The First Shall be Last and the Last Shall be First -- Our Yesterdays
(Delivered by Ben Loewenstein Sr. at the dedication of the high school in Rockdale, TX, 1922 October 26.)
Standing here and looking over this assemblage and realizing the occasion which brought it about, I am filled with emotions and with words inadequate to express them coherently.
The task has been assigned to me to speak on education in the past, and in attempting it, and in order to show to those present, and especially to the younger folks, the great stride in education Texas has made in a comparatively short period, I will go back to the year 1868, shortly after the Civil War and show up the status of schools as they were, or more properly speaking, as they were not, in that part of Texas most thickly settled at that time.
Of course, I can only speak of that part of the state I am acquainted with, having lived there, but it will be applicable to all the parts settled at that time. The scope of country I am speaking of comprises the counties of Lavaca, Fayette, Colorado, Austin and Washington. The majority of the inhabitants there were Germans, most of whom immigrated after the close of the Civil War.
Speaking of school conditions, I will have to adopt the language of an old schoolmaster who once remarked: "I see there another one who is absent today." The schools of Texas were remarkable for their absence. In those days when a young man arrived at one of the settlements, who was not used to walking between the plow handles, and who was too honest to steal, became a schoolmaster. Under such conditions I became acquainted and interested in a young man who became a schoolmaster in Colorado county, Texas, in the year 1868. The school house he found was a log cabin the size about 12x14 feet, with no other furniture than rough plank desk and seat along the whole building. As stated before, the people patronizing the school being immigrated Germans, neither they nor their children spoke anything but German and consequently the language in school and what text-books they had were naturally German. That was especially good for the teacher, for he understood no other language. Things went along smoothly for a time. He was successful. However, trouble soon overtook him. One of his patrons became ambitious and suggested to him that it would be proper to begin for part of the time instruction in English. Knowing that the man speaking to him was his friend, he confessed to him what he did not dare confess publicly, namely, that he did not understand the language sufficiently to undertake to teach it. To the question whether he understood the Latin letters in print and script, he answered that he got acquainted with them while at school in Prussia. So his friend and patron advised him to procure an English school book and begin to teach. I will remark here that in countries outside of England and our United States, what we call English letters are called Latin. So he procured a Webster's Blue Back Speller, now known only to the older folks, for his own use and a few more for his advanced pupils. Striving to do his best he managed to keep one lesson ahead of his pupils, but only in after years when he heard some lecturer here and there and some stump speakers, all of whom pronounced the many words different from the way he had taught his pupils, he realized the enormity of his sins committed in sowing the tares in the minds of young and innocent children and his conscience smote him.
Friends, do not imagine I am telling you just a funny story, nor that I have read it somewhere as the work of a reporter, for to be frank with you, I am that selfsame school teacher I have been talking about. Thus you can see the distance we have traveled from that time to this good day in the advancement of education.
Now a few words about our present rejoicing anent the building of this beautiful school house, with all of its modern improvements for the welfare and comfort of the teachers and pupils. I have lived here since the birth of Rockdale, nearly 49 years ago. Like other good citizens I have been very much interested in the cause of education, and now since I have lived long enough to see this superb building erected, I can't help but think that the mere building is not a school, but it is the spirit that prevails which makes it a seat of learning; the same as it is with what we call a palace of justice. If justice is dealt out equally to rich and poor, to the lowly as well as to the mighty, then, indeed, it is a court for equal protection of all. Then same as it is with a church building, be it a cathedral, mosque, temple, meeting house or synagog; if it is not used to inculcate the idea of the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man, the fact that the building did cost a huge sum of money in its erection does not count.
In conclusion I will express the hope that in this building there will be taught the Golden Rule to do unto others as you would like to be done by, which also includes the fear of God, which is the foundation of all wisdom.