Gunsmoke (1955–1975)
4 user

The Fires of Ignorance 

An inflexible father believes that his son is needed more on the farm than attending school. The local schoolteacher believes different and after being assaulted by the father will try to force the need for mandatory education in court.


Victor French


Jim Byrnes


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Episode cast overview, first billed only:
Milburn Stone ... Doc
Ken Curtis ... Festus
Buck Taylor ... Newly (credit only)
James Arness ... Matt Dillon
Allen Garfield ... Henry Decory
John Vernon ... Oliver Harker
Lance Kerwin ... Tommy Harker
Diane Shalet Diane Shalet ... Ami Harker
George DiCenzo ... Mr. Bruce (as George Di Cenzo)
Karen Obediear Karen Obediear ... Sallie
Herb Vigran ... Judge Brooker
John Pickard ... Bud
Ted Jordan Ted Jordan ... Burke
Charles Wagenheim Charles Wagenheim ... Halligan
Robert Brubaker ... Floyd


One of the series' most honored episodes centers on whether youngsters have the right -- and the duty -- to get a free public education. A teenage farm boy is holed up in the corncrib reading a borrowed copy of "The Iliad" when a fox gets into the henhouse, killing three chickens. The boy's father gives him a whipping to remember and considers taking him out of school. The middle-aged schoolteacher (Allen Garfield in a prototype of his "Teachers" movie role) figures out what happened and continues to encourage the student, giving him a copy of "The Odyssey" next. The father finds the book and burns it. Then he physically hauls the son out of school, bowling over the teacher in the process. The teacher goes to Matt and swears out a warrant for the father's arrest on assault charges. In the ensuing courtroom trial, Doc (in Milburn Stone's last major role on the series) is called on to testify about the value of a public education, while the teacher drills his own student on the ... Written by Peter Harris

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Release Date:

27 January 1975 (USA) See more »

Company Credits

Production Co:

CBS Television Network See more »
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Technical Specs


Sound Mix:




Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
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Did You Know?


This episode was recognized with the National Education Award. See more »

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User Reviews

A truly relevant episode
22 July 2018 | by kenstallings-65346See all my reviews

This episode stands on its own as well written and acted. But, in a far more significant manner, it stands more relevant today than when it first aired back in 1975. At the time, the episode made strong overtures to the infamous Nazi book burning with the reference to Berlin, Germany in the classroom after the father burned a book. At the time, that was among the more poignant examples from recent history on the evils of rejecting education.

Sadly though, this episode is more relevant today due to the erosion of education in many public school systems throughout America, combined with an increase in people devaluing education in their lives and the lives of their children. Such a concept was most alien in 1975, but the story certainly hearkened back to a time when public education was devalued.

The central point is that academic excellence can reside in all people of all backgrounds, and that reality was driven home powerfully in this episode. Consequently, this story should be aired far more often than it is, simply as a means to draw peoples' attentions to the need to raise the vital importance of education throughout all of American society.

Regardless of whether education is denied through a tyranny of the state, a tyranny of misguided parents, or perhaps most tragically of all, a tyranny of one's on self, education denied or ignored remains every bit as tragic to our entire society.

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