Schools: Past vs. Present

by Aimee Harmon

 Organized chaos seems like an apt description of the classroom today. Teachers are overworked and under-paid, students are out of control and in control of the classroom environment. Parents drop their kids off expecting them to receive an education and some sort of normalcy in a chaotic world. Today education is taken for granted.

What if schools returned to the way they were a century or more ago? Each town, especially in rural areas, was not guaranteed a school. If the town did have a school, the community would be responsible for the upkeep of the school, and for the hiring and paying of a school teacher. The school year would revolve around the farming seasons. School would be in session from November to March and then from June to August. Spring months would be for tilling and planting the fields and the fall months would be for harvesting and canning. Parents supported the teacher’s decision in how a school ran and any discipline that was awarded to a student.

Transportation to and from the school was the responsibility of the parent and student. Children walked, rode a horse, or caught a ride in a wagon. School began on time. The teacher rang the bell a few minutes prior to the start of school as a warning. Upon the ringing of the bell a second time, school began. If a student was late, he or she could not enter the school until the first recess break. On arrival, the teacher would stand at the door greeting each student, who in turn would do the same. Boys would bow and girls would curtsy to show respect to the teachers. Once inside, the boys and girls would sit on opposite sides. The students sat in age order with the younger students in the front and the older students in the back.

After the last child entered roll was called and classes would begin. The students were all taught in the same room. While the teacher worked with one group of students, the others would work on class work. Each group had a set amount of time to work with the teacher on a subject. When time was up the teacher would move on to the next group. The primer a student used depended on which grade he or she was in. If the student was in primer one, that student would be in 1st grade. If the student was in primer 8, that student would be in the 8th grade.

Two popular books that were used in the school were the Bible and the primer. The Bible was used for reading and the primer was used for all other lessons. The lessons focused mainly on the three R’s – reading, writing and arithmetic. The primer contained the alphabet, numbers, spelling words and poems. The most popular primer was the McGuffey Primer. It taught reading, writing, basic values of honesty, proper manners, courage and charity; what every child should learn to become a responsible adult in society. There were 8 primers, one for each class; the lessons would steadily grow more difficult as a student moved from one primer to the other. When students were finished with primer 8 they were ready to graduate.

Most town schools began as a one-room school. As the population grew, schools grew into multi-roomed buildings. Schools were added as the influx of people raised populations levels. This continues to happen today. The school system today was shaped by the one room school house in rural America and today’s education system will shape the future’s.

Classrooms have always been chaotic. It is the rare occasion that the public hears about chaos in the classroom. Today, majority of parents do support the teachers, demand their children respect the teachers, and teachers do maintain control over the classroom. So really, how different is the school system today to the school system of yesteryear?