tardy,” “Conduct” and “Days Sunday School.”
On Monday morning when the teachers called the roll in homeroom, the students were expected to answer, “present, yes,” or “present, no.” “Yes” meant the student had attended at least one religious service over the weekend and “no” meant the student had attended none.
“Religious service” crossed a broad spectrum: Sunday school anywhere; church service, Protestant, catholic or Jewish, anywhere; evening activities by such names as Epworth League, Methodist Youth Fellowship, Christian Endeavor and Baptist Young People's Union, just to mention a few.
Upon reflection, I have no idea what year that practice was stopped, but, indeed, it was eventually eliminated. However, at the time, nobody got upset by the Monday morning inquiry. No parents objected; nobody from the Civil Liberties Union appeared at a school board meeting; students responded forthrightly and took the “invasion of their privacy” as a matter of course.
Another thing which has changed in recent years is the doing away with a Baccalaureate Service, which used to be an integral part of Harlan High School's two-day commencement tradition. Baccalaureate is, by definition, strictly a religious service connected with all graduation exercises. Here, it was conducted years ago in the school auditorium on Sunday evening before commencement on Monday night.
The graduates processed in heavy cotton gray caps and gowns. They sat in the center section of the auditorium, facing the speaker. Flowers such as iris, mock orange and gladiola, gathered from yards and gardens throughout the nearby neighborhoods and arranged in baskets, were placed on stage right and left. Members of the girls' and boys' glee clubs sang; a student offered prayer and a local minister delivered an “inspirational” sermon.
Graduates returned the following evening for commencement exercises and to receive their diplomas. Lila Ackley or Chester Wainscott of Wainscott's Studio stood at the foot of steps leading from the stage. They photographed each graduate in the act of receiving a diploma.
Commencement consisted of more glee club singing, prayers, valedictorian's and salutatorian's addresses (of which there were only one of each), remarks by the school's superintendent and chairman of the board. Some academic and other awards were presented.
The graduates recessed and returned rented academic regalia to the school's principal. The caps and gowns were packed in cases to be mailed back to the Collegiate Academic Attire Rental Co.
Somewhere along the line, Baccalaureate, as a separate service, was eliminated and became incorporated into the commencement. Seniors processed only once, on a Sunday afternoon, and the gray academic attire was changed to favor school colors, Rental was no longer the case regarding the cap and gown. Students bought them, and they were theirs to keep.
As audiences became larger, the venue was moved from the school auditorium to the Harlan Baptist Church.
Many changes have taken place through the years with regards to Harlan High School's early accepted practices, its curriculum adjustments and its graduation traditions.
There are some few former students still around who have witnessed all of the changes. They can still remember the history and geography class window shade maps; answering roll call on Monday morning with a “Present, yes” or “no,” and who recall Baccalaureate well enough to spell it and, in some cases, to miss it.