Interview with Benjamin Carpenter


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Q: We'll just let that run.

A: All right.

Q: So you basically came here, in talking with Eddie, probably in the early 30's. Is that correct?

carpenter audio (Streamed audio file of interview for this question using RealPlayer)

A: I'm pretty sure it was near then but I don't know the exact date when I came down here. I started here --- I had gone to Lynchburg College. Later on I went down to the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill and got a masters degree in comparative literature.

Q: Was that on kind of a summer program or did you do that --- ?

A: No, it was part of a regular program, a graduate program.

Q: Yes sir.

A: For graduate students, but I've forgotten right much of it.

Q: And you cam back then to this system in Goochland County as a principal from North Carolina.

A: I didn't come directly here, I went to a place over in Hanover. Beaverdam.

Q: I didn't realize you had taught at Beaverdam.

A: Yes, I had.

Q: Were you principal there also?

A: I recall I was principal one of the years, but I don't remember which year off hand. I don't know. There was a man there in Beaverdam or close by one of the years named Maddox. Have you ever heard of a man named William Henry Maddox?

Q: Yes sir.

A: His son was named, I think, for him. He had a store, I don't know exactly where it was at ---. Let me see now. What else did you want to ask me?

Q: You returned here in Goochland in what year?

A: I was right here at Cardwell ---.

Q: Yes sir.

A: I don't know, it was around 1930. I can't say exactly, but I know it was soon after that I joined ---. I went down there in '29 and in 1929, I took a course in comparative literature.

Q: That was in North Carolina?

A: That was in Chapel Hill, the university ---. The fellow that taught me was named Holmes, H-O-L-M-E-S. Well ---.

Q: What in your experience did it take to create a good learning atmosphere in the school?

A: Well, first of all you couldn't learn much unless you had reasonably good order. All the kids would be hollering and throwing erasers all over the class. Every place I've been had a little of that but there was no more at Cardwell than anywhere else. Did you live close to Cardwell?

Q: I lived closer to Goochland.

A: Goochland Courthouse?

Q: Yes sir. Now you went from Cardwell then to Goochland as principal?

A: --- went from Cardwell to Goochland County. When you say Goochland, you're talking about where those offices are?

Q: Yes sir, the high school complex.

A: Yea, there were some bus stops almost across the road there, on 522.

Q: Yes sir, up 522.

A: A bus stop was there, they've moved that now down to the courthouse --- along with everything else there.

Q: What time frame was it when you went to the high school there at Goochland, the consolidated high school? As I recall that was about 1936.

A: Well, I think you're just about as close with that figure as any of them I can remember.

Q: And you went there as the first principal? Or were you the assistant principal when you first went?

A: Let me see. I'm reasonably sure I was assistant ---.

Q: And then you were principal there for what, about 30 years?

A: No, it wasn't quite that long ---, it's just hard for me to remember exact figures on some of these things. I know it wasn't 30 years. I left and went down to Chapel Hill in 1929. I wanted to go back and finish some courses I had started. These courses were in comparative literature so I went back to Chapel Hill ---.

Q: How did you evaluate teachers in those earlier days? They are much more formal about it now but ---.

A: It was largely informal in those days and if you wanted to evaluate a teacher, you always sat down with her privately and talked to her about her work, asked her a few questions, asked if she was enjoying it, were the children giving her any trouble and things like that.

Q: You usually knew if they were giving her trouble already, didn't you?

A: You're doggone right cause that wasn't any trouble to find out. I told them if you're going to go to the high school up there at Goochland Courthouse.

Q: Yes sir.

A: --- than what I've told you ---.

Q: You were there during the integration of the schools as I recall.

A: Oh yes, I was there all right. That was known. Do you remember ---. I've probably asked you this but did you remember that principal? --- He was principal before the schools were integrated ---. Did you remember Pennington? Pennington?

Q: Yes sir.

A: When they integrated the schools, they brought a lot of the Negroes from up at the Negro high school.

Q: Central?

A: Central. Yes. They brought right many of them down to Goochland Courthouse and I think there were some of the whites that went to school up there after this was done --- the Negroes were integrated.

Q: Did the discipline get worse at that time or did everything go fairly smoothly?

A: Well, I think integrating made some improvements in discipline all right but, in any situation, you're always going to have some problems. And some pleasant surprises. Some things worked out fine and some things didn't. Did you remember C. A. Pennington, did you say?

Q: Yes sir.

