Analysis

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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 204

The Thread that Runs So True , by Jesse Stuart, is a personal account of his experience teaching and working as a school administrator in the mountains of Kentucky. The book highlights Stuart's passion for teaching and his commitment the profession. It also highlights the challenges Stuart faced as he...

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The Thread that Runs So True, by Jesse Stuart, is a personal account of his experience teaching and working as a school administrator in the mountains of Kentucky. The book highlights Stuart's passion for teaching and his commitment the profession. It also highlights the challenges Stuart faced as he rose in his career. Stuart dealt with inadequacies in the system and faced difficulties with parents and students. Nevertheless, he had a passion for knowledge and a firm belief in his goals. Thus, a major theme that runs through the story is the power of teaching. Most importantly, Stuart knew it was important that teachers believe in the power of teaching. Stuart persevered and overcame obstacles because he knew education was important, that good teachers were important, and that teachers have the power to instill in generations of people, not only knowledge, but a lifetime love for learning.

Another theme in the book is the current crisis in education, a crisis Stuart attributes largely to the exploitation of teachers. He explains that teachers are overworked and underpaid, which discourages good teachers from entering the profession. Also, by relating his experiences in Kentucky, he highlights the crisis in providing adequate eduction to children in rural areas.

Form and Content

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 460

In The Thread That Runs So True, Jesse Stuart tells the story of his life as an educator in six parts, each episode treating a stage in his career. At the age of seventeen, after only three years of high school, Stuart began his teaching career in a one-room rural school. His students ranged widely in age and ability. Among several colorful stories, his most notable is an account of a fistfight between Stuart and his massive, twenty-year-old first-grade pupil. By the end of the school year, Stuart had evolved a rudimentary philosophy of education: The natural work of children is play, from which they learn, and the teacher should foster interest and learning by organizing competitive academic games.

Five years after this early initiation into teaching, after completing college himself, Stuart became the principal and the entire faculty for fourteen bright and well-motivated young people in a landlocked rural high school, teaching all subjects. In this idyllic setting, Stuart found that work and play can indeed be combined, as his tiny band of scholars defeated the much larger county high school in academic contests. Stuart’s success led to his next challenge: the position of principal at the county school that his students had defeated. Stuart found that, in addition to his duties as principal, he had to teach a full load of classes for the same low salary that his teachers earned. At the end of a successful year as principal, he was denied reappointment because he had requested a modest increase in salary.

Discouraged and resolved to retire from education, Stuart was nevertheless unable to resist his next challenge: to become superintendent of the county school system at the age of twenty-four. Stuart restored fiscal integrity to the bankrupt system, but he antagonized many of his constituents and ultimately feared for his life from violent elements in the community. He became principal of a high school in another part of the country, away from his enemies. After the publication of his first book of poetry, Man with a Bull-Tongue Plow (1934), Stuart became popular as a lecturer in high schools and colleges and won a Guggenheim Fellowship for a year of travel in Europe.

On his return from Europe, Stuart accepted a position in Ohio, where he taught remedial students in English. At the same time, having witnessed the rise of totalitarianism in Europe and having been alarmed by political corruption in his home county, he published a newspaper exposing the machinations of his opponents. Wishing to marry his childhood sweetheart (and having been assaulted by an opponent with a blackjack), Stuart decided to leave teaching and take up sheep raising and novel writing, as he could not support a wife and family on a teacher’s salary.

Form and Content

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 958

Jesse Stuart was only sixteen when he began his teaching career at the one-room Lonesome Valley School in rural Kentucky. He had not planned on a teaching career and, in fact, had not completed his own high school education at the time. Nevertheless, having gone by mistake into a room where the county school board was testing teacher candidates, he decided to try the exam. He passed it and received a second-class certificate, which permitted him to teach the lower grades. He chose to go to Lonesome Valley School because his older sister had taught there and had been beaten up by the school bullies; Stuart enjoyed a challenge. In The Thread That Runs So True, he tells of the challenges he faced as a classroom teacher and school administrator in the Kentucky rural school system of the Depression years.

