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Shop Class


As the father of two AFS sons—our boys Georg and Tjipke—I learned something about public education in two European countries. Georg, for example, had been channeled very early in his schooling into a track that would prepare him for the world of business. When I asked what German language authors he liked (hoping for Goethe, Thomas Mann or Hermann Hesse), we discovered that “literature” had not been a significant aspect of his Austrian education; that language skills were oriented toward writing proper business letters and answering the phone. It caused me to recall our own sort of American educational triage in the late 19th century and the first half of the 20th, when shop classes in woodworking and mechanics were designed to train high school students for the world of work in factories, probably the same places where dad and older brothers already punched a time clock on the assembly line. In my own graduating class of 1963, no more than twenty percent of my classmates went on to college. Indeed, I was the first person in my limited family who went on to obtain a degree in the professions (though, incidentally, I never actually entered that profession). So, as I have lately begun to consider the evolution of public and private education in 150 years of Agincourt history, the organization, expectation and outcomes of those parallel educational systems come to mind.

When Anson Tennant entered first grade in the Fall of 1896, what hopes did James and Martha have for their son? We know that building design and construction became an interest, and that architecture (at least as it was understood in a small Iowa town at the turn of the century) became his career goal. But I have to believe that someone along that path sparked his interest and kindled that flame. Who do you suppose it might have been?Image

In yet another segment of “The way things work”, I happened upon this real photo postcard that oozes with the pride of accomplishment that parents hope for their children and teachers for all their students. Today, in the midst of thesis presentations by the graduating Class of 2013, I see that aspiration in them and feel that satisfaction in myself.

Who is this young man? But more importantly, is that fabulous chair simply a studio prop, something to cling to or hide behind and somehow ease our conspicuity (yes, that is a word; I looked it up and prefer it to the more cumbersome “conspicuousness”) or was it made by the young man standing beside it? It is one thing to be photographed. It is another to be recorded thus with a product of our own skill and craftsmanship. I’m opting for the second possibility.

Agincourt’s schools have been staffed with remarkable teachers, many of them drawn from personal reflection on my own public education. The Misses Hletko and Piper; the Mrs Lawton and Spellman; the Messrs Newman and Baker; the Professors Shellabarger and Burgett are fond memories, perhaps the fondest memories that remain of my many teachers in an education that became increasingly painful. And they have in their turn become unwitting characters in the Agincourt story. Surely someone like them stands metaphorically beside this young man as he stands beside his chair.

I hope you will approve and perhaps even understand the story that’s likely to emerge.


  1. Now we know at least his name—Marshall McGinnis—if not who he was. Perhaps time will fill in some of the details.

  2. […] service. Within three years, the United States entered the war and our own Marshall McGinnis became its first casualty. I’m fascinated by the multiple entwined links between Agincourt and places and events far […]

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