Back to School

Boy, am I glad I don’t have kids !

For the reason only that if they were like some young adults in this current culture, they might rebel against my choice for their education or lack a desire to have an education at all and that would be unfathomable.   On the other hand, while I’m fantasizing,  I’ll picture my kids having an inquisitive,  compliant and reasonable nature, and starting off young with a solid and tough education.

When I say “tough” I mean that if they would not want to go to school, I’d say, “Tough. You’re going.”

Where do you find an education today that connects the global culture of the present towards a future and solidifies it on the base of a classical foundation?  A place where technology is not something to do the work for you.   A place where intense research, studying, and critical thinking are required.   A place where multiple languages and Latin are still required.   A library where classical books are mandatory and their titles do not include the words “for dummies.”

In history, some educational settings had their perks and sometimes I wish the old days would still be with us – at least in this case, because my fantasy children would have attended the (ta dah ♫) Rock Hill Academy in Ellicott City.

Of course the downside for that time in history was that it was only for males.    If it could be as it was, but in current times, females would certainly be included.


Rock Hill College, as it later became known in Ellicott City, was a non-parochial boarding preparatory (age 9 and up) and collegiate school. It was founded in 1824 and purchased in 1857 by the Institute of Brothers of the Christian Schools.   In 1866, Brother Azarias (Patrick Francis Mullany) was their professor of mathematics and literature.    By 1879 to 1886, he was the president.

In a written description by E.M.Harn:

“Through its halls have passed men who have reached high positions in law, medicine, engineering and society.    Some of the big financial institutions of our country have been directed by graduates of this institution, and the progress in science has been motivated in no small degree by those who attended classes at Rock Hill College.    I could mention the names of men from Rock Hill whose work has adorned the history of intelligent enthusiasms for research, but I hesitate to give these names for fear I may err in the proper listing of their names and their fields.    Justice White, John Coniff, Fred Coleman, Admiral Stromberg, Louis Hanisman, Wm. P. Ryan, John Egerton, Thomas Lee, Guy Steel, William E. Talbott, Gus Hayward, Sydney Hayward, Judge Henisler and William Bauman are a few that memory accurately recalls. All th[ese] have made great strides in the fiduciary, legal, medical, and teaching activities.

Rock Hill College was built up from a very small speck in the educational world until it became real influence in the educational world. It drew its students from France, Mexico, South America, Canada, and from nearly every state east of the Mississippi. The reputation of the college grew from the teaching that was done within it.”

Apparently Baltimore architect George A. Frederick was involved with Rock Hill’s design.   Harn further describes the physical parts of the college as:

 “…one stone building consisting of four parts.    One included the Freshman classroom and Library, over which was the Chapel [built by St. Paul’s Catholic Church].   Next to this were the parlors under which were the storerooms and refectories.   Then came the dormitories and lavatories under which were the band room and Senior and Junior classrooms.   Beyond these were the Sophomore Class rooms, and the physics and chemistry laboratory over which were the study rooms of the Brothers and the Presidents office. On the top story were the visitor’s room and the rooms for the secular teachers. These were all the component parts of the stone building of the college.

Facing the campus was another building – a frame building in which was the study hall for students on the first floor.   On the second story were the classrooms of the Preparatory Department.   This building was attached to the previously mentioned stone building by a frame structure open entirely on the side facing the campus.

Across the campus was the gymnasium in which was built a complete stage and accessories.   In it were the machines and appurtenances of the gymnasium.   When the movable objects used in the gymnasium were removed a very beautiful assembly hall resulted.   In this, assemblies and theatrical entertainment were given.   The gymnasium was built after 1892.

The last building erected by the college was the smoking, or clubroom where young men, who had written permission from their parents to smoke, congregated to enjoy this diversion.


The college also owned forty acres of land on the New Cut Road, a short distance from the college. It was a recreation field for the students as well as a pasture for a very fine herd of cattle.   On the base of a hill at forty acres was a spring from which water was piped to the college.”

There is a discrepancy as to what happened after the college burned January 26, 1923.   Harn said that the college site was sold to Howard County and on it stands the present Ellicott City High School.  The “Forty Acres” was sold as the Brothers did not desire to rebuild.   On the other hand, current sources say the students merged with Calvert Hall College High School.  Then a new elementary school was built in 1926 and used through 1976.   After that, the Worthington Elementary School opened and in 1991, it all became Greystone condos.

