Monday, March 11, 2013

School Days

"If you think education is expensive, try ignorance."

My grandfather, William J. O'Hara, was an incredibly intelligent and well-educated man, one of the smartest people I've ever known. He was born in 1930, and graduated from high school in 1948, from college in 1952, and from grad school after he'd served in Korea.

I knew that it was unusual that my grandfather and all 3 of his brothers, coming from an urban family of average means, had graduated from college in the 1940s and 1950s. I figured it was something of a historical anomaly - his older brothers had benefited from the GI Bill, and Pop and his younger brother happened to be especially academically inclined. Put it all together and you end up with 4 college degrees.

It had never occurred to me to think that maybe this was by design, that perhaps they came from a family that really valued education. Then I read Pop's list of "Quotes from my Parents." His mother, my great-grandmother Molly Quinn O'Hara, was quoted saying "Get as much education as you can. No matter what happens in life . . . that is the one thing no one can take away from you."

It's clear that my great-grandmother explicitly valued education, and raised her sons to do the same. Molly herself had an 8th grade education, according to information she herself gave on the 1940 Census. Her husband John O'Hara had a 10th grade education.

1940 US Federal Census, O'Hara Family.
This exercise - thinking about education in the O'Hara family - brought to mind another story I'd heard my grandfather tell, back before I began jotting down the things he told us. When he was a young boy, getting ready to start school, the cut-off date to enter school was December 1. Pop's birthday was December 2.

Pop told of being dragged down to the school by his mother as a six-year-old. Molly quite simply insisted to officials that he be allowed to start school with the kids who were 1 day older than he was. She made her case, and she won. My grandfather, with his signature wit, claimed he would have been six months behind in his life, and the rest of us would all be six months younger, had his mother not prevailed - had his mother not been so invested in her sons' educations.

No comments: