Split Cherry Tree

by Jesse Stuart

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Student Question

How does Jesse Stuart's belief about education enhance your understanding of "The Split Cherry Tree"?

"I am firm in my belief that a teacher lives on and on through his students. Good teaching is forever..."

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The quiet, reasonable manner of Professor Herbert, along with his teaching through examples is very effective and makes a lasting impression on Pa and Dave both.

After Dave is made to stay after school in order to work off his debt for his part in breaking branches of the cherry tree on the outdoor lesson in biology, Pa becomes enraged. For, he feels that Dave has been singled out since he is "a poor man's son" who cannot pay in money, and he is angered by the "foolish way o' larnin'" that Professor Herbert employs in which he takes the students outdoors for a class. Harboring his resentment of Herbert, he decides to confront Herbert and accompanies Dave to school with a gun.

"I'll take keer of him. He ain't from this county nohow...What kind of a school is it nohow! Didn't do that , my son, when I's a little shaver in school. All fared alike, too."

However, when Pa does go to school, Professor Herbert handles the situation very professionally. Although he is taken aback by the sight of the gun, Herbert speaks in level tones to Pa, telling him to keep his gun in his holster; then, he informs Pa of what he has been teaching, as well as the methods he has been using. When Professor Herbert says something with which Pa disagrees, Herbert keeps quiet. Instead, he demonstrates his lessons by showing Pa under the microscope what germs look like.  

When Herbert tells Pa that they are going to chloroform a black snake in order to see other germs, Pa becomes upset because black snakes are good for ridding the rats and mice that eat the grains and corn of farmers. "I don't allow 'em killed on my place." Herbert listens to Pa and pays him respect. Also, Professor Herbert praises Dave and says "Boys like your own there are going to help change it [the world]," explaining his new way of learning to Pa and taking him to the laboratory.

After Professor Herbert's kind understanding and demonstrations of his teaching technique, Pa changes his mind about Dave's teacher. In fact, Pa leaves with a lasting impression as he relates to Dave what Herbert has told him: 

"School has changed from my day and time. I'm a dead leaf, Dave....You must go on to school...I'm behind Dave. I'm a little man."

When they arrive home, Pa tells Dave's mother excitedly about the school, saying he would take her and show her what a germ looks like under a microscope. Furthermore, he tells Mom what "a fine man" Professor Herbert is. Clearly, then, Herbert's teaching makes a lasting impression--"Good teaching is forever."

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