A whimsical look at life growing up in the small town of Waldron, Arkansas in the 1960s and 1970s, plus occasional observations from the present. Want to start at the very beginning? Click HERE.

Monday, October 3, 2011

My Arkansas History Notebook

Mrs. Hazel Smoot was my sixth grade teacher.  The "middle school" concept didn't exist in those days, so sixth grade was still considered part of elementary school, although we did change classes for reading and math.  Those two classes consumed most of the morning, but the afternoon was a time for other subjects.  One of those subjects was Arkansas History.

In conjunction with our study of our home state, every student was to compile an "Arkansas History Notebook."  This was to be a sort of scrapbook in which we collected information from outside the classroom that related in some way to the history of Arkansas. 

Our notebook project soon evolved into a true example of cooperative learning.  At first, we just put things in our notebooks like newspaper articles and pictures from magazines.  Then, someone got the idea of including a postcard from some town in Arkansas.  When we saw this, we all started looking for postcards from other towns, and soon we all had supplemented our notebooks with various postcards. 

Then, someone got the idea of writing a letter to the Chamber of Commerce in some other town, asking for any information they might have available about their town.  This resulted in a mini-treasure trove of material to include in the notebook.  Seeing the excellent results produced by this letter, we all started writing letters to Chambers of Commerce across the state.  It became a bit of a competition to see who could get information from the least-heard-of town.

With this influx of new content for our notebooks, it quickly became necessary to expand our project from the original spiral notebook that we started with.  This was accomplished by stapling a new notebook to the back cover of the original. 

Another new development occurred when someone came in one morning with an autographed picture of Winthrop Rockefeller, Governor of the State of Arkansas.  They also had a beautiful full-color imprint of the official state seal.  Needless to say, the Governor's office was immediately inundated with letters requesting autographed pictures and state seals.  We quickly expanded our targets to the other state constitutional offices; Lieutenant Governor, Secretary of State, Attorney General, State Treasurer, and Land Commissioner.  Most resulted in autographed pictures and nice letters.  Time to staple on another spiral notebook.

About this time, I had developed a fondness for magazines about cowboys and the Old West.  You could buy them at Parsleys, sometimes at greatly reduced prices if you got one that was a couple of months old.  To my delight, I would occasionally run across an old photograph of some town in Arkansas that happened to be mentioned in an article.  This is what separated my Arkansas History Notebook from the rest of the crowd, because nobody else thought of looking in Old West magazines for content.  Not that my notebook was any better than anyone else's, because other people had personalized their notebooks in other ways.  But I was really proud of my Old West pictures of Arkansas. 

At some point one of my classmates, and I don't recall who it was, had the brilliant idea of writing a letter to the Arkansas Geology Commission.  How they even knew that such an entity existed, I don't know, but their letter resulted in a small package that was sent to the student.  Inside the package was a little cloth bag, and inside the little bag was a collection of small samples of all of the significant kinds of rocks found in our state.  Each sample was about the size of a large marble, and they were all labeled with the type of rock they were.  This was an unprecedented achievement, and we all quickly fired off letters to the Arkansas Geology Commission, which graciously complied with our requests and sent us all our own bag of rocks.

The only problem was, how do you put a bag of rocks in a notebook?  A few people tried gluing the rocks to a page of paper, but they never stayed glued.  So, our rocks, while probably the most interesting we had, never actually became a part of our notebooks.

I guess we got some kind of grade on our notebooks, but I don't remember it.  When I turned mine it, I think it was up to four or five notebooks stapled together.  I kept it for many years, but when I recently looked for it, I couldn't find it.  I fear it must not have survived one of my various moves. 

But what a great learning opportunity it was!  We had fun, we learned how to write letters, we learned how to work together and share, we learned how to do research, and we learned how to use our creativity.  Mrs. Smoot was way ahead of her time, I think.  And she instilled in me a love of the history of our state that still exists today.

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