A: He was in there (Central) before and I think he stayed on at the same school. I know I did. I did some work up there at his school but it was not my main responsibility. I --- somebody too.

Q: In selecting principals, what attributes do you think it takes to make a good principal?

A: Well, I think first of all, he needs to have just a lot of plain common sense. You've got to have some of that ---, it doesn't matter how many courses in education you have, if you're sort of off the mark, you don't get much (done).

Q: Did you have administrative type courses or did you basically go through an academic course and then just pick up the administration through on the job training?

A: Well, so far as I'm concerned, it was pretty much fifty-fifty in my case. I learned a lot by just being on the job. On the other hand, special training in teaching was also very helpful so I would say about fifty-fifty.

Q: What was your biggest concern as a principal?

A: Well, I think that the ---. I think that you can't teach anything unless you've got some kind of order. If you let the kids throw books all over the place, I don't care how well you try to teach them ---, if you let them throw them all over the place, you haven't gotten very far. I think that discipline is one of the essentials. I don't mean, you know, that you have to stand over them with a stick and beat them over the head, but you've got to have their attention - that's the only way you can teach anything - is to get the child's attention. He isn't just going to think it up on his own and sit down and say 'Look here, we want to study the history of the Middle Ages.' That's in Europe, you know, the Middle Ages there. It doesn't mean the middle ages in regard to people, it's a period in history ---; I always found it pleasant. It wasn't my --- but I enjoyed being in school.

Q: As I recall, Goochland had a reputation when you were principal for being a well disciplined school and one that did have an effective ---.

A: Academic?

Q: Academic program.

A: Well, I hope so.

Q: And from your discussion, I think you attribute a good portion of that to the fact that they did maintain good order and discipline in the classroom at that point.

A: Well, you had to have, you had to have some order, you had to have some order. You just couldn't do anything without it.

Q: What do you think of the standards of the school in the more recent years compared to the early years that you were teaching? Do you think they've improved or stayed about the same?

A: Well, I think there has been a considerable amount of improvement in the academic standards ---, in the class work on subject matter. I think that there gradually was an improvement in the general atmosphere. If you don't have some order, you can't do much teaching, I think I've said that ten times already.

Q: Yes sir, it bears repeating though, I think. What were your -- , some of the toughest decisions you were faced with as a principal?

A: Well, I think being involved with the kids. If you had a kid that was giving you a lot of trouble, you had to decide whether to let him stay in school or not. You tried everything you could and if it didn't do any good then you had to ---, there wasn't much choice there except to suspend him. You didn't do that until after you talked to the kid, to the parents and to the teacher.

Q: How about the relationship with the school board? Was that a continuous one? How would you view that?

A: Well, when I first went up to Goochland High School, up there in the brick school, we had a little office, the superintendents' office was across the road. And a little bit up on ---, up toward 264. We had a bus stop there. Our office was --- a little building, which was an old school building, an old wooden building and I was fairly close at the Goochland High School. In fact, I wasn't very far from any other county schools. I found that to be a big advantage, to keep close contact, with the close and direct contact with all the other schools in the system. Then you had to have not only the respect of the teachers, but the respect of the kids. Kids can make it pretty rough on you, even though they may be pretending they're just dying to get something done. It's just not always that way. So, you have to have their respect.

Q: What are, what are, some of the more effective characteristics, you think, associated with good schools, not just the ones you were associated with but any secondary schools? There are probably things that you ran across that said, 'This is a good school for the following reasons'.

A: Well, I think that your teaching staff must know what it's doing. That includes a knowledge of subject matter as well as how to teach. They had to know ---, they had to teach the material they had, the books they had to use in teaching had to be used in an effective way. You couldn't, I don't care how good a book of instructions you may have had on teaching, if you let the kids do what they wanted to do, they'd be throwing erasers across the room all day long. So it's a combination of the two, I think.

Q: The schools you were in, for the most part, have been smaller rural schools.

A: That's right, that's right.

Q: I would, I would wonder how you would compare the quality of education in the smaller schools compared to some of the larger ones you've been exposed to?

A: Well, that's a little difficult to say. The larger school systems usually have more funds to employ teachers because they are drawing from more people and they are able to pay for better teachers, for one thing. So I think that's a very important aspect of it. You had to have, it takes some money, to a large extent, to furnish order. You've got to have a good teacher and you've got to have a good principal but then you've got to be willing to keep order. I guess that's about as good as I can do on that.

Q: How much of your time would you say you were spending on the building and grounds versus, say the involvement with the instructional curriculum?

