Form and Content

(Critical Edition of Young Adult Fiction)

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...

(The entire section is 460 words.)

Form and Content

(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

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...

(The entire section is 958 words.)


(Critical Edition of Young Adult Fiction)

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.