What’s more interestingly important is a personal recollection by Mr. Harn, who attended Rock Hill, of its educational levels and mandatory courses:

“An almost purely didactic form of teaching was pursued. There was one course, and everybody took it. If his mark met the requirements, he was graduated, if it did not come up to the standard, he sought other places which suited him to what he was able to do.  The loafer soon found he had no place in Rock Hill College.  There was a preparatory course for those who were not ready for college work. The regular college work was very thorough, nor did it stop with just a smattering of the subject.

The course in Mathematics included Plane geometry, Solid geometry, Analytical geometry, Differential and Integral Calculus, Surveying, Navigation and Astronomy.  The Algebra ran to higher forms [than] that was usually given; the fact is, we students found that the Algebra course was, in the Junior year, more of a university set-up than it was a regular college requirement.

The courses in Science were very tough.    The mathematical requirements in Physics were so trying that we students pronounced mathematical physics harder than calculus or analytics.  We had in Chemistry to do both the qualitative and quantitative forms of the subject and write out the reactions and the calculations.

One thing that I could never understand is why the subject of Bookkeeping was given in the Sophomore year. Probably the good Brothers wanted us to know the difference between exact recordings of transactions and the manipulations of accounts.

In English we had our trials with grammar as well as the pleasure of an intense study of English classics.   Creative composition work was stressed, for as one Brother put it:

“I would rather have fifty cents in a restaurant than to have a million dollars in a big hotel in which I could buy nothing.”

Of course, his meaning was that education did not produce unless one could express himself that he might transfer this thought.   We had to learn to “peddle our wares.”

In French, the course led from the simple narratives to the reading of classical French authors.   We were taught to read and write French.   I do not remember but one teacher who insisted on French pronunciation.  Today, I am sure I could not ask a Frenchman for fish and not be sure I would receive poison.

Latin and Greek – the bane of life to some fellows but sweet study grounds for others. These courses were very thorough.  The grammar of the languages were intensely studious. The courses included [reading] Livy, Ovid, Cicero, Virgil, Terence, Horace and Tacitus.  At least I remember these.  There may have been others.  Then, “miserable dictu” we had to study “Latin Prosody.”  It was a torment to the mind and a torture to the flesh.   When Cicero exclaimed, “Timeo hominem unius libri” I could easily read “I fear a man of one book.”  Whether he wanted me to say unius (short i ) or unius (long i) mattered little to me, but prosody said [one way] had to be or else Professor McLaughlin scowled over his glasses.

In Greek, the grammar was also stressed. Oh, those Greek accents, their Theia numbers, their three voices! And don’t forget irregular verbs – worse than French verbs. We started with Xenaphon and wound up with the Iliad. In between, we read plays by Sophocles, Euripides and Aeschylus.   Also we read selections from Herodotus, Thucyclides, Plato, Aristotle and Aristophanes and the “De Corokia[?] of Demosthenes.

The German literature made no appeal to me, but I had to take it.   Probably Goethe’s Faust might be beautiful poetry, but to several of us it was but jargon.

The Philosophy course was delightful.  We had Psychology (in Latin), Logic (Theoretical and Applied), Metaphysics, Ethics, Philosophy of Literature, Philosophy of Style and Philosophy of History.  The discussions of Balmes in his reply to Guizot charmed the whole class.

In the study of Evidences of Religion, we found scope for the application of our knowledge. Compte, Kant, Hamilton, Suarez, Bellarmine, Spinosa, Nietzsche, Plato, Aristotle and others came up for discussion.”

I notice in Harn’s description, that the “Fine Arts” were not taught, as perhaps that was left for creative females to learn in other places.   I dare presume they had no qualified artists to teach art, or no man who paid for boarding school wanted his son to be an artist painting pansies or starting a revolution.

But overall, the qualities Harn mentioned even I didn’t get in Howard High — being categorized and encapsulated into a “General” curriculum.   And it is true that in my six college years at MICA, it was all I could do to get through Ulysses let alone the Tropic of Capricorn.

But my fantasy kids would have all excelled at Rock Hill and become famous revolutionaries too.

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