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Sunday, December 18, 2016

132. Walking Around Monongahela: The Underground History of American Education by John Taylor Gatto from archive.org

Walking Around Monongahela 

We're back in Monongahela now, a town of strong principles even if some are wacky or 
plain wrong. Pragmatism is a secondary theme here, scorned by most unless it keeps to 
its place, a bittersweet oddity because practicality is the town's lingua franca. The 
phenomenon of open scorn for the lower orders isn't seen in my Valley, never to the 
degree I experienced it later in Ithaca, Cambridge, and Manhattan. The oppressed are 
insufficiently docile in Monongahela for anyone to revile openly. So the Pinkerton 
detectives found out when they went to do Andrew Carnegie's dirty work at Homestead 
during the steel strike of 1893. There is only one restaurant in the town proper, "Peters." 



It's a place where the country club set drinks coffee alongside rubber jockeys from the 
tire vulcanizing shop across the street. 

Several nights a week, long after dark when house lights were blazing, Mother would 
gather Sister and me for long quiet walks up Second Street hill to the very top, then along 
the streets on the ridge line parallel to the river. From these excursions and the morning 
walks on River Hill I learned to listen to my senses and see that town as a creature in 
itself instead of a background for my activity. We would walk this way for hours, 
whispering to each other, looking in windows, and as we walked, Bootie would deliver 
an only partially intelligible stream of biographical lore about the families within. I 
realize now that she must have been talking to herself. It was like having a private 
Boswell to the Dr. Johnson of town society. When she had some money, which was now 
and then, we would buy candy at the little grocery at the top of the hill and share it 
together, sometimes two candy bars for the three of us or in flush times a whole bar 
each — and in the weeks following Christmas when there was holiday money, two each. 
On two-candy nights the atmosphere seemed so filled with chocolate perfume that I could 
hardly sleep. 

When my granddad was a boy in Monongahela he watched John Blythe, a planing mill 
operator, rebuild large sections of the town in the Italianate style. Blythe had no degree, 
and the religion of professional licensing was still in infancy, so he just did it without 
asking anyone's permission. Whole sections of the town are now handsome beyond any 
reasonable right to be because nobody stopped him. If you see a keystone over a window 
molding, it's likely to be one of John's. 

When my granddad was a boy in Monongahela he used to sit in Mounds Park, site of two 
ancient burial mounds left there by the Adena people three thousand years ago. In 1886, 
the Smithsonian robbed those graves and took the contents to Washington where they 
still sit in crates. To compensate the town, the government built a baseball field where the 
mounds had been. When my granddad was a boy, school was voluntary. Some went, but 
most not for long. It was a free will choice based on what you valued, not a government 
hustle to stabilize social classes. 

The College Of Zimmer And Hegel 

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