Instances of Discovery

Since August 2007 I have been a monthly columnist for the St. Cloud Times. My theme, taken from the mission statement of the Collegeville Institute for Ecumenical and Cultural Research, is “the renewal of human community.” The columns are republished here with permission of the St. Cloud Times.

Column #100. First published in the St. Cloud Times online and in print Nov. 1, 2015

What was being said in these parts 100 years ago, when our ancestors were deciding whether to build a new school that would become Tech High School?  Stearns History Museum is a good place to find out.

In an invaluable booklet by Gertrude B. Gove, “History of Technical High,” I learned about the decision where to build — and laughed out loud.

The place chosen was not a foregone conclusion.  Gove wrote this about the verdict: “It is to P.J. Seberger more than any other person that the Tech High School pupils are indebted for the location of their school.”  The board initially scoffed at his suggestion.  “Why do you want to go out to St. Augusta?”  Eventually they approved the idea, in part because it “was near to what was coming to be a large residential section of St. Cloud.”  Imagine: thinking of the west side of Lake George as St. Augusta!

Gove, writing in 1935, traces the story of public education in St. Cloud back to 1858.  When the board of education in 1913 began envisioning and planning the new school, they had nearly 60 years of growth and development — in short, tradition — to feel responsible to.

But the past mustn’t straitjacket the present.  As one of the speakers at the dedication of the new school on May 1, 1917, said, “Education is keeping step with the march of progress.  New occasions bring new duties.”  This is just as true in the early 21st century as it was in the early 20th.

That dedication ceremony is recounted at length in a St. Cloud Daily Times article, “New high school opens with speaking by many well known educators."

The Times calls the then-new Tech “the greatest monument erected in the city of St. Cloud” and “this emblem of integrity on the part of the people.”  The article’s subhead declares, “Public institutions here during last few years have shown wonderful development.”

Civic pride a century ago resonates with what I feel when I think about Lake George, the St. Cloud Public Library, River’s Edge Convention Center,  the soon-to-be St. Cloud Area YMCA Community & Aquatics Center, core neighborhood revitalization, and especially the community priorities.

We wouldn’t put the desired effect of our new Tech and renovated Apollo in the words they used back then, but we can sense people’s delight and hope as they toured the structure that day in 1917 and had “an opportunity to view with pride the many merits of this splendid building, destined to be the greatest factor in the development of the proper type of manhood and womanhood as well as the proper type of citizenship.”

I’m glad today we’re skeptical of one “proper” type of just about anything.  In our early 21st-century global society, a goal of education is not to conform our students to a “type,” but to help all students flourish in their own multiple unique ways.  The new Tech and renovated Apollo, organized around flexible and interactive learning communities, will encourage students to discover together who they are, not become what we’ve decided they’re supposed to be.

E.V. Campbell praised those gathered on May 1, 1917 for stepping up to support a project a good deal more expensive than its predecessor, the Union School.  The new Tech, he said, “showed the development of the city” since his days on the board of education, when the Union School was built.

The most compelling words I discovered in my historical sleuthing were spoken at that dedication ceremony by C.A. Chapman, the architect.

Chapman “stated that there were three units absolutely necessary before beginning and during the construction” of such a building.

One “is a board of education willing to give of their time to the best advantage and study the problems connected with the construction.”  This unit he found “very prominent here in St. Cloud.”  This is as true of today’s board as it was of their peers a century ago.

Another unit necessary “is the superintendent of the schools.  Supt. Maxson, like the board of education, put his heart and soul into the project.”  This is as true of Superintendent Willie Jett II as it was of Maxson.

And finally, the most important of Chapman’s three units 100 years ago: “a clear conception of the fact that the people wish the erection of the building.  The people of St. Cloud proved this to the satisfaction of everyone by the voting at the election called for that purpose.”

I hope the Times can report that on Nov. 3, 2015 “the people of School District 742 proved to the satisfaction of everyone that they wished construction of a new Tech and renovation of Apollo by voting Yes! at the election called for that purpose.”