The Rose Butler Memorial Read

Rose Butler — Miss Butler to me — was my first-grade teacher at Bingham school. She was one of those teachers who dedicated her life to teaching a thing or two to kids like me.

Miss Butler taught me to read.

She also taught me to print. Though I subsequently moved through a progression of penmanship classes, when I’m required to communicate using pencil and paper, I rely on what Rose taught me, avoiding cursive. Doing so allows the reader to discern what I have written.

My second-grade teacher was Myrtle Gerke — Mrs. Gerke to me. Myrtle taught second-grade things. Straight away, she had us line up against the wall, where she threw down a gauntlet — a second-grade spelling bee. Myrtle aimed its first word at me. It did not go well.

Banished to my seat — dejected, alone — I had to endure the stares and giggles of the second-grade girls.

Something in me died that day.

But I still could read — knowledge that has continued to serve me well for over 70 years. It’s high time I do something to thank Rose for what she taught me. I think an appropriate way to do that would be to organize a “Rose Butler Memorial Read.”

I would promote the reading of books appropriate to the importance of what Rose taught me, inviting all life’s learners to read works worthy of her memory.

It was not that long after World War II had ended that I was in Rose’s class. The importance of protecting our democracy was fresh in people’s minds. They were cherishing a calmer, saner existence, having recently endured so much that was not.

Now, I find myself cherishing those same aspirations. Something needs to be done other than what we’re doing.

Though the usual generational tensions exist, it’s evident there is more — a deep, strident conflict between those who recognize divisiveness, hate, and intolerance must end — that hope, respect, and trust must evolve — and efforts by those trying to prevent it.

Rose would keep such people after school.

What would Rose have us read?

First — what she would not: toxic rhetoric and screeds of political polarization now so familiar would be excluded out-of-hand. She would prohibit misinformation and hate and encourage ideas from various responsible sources that promoted a consensus of viable solutions.

Solid first-grade stuff.

I believe Rose would find merit in these books:

Conservative op-ed columnist for The New York Times David Brookes’ recent book, “The Second Mountain, The Quest For A Moral Life,” would, I believe, find favor with her.

I doubt Rose would advocate any particular economic system, but I’m confident she would encourage one that allowed higher grades to those more skilled and those who worked the hardest.

But she would never neglect her less-capable and less-motivated students, finding ways to recognize their uniqueness and promote their full participation in class.

Books like “Angrynomics,” by the economist Eric Lonergan and Professor Mark Blyth, would interest her, I’m sure, but probably not so much as “Savage Inequalities: Children in American Schools,” by Jonathan Kozol, a Rhodes Scholar — now dated, but still relevant.

She wouldn’t find any of them had all the answers. No one in her class ever did. But she would believe they could contribute meaningfully to an open first-grade class discussion.

Rose would give full credit and more for other good works describing different approaches. Always, she offered extra credit — but only for extra effort — shiny red apples gained no traction with Rose.

And so we would come together to read to each other and discuss works in which Rose could find value. That would be an honor to her.

After everyone had taken their turn, after we had all drawn our chairs away from the circle and put them back at our tables — after we had gathered our things together, and after the bell had rung — Rose would send us home with stars on our lesson papers.

Doug Pugh’s “Vignettes” runs weekly on Saturdays. He can be reached at pughda@gmail.com.


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