“I arrive at the age of fifteen, at this period I had learned only in a moderate degree to read write and cipher having like most children neglected to improve the opportunities afforded me at the common schools. And not being able to appreciate the great advantages derived from education and an improved mind, however humble the capacity and having formed a very humble opinion of my own was without hope than an education united with my natural gifts would enable me to succeed respectfully in any professions and being proud of spirit could not break the idea…” — Abner Baker, Sr.’s Life Book
One of the themes I’ll be exploring in So Far Appalachia is how the Bakers (and to a larger extent Appalachians) viewed education as it pertained to the settling of the country. This is important because education is one of those variables within American life that is so ubiquitious that we forget about the mechanics of it. Education is, by and large, a public expectation, and yet very few people who aren’t involved in the business of educating children could tell you how it works.
(In fact, I consistently hear from people who tell me that “you can’t teach somebody to be a teacher,” which I find to be a very strange comment considering I spent 4 years learning the science of teaching. But I digress.)
This theme naturally emerged from the Baker’s story because for many generations, the Bakers were classically educated and as such they kept meticulous notes and journals about their activities, which has made this book easy to research. And countless generations have stories of both the men and the women getting educated, and then returning to the family homestead, where they were then expected to become part of the local community.
One very notable exception is Abner Baker, Sr., who would become the first Clerk of Clay County at its inception. He turned down the opportunity to get educated (his four brothers before him took up their father’s offer), and he spent the better part of his life trying to compensate for that. He consistently wrote that his lack of formal education placed him outside of conversations and situations. Even though his “natural” abilities (you can read that as: what he taught himself) got him quite far, he found the lack of formal education made his life much more difficult.