100 Sorry Examination Questions and Incorrect English!

Charles L Coon Test

Charles L Coon Test 2

Charles L. Coon (1868-1927), the former superintendent of Wilson County Schools was known as a strict disciplinarian and incorrigible pedant.  He also thought teachers needed a good slap now and again. (To be fair he also worked really hard for quality education for African Americans before he completely lost their trust by slapping one of their teachers for contradicting him).  But who knew he was so funny.  Here is some of his greatest hits in pedantry and usage of the exclamation point in his tear-down of the test questions written by  Wilson County teachers in the early 1920’s.  He also seems to be an early proponent of the Common Core.

Some of my favorites are

  • “Deamons!”(The dictionary says it is demons!)
  • “Give four habits of good health you have learned to do this year.” (The verb to do is surplusage.) Superintendent Coon  made up a new word called surplusage! Ok it is a real word, but it hasn’t been used since Chaucer’s daddy.
  • “What is a food?”  Either not a very hard question or existential. Charles L Coon English 2

Charles L Coon English

Wilson County Schools 1914-1924


Johnson’s School– One of the many one-room school houses that would be abolished by consolidation.


C. L. Coon High school, one of the four high schools build with bond money. Originally, when it opened in 1923 it was name Wilson High School, but after C. L. Coon’s death in 1927 from throat cancer it was renamed for him.

As a consequence of trying to discern the photographer(s) of a collection of photographs of every school in Wilson County in the 1920’s and the reasoning behind why someone made such a complete photographic record, I fortuitously came upon a detailed report on the Wilson County school system during the same period with copies of the same photographs in the report.

In 1924 the Wilson County Board of Education published a report on the progress of the preceding ten years of the educational system in Wilson County entitled, The Public Schools of Wilson County.  If the stats were accurate it looked like the educational system was doing extraordinarily well under the dynamic leadership of the school superintendent Charles L. Coon, who had been superintendent since 1907.  The stats show exponential increases in all areas from the value of school property ($128,000 in 1913 to $1,482,330 in 1924) to an increase in enrollment by 68% and an increase in attendance by 82%.  Also, four new high schools were built during the period and the county’s first school buses were implemented carrying 2,200 children daily.

All of these achievements would be considered remarkable in any decade.  But the fact that they were achieved in the early 1900’s in a mostly rural, agricultural county makes it all the more impressive.  The driving force behind the positive changes was Coon’s method of consolidating schools, creating school transportation, implementing a county-wide school tax, issuing bonds for school construction, implementing strict discipline for students and teachers and being very selective in hiring the very best teachers available while paying them the highest salaries in the state.  All of these policies together brought about the blooming of education in Wilson County.

However, not all was rosey. African American teacher’s pay, at $383.00, was still strikingly lower than the white teacher’s pay, $1,031.00, even though it had been increased 100 percent in the preceding ten years.  This is evidence of the long road that was yet to be travelled to true universal education for all students, especially since Charles L. Coon was the leading advocate in North Carolina for equal education for African American children, a stance that made him not a few enemies in some southern states.  (Contrarily, Charles Coon had caused an uproar in the African American community in Wilson County after he slapped a black teacher when she argued with him about the performance of her students.  The enraged black community took their children out of the county schools for a period of time.  So Charles, despite his work for equality, still exhibited some decidedly non-modern traits.)


Statistics published in the Public Schools of Wilson County report


Some of Coon’s tough policies had their detractors, especially the strict requirements for teachers written into their contracts, which many of the newspapers in North Carolina jumped on and ridiculed as absurd once they got wind of it.

Here is an extract of the contract and it is a wee bit puritanical:

I will take a vital interest in church and Sunday School work and other community activities; that I will not entertain company until late hours at night and thus render my school work next day inefficient; that I will not attend sorry moving picture and vaudeville shows; that I will not fall in love or become familiar with high school pupils; that I will not attend card and dancing parties; that I will not fail to use good sense and discretion in the company I keep; that I will use the best endeavors during the year to improve my work as a teacher; and that I will do nothing to bring disrepute on the home in which I live or to cause right thinking people to speak disparagingly of me and of my work (Willard, 1966).

But the overall great success of the policies that Coon had introduced caused other counties in North Carolina to adopt some of his methodologies, especially in the areas of school consolidation and school transportation.

Now all of the pictures produced for this report  can be found on our Flickr page.  Many of the images are of the one room school houses that were abolished by Charles L. Coon in his school consolidation, so ironically some of the only photographic records of these historic buildings are from his survey for the The Public Schools of Wilson County report.

Also, I never found out who the photographers were.


Willard, George-Anne (1968). Charles Lee Coon: North Carolina Crusader for Social Justice.  Unpublished Master’s thesis.  University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

The Public Schools of Wilson County (1924).

Charles L. Coon, Progressive Educator and Human Rights Advocate


Charles L. Coon with Wilson, NC school children circa 1913

Last Friday the library was given a highy significant gift of education related photographs of Wilson during the early 20th century as well as monographs and documents pertaining to the emminent progressive thinker and educator Charles L. Coon (1868-1927).  Charles L. Coon was a man before his time in his advocation of child labor laws and fight for equal education for African Americans.  He was derided by the Raleigh News and Observer of the era but was much loved by many of the citizens of Wilson and the hundreds of school children that he taught and fought for in his positions as superintendant of Salisbury, NC schools, African American normal schools and Wilson County, NC schools.  He also served as president of Wilson Welfare League, secretary of the North Carolina Child Labor Committee and directly involved in starting and the funding of the Negro Tuberculosis Sanitorium in Wilson, NC.  Unfortunately he didn’t live to see the defeat of the mill owner lobby with the passing of the child labor laws in 1938 or the dismantling of the Jim Crow South in the 1960’s but he is remembered as an early fighter for human rights in the American South.