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Dream Not of Other Worlds

Teaching in a Segregated Elementary School,1970

Huston Diehl

Publication Year: 2007

When Huston Diehl began teaching a fourth-grade class in a "Negro" elementary school in rural Louisa County, Virginia, the school’s white superintendent assured her that he didn't expect her to teach "those children" anything.  She soon discovered how these low expectations, widely shared by the white community, impeded her students' ability to learn. With its overcrowded classrooms, poorly trained teachers, empty bookshelves, and meager supplies, her segregated school was vastly inferior to the county's white elementary schools, and the message it sent her students was clear: "dream not of other worlds."
     In her often lyrical memoir, Diehl reveals how, in the intimacy of the classroom, her students reached out to her, a young white northerner, and shared their fears, anxieties, and personal beliefs.  Repeatedly surprised and challenged by her students, Diehl questions her long-standing middle-class assumptions and confronts her own prejudices. In doing so, she eloquently reflects on what the students taught her about the hurt of bigotry and the humiliation of poverty as well as dignity, courage, and resiliency.
      Set in the waning days of the Jim Crow South, Dream Not of Other Worlds chronicles an important moment in American history. Diehl examines the history of black education in the South and narrates the dramatic struggle to integrate Virginia's public schools. Meeting with some of her former students and colleagues and visiting the school where she once taught, she considers what has--and has not--changed after more than thirty years of integrated schooling. This provocative book raises many issues that are of urgent concern today: the continuing social consequences of segregated schools, the role of public education in American society, and the challenges of educating minority and poor children.  

Published by: University of Iowa Press


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Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. xi-xiv

Dream Not of Other Worlds is a memoir about my experience teaching in a segregated “Negro” elementary school in rural Louisa County, Virginia. The year was 1970, and I was a twenty-one-year-old white woman who had never lived in the South and who knew nothing about African American culture. I was my students’ first white...

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A Part of Me

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pp. 1-36

"Of course,” Dr. Martin assured me as he shook my hand, “I don’t expect you to teach those children anything.” Speaking in the soft, courtly drawl of a Virginia gentleman, he emphasized, ever so slightly, the words “those children” so that I would understand and appreciate the unspoken difference between them and the two of us. “All I ask,” he added, “is that you maintain order.” And with no...

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Concerning This Little Frightened Child

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pp. 37-61

At the end of the school day one February afternoon, shortly after my students had filed out of the classroom to catch their buses, Victor reappeared at my door. He had forgotten his math book. After rummaging frantically in his desk, he finally located it and charged back out of the room. A few minutes later, however, he was back and near...

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Reach up Your Hand, Dark Boy, and Take a Star

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pp. 62-89

Derrick could barely read. Held back the previous year and self-consciously towering over the younger children, he was in danger of failing the fourth grade yet again, and that prospect terrified him. Derrick struggled to master the printed page. Approaching each reading assignment with a gritty determination, he tried valiantly to conquer the letters arrayed against him on the page, willing them...

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Larger Than Truth Can Be

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pp. 90-115

Early one Saturday in March, Bill and I visited a nineteenth-century mill near where we lived. I have photographs we took of the mill that day. A barnlike structure with a high-pitched roof, it juts out over a turbulent river, anchored by massive stone pylons. Traces of snow still cover the north side of the roof in my photo, but spring has clearly...

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Where is the Jim Crow Section on the Merry Go Round?

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pp. 116-140

"BLACK AMERICANS MAKE PROGRESS,” the headline of the Weekly Reader announced in large block letters. I smiled to myself as I picked up the parcel of newspapers reserved for my class in the main office. I had been teaching at Morton Elementary for more than a month, and I had been searching for instructional materials on African...

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The Too-Rough Fingers of the World

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pp. 141-174

"There’s your problem,” Mrs. Stockton warned me during my first week at Morton, pointing to a good-looking boy seated in the back right-hand corner of the room. Marcus wasn’t from Louisa County. He had grown up in an impoverished section of Alexandria, Virginia, one of eight children. His mother was a prostitute and an alcoholic. His...

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It was a long time ago

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pp. 175-214

I left Louisa that June, and I didn’t return for thirty-one years. In the intervening time, I went to graduate school and became a professor of English. I divorced and remarried (twice), acquired stepchildren, had a daughter, and raised a family. After studying and teaching at a number of universities, I joined the faculty of the University of Iowa and settled in Iowa City. I...

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pp. 215-224

A year after I quit my job at Z. C. Morton Elementary School, I took a summer work-study job at the Wright School, an integrated state elementary school for emotionally disturbed children in Durham, North Carolina. There, I assisted an experienced teacher with a master’s degree, working closely with the young children in our...

Notes on Sources

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pp. 225-237


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pp. 239-243

E-ISBN-13: 9781587297168
E-ISBN-10: 1587297167
Print-ISBN-13: 9780877459965
Print-ISBN-10: 0877459967

Page Count: 261
Publication Year: 2007

Edition: 1

OCLC Number: 294858572
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Dream Not of Other Worlds

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Segregation in education -- Virginia -- Louisa County -- Case studies.
  • First year teachers -- Case studies.
  • African Americans -- Education -- Virginia -- Louisa County -- Case studies.
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