At Lonesome Valley School, Stuart learned how to engage his students’ interest and win their respect. He learned how to improvise in a classroom when books and supplies were not available. He learned how to help his students apply their lessons to their everyday tasks and take pride in their accomplishments. Finally, he experienced the frustration of coping with politically elected school trustees, sometimes themselves illiterate, who ruled the teachers and curriculum in accordance with their private wishes.

After his initiation at Lonesome Valley, Stuart went on to obtain his own high school diploma. He then worked his way through Lincoln Memorial University in three years and received a baccalaureate degree in 1929. He took a straight academic program, not a teacher-training course, because he did not intend to go into teaching as a career. He thought to combine farming in his Kentucky homeland with a career of writing about the richness of life there. He left Lincoln Memorial in debt, however, and had to seek more immediate sources of income. Stuart worked for a year in the local steel mill but subsequently was persuaded to become the only teacher in a fourteen-student, rural high school for one hundred dollars per month. Though he had to scramble to keep ahead of them in their courses, his students excelled, winning prizes in competitions with larger and better financed high schools in the city system. Stuart became committed to fighting rural illiteracy and the impoverished, politicized school system that perpetuated it.

At the age of twenty-three, Stuart became a high school principal and began coping with underpaid teachers, opinionated parents, and a stubborn, miserly school board. With persistence and characteristic innovation, he dealt with these problems and helped make the school notable for its prizewinning students. At the same time, he took graduate courses in education and, as a result, was constantly in debt. When the school board rejected his request for an annual salary of fifteen hundred dollars, he decided to leave the teaching profession. He attended Vanderbilt University to complete a master’s degree, but when all his clothes and his thesis were destroyed in a dormitory fire, he hitchhiked home without completing his program.

The following year, Stuart, at age twenty-four, accepted an appointment as superintendent of the rural school district in which he had grown up and taught. He found the system staggering under debts and competing with a city system for students and the state subsidy that went with them. He had to cope with an antiquated trustee system in which 246 elected rural trustees, many of them illiterate, tried to rule the local schools like petty dictators.

Confronting these problems head-on, he created such a controversy that his school district became involved in thirty-two lawsuits, winning “thirty-one and one-half.” His life was even threatened, and many of his friends avoided him in public. He found consolation in writing poetry and fiction about the rich life of the Kentucky hill people, and he published the first of his twenty-eight books, The Harvest of Youth, in 1930. With the 1934 publication of his second work, a collection of poems titled Man with a Bull-Tongue Plow, his writing began to sell; he became a sought-after public speaker, traveling to many states beyond his native Kentucky. On the basis of his published stories and poems, he won a Guggenheim Fellowship and spent fourteen months in Europe. On his return home, he was married to his local sweetheart and returned to the struggle to improve Kentucky’s education system.

In The Thread That Runs So True, a first-person narrative, Stuart enriches the story of his own education and development with a deep appreciation for his students and their accomplishments. They come alive as he conveys the richness of their speech and personalities. The book’s title and chapter headings are taken from a folk song which the children would sing at Lonesome Valley School. With a poet’s eye, Stuart captures the beauty and the aching hardships of the Kentucky hills. With candor, he analyzes the causes and impact of the neglect of rural schools that ranked the state next to last among the national school systems.

The book is divided into six sections of unequal length, each one subdivided into internal numbered chapters. Each of the six main sections deals with a different theme or stage of Stuart’s learning about education. The subsections resemble individual short stories or essays. The autobiography follows a chronological pattern, but Stuart never subordinates narrative to time. Moreover, he does not allow himself to come between the reader and the community he describes; he functions as a guide, but the experiences he chooses to highlight help the reader to understand the unique culture and special problems of the Kentucky hill people. Ever sensitive to them, Stuart has disguised the names of the places and persons he depicts, thereby giving the work more artistic and analytical freedom.

Bibliography

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 57

Blair, Everetta Love. Jesse Stuart: His Life and Works, 1967.

Clarke, Mary Washington. Jesse Stuart’s Kentucky, 1968.

Gilpin, John R., Jr. The Man . . . Jesse Stuart: Poet, Novelist, Short-Story Writer, Educator, 1977.

Herndon, Jerry A. Land of the Honey-Colored Wind: Jesse Stuart’s Kentucky, a Resource Book, 1981.

Richardson, Edward H. Jesse: The Biography of an American Writer, Jesse Hilton Stuart, 1984.

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