The Education of President Harry S. Truman

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Though young Harry Truman spent his early years living with his parents and siblings on his grandfather’s farm, his family soon moved to nearby Independence, Missouri. From that point on, Harry thought of Independence as his hometown.

His mother Mattie, a well-educated woman, favored the move because Independence had better schools. She read aloud to Harry and gave him a love of books and music. By age five, he could read simple sentences. Harry’s reading ability made school easier for him. He also knew how to get along with his teachers and parents to get what he wanted. “I used to watch my mother and father closely to learn what I could do to please them, just as I did with my schoolteachers and playmates,” Harry said later.

Harry had a special reason for wanting to be judged for his behavior. A kid wearing glasses was a rare thing in a farm town, and Harry’s schoolmates teased him. Since he was also not very tall, they called Harry “little four-eyes.” Despite some teasing, Harry earned the respect of the other kids. He didn’t participate in many sports because of fear of breaking his expensive glasses, but he knew how to settle an argument with words instead of fists. His sense of fairness made him a popular referee during games.

Still, there was no doubt that Harry had different goals from his classmates. He enjoyed reading so much that he claimed to have read all the books in the Independence public library. Favorite books included biographies of military leaders like Andrew Jackson and Robert E. Lee. He admired these men for their honesty, a trait he was later known for as president.

Harry’s love of piano playing set him apart, too since girls and not boys usually took music lessons. His parents thought his talent should be encouraged, so Harry received piano lessons for as long as his father could afford them. When he graduated from high school, Harry hoped to go to college, join the military, or become a concert pianist.

Unfortunately, Harry’s father John Truman made some bad investments. Harry’s hopes to attend college or even continue piano lessons were dashed. Instead, he worked various jobs. He eventually became a bank clerk and made a good salary. Once again, his duty to his family called him away. His mother inherited the family farm and his father asked Harry to help him run it. Under Harry’s careful management, the farm made a profit.

Although he finally had some success, there were no signs that Harry Truman would become a famous politician and future president. His future mother-in-law said to her daughter Bessie, “That farmer boy is not going to make it anywhere.” Years later, “that farmer boy” proved her wrong.

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