Taking the Bible Out of the Schoolhouse


White County Historical Society

Remembering when we were kids in grade school: For opening exercise the teacher read a chapter from the Bible, three or four kids recited a verse of scripture, then pledged allegiance to the flag. Then we would sing one or two folk songs, followed by a couple of patriotic songs. We would do songs like Row Your Boat, Nellie Gray, Juanita, Clementine, Maggie, Dixie, Ole Virginny, Star Spangled Banner, Columbia The Gem, America, America The Beautiful, and of course our state song, “Arkansas.” About once a month the whole school would assemble in the auditorium for a special activity period. Sometimes some class or club would present a short program. Part of the time a local preacher would present some Biblical principles on good deportment, citizenship and right living.

In my earliest days we did not have water fountains so each student brought his tin cup. The school would furnish a water bucket, however many of us brought our own water bottle or jar with our name taped on it. Kids who lived out a ways brought a lunch. If they were out of paper bags the Mamas wrapped it in any kind of paper at hand. A standard lunch consisted of a biscuit sandwich, a couple of big cookies or a fried pie, and an apple. Some brought a boiled egg or a baked sweet potato. (We had a few hot lunches in the early ‘30s when kids brought some things and the Home Ec girls prepared it. They made delicious soup.)

In those days long ago all of us recall how special certain days were, like Halloween, Thanksgiving and the Christmas season. Thanksgiving was very special, and I can still see all those Pilgrims, Indians and Turkeys we drew, colored, cut and tacked all around the blackboard.

Schools the size of Pangburn usually opened their basketball season Thanksgiving afternoon. If the weather was good a huge crowd of fans stood and lined the court on both sides and both ends and a good time was had by all. As a young chap I remember watching our school play on this outdoor court at such places as Wilburn, Letona, Heber Springs, Russell and Bradford. In the early ‘20s the ball court used to lie east and west in front of the present old gym. But by the mid ‘20s they bought land to the north and had room for basketball courts and a baseball field. Some of the small country basketball teams had junior players 17 or 18 years of age and some senior teams had big ol’ hairy-chested guys 21 and 22. Pangburn teams were known as the “Zebras” in the ‘20s but by about 1929 or ’30 they changed the mascot to the “Tigers.”

But friends, across the years things have changed. Some things have been added and some have been taken away. We now have water fountains, plumbing, cafeteria and gym. But they have removed the scripture reading, the preachers and the prayers. (This reminds me of this bit of humor where the school principal sees three boys on their knees shooting dice. He rushes up and says, “Oh, go ahead – I thought for a minute you were praying.”) Also some of our old songs like Dixie, Ole Virginny, Old Folks At Home and Ol’ Black Joe are frowned on and objected to in many quarters today.

But, anyway it’s fun to recall our school days once in a while.R.C. McCourt and Leon Van Patten  

R.C. McCourt (left)  is shown with a friend since school days,

Leon Van Patten of Searcy, long-time treasurer of the White County Historical Society.