A: Well, first I had to have more training in teaching the curriculum than in supervising construction. We usually could get people who had a considerable amount of experience in building things but who had no experience in how to teach. We could go out and build a barn if you wanted to put it that way but if they didn't know something about teaching, they didn't make a very good teacher.

Q: I was thinking a little more of the time it took you involved, say, with just the building of the school itself, not in the construction but in the heating and maintenance and that type of stuff.

A: That took right much time but I devoted a lot more time to what the children were doing in the classroom and how well their teachers were performing and --- whether or not the furnace was working all right or not.

Q: Mr. Morrison took care of that, didn't he?

A: Yes, he worked there in the high school.

Q: What do you think was the main --- to your success as a principal and I think, by anybody's principles, you were a success there?

A: Well, I don't know that I was so exceptional, I wouldn't go around and say I'm the best school principal in the state. I wouldn't have gone and done that at all, I don't think ---.

Q: I was not thinking about the best but, I think certainly one of the best.

A: To use the words again, I did the best I could. I think, at least, I had the respect of the teachers and children; you've got to have that. You've got to have both the teachers and the students respect your ability to do the job properly. If you don't, you're really out of luck.

Q: To get back again to the integration, I would think, in looking back on it, Goochland probably learned a lot from its neighbors and didn't get into some of the major, major problems that were surfacing in other counties?

A: Well, I think that's true. And our --- systems we're bound to learn something from some of the adjacent systems, from those of the other systems that are close by. We're bound to learn something from that; I think that's important.

Q: What do you attribute that to? Was it the parents involvement, was it the school board or was it the school administration at that point, that basically prevented some of the major splits that occurred in other counties?

A: Well, I think that you had to have a good teaching staff and that meant a knowledge of the subject and a knowledge of children and the willingness to work with them. You also needed a good maintenance staff, the people who did the work in cleaning up and straightening the classroom up and trying to see to it that things were in order when school opened. Then those people ---, we didn't have too many on a daily basis but we had right many of them before we opened. But we still continued to use maintenance personnel as people who came in and swept, cleaning the floors and trying to straighten up the classroom and things like that. We still have those but you didn't have as much of that after school started as you did before it started. But you had to have your children there before it started. That was easy ---. But if you didn't do anything with the children, they didn't learn anything and that was the most important of all, seeing to it that the children learned. People varied a lot in that respect, some teachers could do very well if they were working with a certain group of kids. If you put another group of kids in there, they had trouble with them. Or sometimes you had a weak teacher; you'd find that they couldn't work with any kids. So, you had to try to find some place where you could put them where they wouldn't actually teach as much. So you were always shifting things around a little.

Q: Did you ever have to fire a teacher?

A: Well, I didn't do that. The school board were the ones who did it but sometimes I would suggest to the school board that the teacher was not able to do an effective job. And they would have to take it from there. I didn't take on the entire responsibility but I could suggest ---.

Q: How about the busing issue that was associated with the integrating? Busing, of course, was a big issue in a lot of schools, but in a county like one you were in it was routine to be bused anyway. I was ---, busing was not an integration issue, per se, but more of an indication, in some areas, of the reluctance to integrate. I'm just wondering if you saw that in the Goochland County schools?

A: Well I think we already saw some of that. It wasn't a major problem, but to some extent we had it. I think some of the things that helped to maintain order on the school buses as well as it did was to put in regular seats so you had just a small seat on the window and then that platform down the middle there, the little tiny seats. It was hard for the kids to get in and out of the school buses we had in that day. And I think the improvement, the improvement, in the construction of the bus was important in how good the conduct was and how good the bus was designed had a lot to do with it. Let me see, is there anything else you had in mind there?

Q: What ---, in today's environment, what do you think could be done to improve the quality of education in the public schools?

A: Well, I think first there is always room for improvement in instruction. And that requires improvement in the teachers ability to teach. Not only the ability to teach but the knowledge of what they're teaching, the subject they're teaching. I think they're very important. I think you've got to have some order in any school system. If the kids throw books all over the place and then when the teacher comes in they don't pay any attention to her whatever, you've got a hell of a situation. So ---.

Q: There are some recent studies that have been done and basically the recommendations are that the concentration on the methods of educating be downgraded somewhat and more concentration --- on the subject matter itself. Would you comment on that type of emphasis?

A: Well, I'd be inclined to think you have to have a good knowledge of the subject matter before you can do much with getting pretty close to the student. Any teacher will have to do that but you also have to have the ability to teach it before -- .

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