Myinformant was Mrs. Smith, an 88 year old granny who is a distantrelative. Mrs. Smith was born in Los Angeles and was raised thereduring her childhood to adulthood. She is of African American originand studied in a public school in Los Angeles with other blackchildren. Mrs. Smith was the only girl in a family of five and wasborn of African American parents. During her times, racialsegregation was at the peak. There were separate schools for whiteAmerican children and for black children. Mostly, black childrenstudied in public schools where education was free. Children of whiteAmericans could afford private schools where they could pay for theireducation. In addition, education during this time was not compulsoryas it is today. Parents could opt to keep their children at home orworking in the fields to make income for the family. AfricanAmericans were generally poor and relied on providing labor to earn aliving. The interview sought to understand what education was offeredduring the time, where it was provided, the relationship betweenchildren and teachers, any subjects that the informant did not likeor any teacher who was friendly or unfriendly.
Theinterview was conducted in a face to face interaction with Mrs.Smith. I had visited her in her up country farm where she practicespoultry farming. It was on 10thof April, 2015 at around 7.00 pm after she had completed her day’swork. We had dinner together as she had accepted my request to visitand spend the weekend at her home. The interview took one and a halfhours. During the interview, I recorded the conversation in my tabletwhich I later used to make notes that were useful in developing myfinal oral history interview project.
Mrs.Smith childhood was at a time when education was not considered anecessity especially for the minority groups. Being an AfricanAmerican, she had very rare chances of joining a school for someformal education. She notes that, much of her early years educationwere in fact informal. She learnt things that were aligned to hergender a woman. She was taught at home different roles includingsewing, hairdressing, caring for a patient, washing clothes as wellas how to cook.
Formaleducation was mostly for boys. Luckily her father saw the importanceof letting her join her brothers in school being the only daughter.In the school, they were all blacks as schools were separated inregard to color.
Inschool, Mrs. Smith learnt different subjects including arithmetic,English language, business, sciences and social sciences. Herfavorite subject was social science. She noted that, the reason whyshe preferred social science over other sciences and mathematics wasbecause, most of the content revolved around her gender role as agirl. She despised arithmetic in particular as it was largelyassociated with the male gender.
Ather childhood education, Mrs. Smith says that teachers were generallyvery tough with children. A teacher would do anything to punish achild who disobeyed or failed to understand an assignment. Teachersused paddles or rulers to hit children who were on the wrong. Inparticular, the head teacher was very tough and Mrs. Smith and otherchildren did not like him. The head teacher just like most teacherscycled to school. When children saw the head teacher riding to schoolon his bicycle, they ran as first as their legs could carry them ashe would punish them for arriving in school after him. Generally, allteachers were tough and were not friendly to children. They instilledhigh level of discipline. Even a slight mistake earned a thoroughpunishment from a teacher.
Childrenused to go to school at 9.00 am and lunch and dinner was servedbetween 12.00 noon to 2.00 pm. Children would leave for their homesat 4.00pm. Students were allowed to carry slices of bread to school.However, most students having come from poor families were not ableto carry anything to school. The Great Economic Depression of the1930 had badly hit the country pushing most families especially theblacks to high levels of poverty.
Theeducation of the early 20thcentury is different from today in several ways as established in theinterview. First today children intermingle freely in public schoolsunlike in the past when they were separated on basis of color. Mrs.Smith remembers a landmark ruling on Brown vs The Board on which thecomplainant wanted black students to be allowed to study with theircounterpart white children. The ruling of the case was what allowedthe situation to be the way it is today. In addition, boys and girlshave equal participation in schools today unlike in the past. Theycompete fairly on all subjects and are able to pursue their careersof choice without the limitations of traditional gender roles.Education today is also compulsory for all children regardless oftheir gender, color or religion. Learning today has also changed withthe curriculum meant to meet the growing economic, social, politicaland technological developments.
Duringthe oral history interview, various techniques of conducting oralhistory interview were employed. The first technique that I utilizedwas to contact my informant and explain to her of my project and myintentions to interview her (Thompson,2000).I interacted with her before setting a date for the interview so asto ensure that she was comfortable having an interview with me. I seta date for the interview at her home an environment that I knew wascomfortable with her.
Beforethe day of the interview, I made a list of questions that were toguide me on the interview. This was t allow me collect theinformation regarding my issue education during the early 20thcentury and how it is different from today. These questions ensuredthat I stayed on track during the interview. In addition, I was ableto test my recorder so as to ensure that it won’t fail me on theday of the interview (Anderson& Jack, 1991).
Onthe day of the interview, I carried with me a consent form which Ipresented to my informant. I read it to her and asked her if therewas anything that she could not understand in the form (Gillham,2005).I also wanted to know if there were any special conditions she wouldlike to be imposed before we carried on with the interview (Berg,Lune & Lune, 2004).She was comfortable with the interview and even agreed for her photoand name to be attached to the recorded interview.
Inaddition, we tested ourselves on the recorder before the interview toensure that we were audible and to countercheck that the recorder wasstill intact. After a moment, we were both sure that we were readyfor the interview. We kicked off with the interview. I kept my selfclear with the questions, ensuring that the recording was not aboutme, but about the interviewee’s education during her childhood. Theinterview was successful and in ninety minutes time we were done.
Afterthe interview, we listened to the interview together and when myinterview wanted to add anything, I took notes. I later made notesthat would help me in writing my oral history interview report (Jaber& Holstein, 2002).I compiled the report. I also edited the recorded interview in thehistory department using a computer. I made a copy for myself and myinformant as she had requested to be given a copy of the same for herown use. The original copy was left with the department for use infuture.
Aftercarrying out this interview, I acquired confidence in oral historyinterview. I realized that I was conversant with the varioustechniques of carrying out interviews in oral history. The interviewwas not like a normal conversation. The questions I had set guidedthe conversation hence providing answers to my quest in regard toeducation during my informant’s childhood. If I were to carry outanother interview, I would follow the same steps for efficiency.Overall, I enjoyed my experience in my interview.
Anderson,K., & Jack, D. C. (1991). Learning to listen: Interviewtechniques and analyses. Women’swords: The feminist practice of oral history,11-26.
Berg,B. L., Lune, H., & Lune, H. (2004). Qualitativeresearch methods for the social sciences(Vol. 5). Boston, MA: Pearson.
Gillham,B. (2005). Researchinterviewing: The range of techniques: A practical guide.McGraw-Hill International.
JaberF. Gubrium, & James A. Holstein (Eds.). (2002). Handbookof interview research: Context and method.Sage.
Thompson,P. (2000). Voiceof the past: Oral history.Oxford University Press.