What doesn't professor Herbert understand about hill boys?"Split Cherry Tree" by Jesse Stuart

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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In Jesse Stuart's "Spilit Cherry Tree," Dave reflects that Professor Herbert, "who had never lived in the hills,"

didn't know the way the hill boys had to work so that they could go to school.

Moreover, Professor Herbert does not understand Dave's culture at all.  For, he does not realize that Dave's father will be insulted by Dave's punishment of having to work for the dollar to pay for the broken tree when the other boys have the money already. He does not understand that Dave's father will retaliate against him.  And, he does not understand that Dave will also be punished at home for arriving late.

Pa, too, does not understand Professor Herbert, taking umbrage that his son is singled out to sweep the floors:

I'll straighten this thing out myself!  I'll take keer o' Professor Herbert myself!  He ain't got no right to keep you in and let the other boys off just because they've got th' money!  I'm a poor man.  A bullet will go in a professor same as it will any man...I'll take a different kind of lesson down there and make'im acquainted with it....A bullet will make a hole in a schoolteacher same as it will anybody else.  He can't do me that way and get by with it.

Of course, when Pa goes to school with Dave, the Professor is taken aback at the sight of the shotgun.  But, he gives Pa a tour of the science department and Pa, who is not stupid, realizes that learning has changed.  He tells  the teacher that he now understands:  "Seein' is believin'."  Having demonstrated the capacity to learn and change, Pa tells Dave that Professor Herbert is a good man and takes up the broom to help Dave work off his debt for the tree. Now, too, he treats Dave with respect as he understands that his son is a young man with responsibiities outside the home.

(Interestingly, this story was generated from an incident that Jesse Stuart heard about when he was a principal at a rural Kentucky school.)

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