"The needle's eye/That doth supply/The thread that runs so true/Ah! many a lass/Have I let past/Because I wanted you."
As a teenager, I read The Thread That Runs So True, Jesse Stuart's account of teaching in rural Kentucky.
I recently revisited this book, examining it from the perspective of an educator in the digital age.
Stuart's central analogy is that the teacher is the "needle's eye" and "the thread that ran so true" must be play: the teacher "should make them [the students] think they were playing while they learned ..." This is a concept that resonates with modern educators, many of whom attempt to instill the element of fun in their lesson plans without sacrificing necessary content. The discussion of Second Life as a vehicle for simulated learning environments is a modern-day variation on the theme.
Some of Stuart's methods are no longer either permissible or desirable, the constant violence troubling (he asserts that "not any knowledge I was trying to give them, not anything I could do at Lonesome Valley, would give me the reputation this fight gave me" after he defeats a bullying student in a fistfight).
But overall, we are left with the impression of a man who cared deeply for education, for character, for poetry and beauty, for the mountains and people of his native Appalachia.
In a Preface written for the 1958 edition of the book (originally published in 1949), Jesse Stuart reminded readers that "the interest of all America is focused upon America's schools and their importance to our survival as a nation". He concludes by saying "...I am firm in my belief that a teacher lives on and on through his students. I will live if my teaching is inspirational, good, and stands firm for good values and character training. Tell me how can good teaching ever die? Good teaching is forever and the teacher is immortal."