Friday, July 15, 2011

From Little Red School House to ????

Education in America has a great heritage

Ah, the memory of that little red schoolhouse, sitting on a tiny hill with fields of ripening wheat waving in the background. A stately, tall and wide oak tree sits peacefully near the weathered building. Strung from its strong limb is a swing, made from an old tractor tire, waiting for recess.

Inside, a dozen or so small benches and tables await the arrival of the kids, ages 6 to 16, for another round of learning the basics: the three R’s; readin’, ritin’ and ‘rithmetic.

The teacher, nine times out of ten, would be a young lady not too removed from being one of those pupils. If she could afford it she had a year in a near-by teachers college. The occasional male teacher would come West for other work and teach some months of the year.

There would be as many grades as needed, from wide-eyed beginners, age anywhere from 6 to 10. Then a group that had completed the first year or so would be in another corner taking on more knowledge. Then the advanced ones, looking forward to completing their study and looking toward full-time farm work or seeking their fortunes far away.

The Little Red School House. A classic memory for folks living sort of west or a little east of the Mississippi River. It was not necessarily painted red. It may have only had a red door. It may have been whitewashed. Most had not paint at all. Just rough hewed frontier lumber, finished at a sawmill near the river.

With an increase in farms and ranches, development in a central location, communities took on a town-like appearance. Old timers or early arrivals in the region saw the need for some kind of book learning for the young. Families grew as the numbers of children increased at an amazing rate. The earth was being replenished with gusto with children as well as gardens, livestock and crops.

For most of the pupils the walk to school was a challenge in itself. In bad weather walking through plowed fields or rocky pastures, sometimes a road, assured them of being awake by the time the school bell was rung. Many schools began classes with the Pledge of Allegiance and sometimes a song. If there were any pictures they were usually of President George Washington.

Lunch they brought with them, most often a sandwich, a cookie or piece of cake and an apple. Biscuits, cornbread or even cold pancakes made their way into the lunch basket. Other student’s lunches always looked better, so much trading went on.

After lunch time was spent in recess. The well-fixed school might own a baseball and a bat and glove, or bags of marbles or corncob darts.

McGuffey’s Readers were the mainstay for all age groups. Presbyterian minister William McGuffey of Ohio compiled these readers in 1830. These books began with an introduction to the alphabet and advanced to excerpts from Shakespeare, the Bible and American and English poets.

In most schools the eighth-grade was the last grade. Passing the examination was not a snap even by today’s standards. An 1880 test had this problem: “How much will eight carpenters earn in 6 and 2/3 days at 9 percent.” Or: “Define orthoepy, vowel, dipthong, articulation, accent.” And: “Tell what you now of the following – Charles Dickens, Henry W. Longfellow, Washington Irving, and Benjamin Franklin.” One more: “What are the functions of nerves?”

The little one one-room school house got this country off to a good start in education. They made do with little more than common sense and the belief that “a learning” can make little boys and girls into great leaders in all fields for our future. Difficult to believe there are those today whose only goal apparently is to abolish public education. If they can’t kill it, they will load it with vouchers and loads of skewered text books with questionable ideologies.


Britt Towery, a free-lance writer who never attended a one room school house, appreciates comments:

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