Split Cherry Tree

by Jesse Stuart

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Student Question

How does Jesse Stuart's background and support for "new education" reflect in "Split Cherry Tree"?

Jesse stuart (1907-1984) was born in a log cabin in Kentucy, a mostly rural area of the USA. His writing reflects the regional voice, color and way of life of the area in those days. For many years, Stuart was a teacher and school principal. At the time, the principals of progressive education that had begun to influence schools in American cities were beginning to spread to rural schools as well. Progressive education was characterized by the introduction of new subjects and hands-on learning (learning by doing) and by discipline that was meant to teach, not to shame. Stuart himself was very much in favor of the "new education" and its influence on small-town America.

Expert Answers

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"Split Cherry Tree" is set in a rural area of Appalachia, a mountainous region that historically had many isolated farms and small settlements. Stuart's use of dialect, description of the chores and lifestyle on the Sexton farm, and the portrayal of Luster Sexton all reflect his personal knowledge of the area in which the action takes place.

Professor Herbert is doing his best to bring "progressive education" to his students. Rather than simply teaching out of a book, he took the class on a field trip to gather living specimens to be dissected when they returned to school. "We take a subject in school where we have to have bugs, snakes, flowers, lizards, frogs, and plants. It is biology."

Professor Herbert demonstrates the worth and importance of new methods and new equipment by using the microscope to show Luster germs scraped off his own teeth. The demonstration works, and Luster concedes that Dave's education needs to continue under a very different format than what he experienced as a boy.

However, Luster and Professor Herbert agree that responsibility and answering for one's actions is also an important lesson. After Luster comes to understand and respect the Professor's method of "punishment" for Dave's part in "the split cherry tree," he joins Dave in completing the work assigned. "If he'll let me I'll get a broom and we'll both sweep one hour. That pays your debt. I'll hep you pay it."

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