School Days: The Rural School In America


Once there were over 200,000 one room country schoolhouses dotting the landscape of America.  A very few of them are still open, many are dozing vacantly in some township corner, shedding chimney bricks and wooden shingles on the way to eventual destruction, but most are gone, swallowed by adjacent cornfields.

But what visions those doddering buildings evoke!  Merry children swinging tin pail lunch buckets down the lane, the bell in the tiny tower calling the scholars in, lessons with Dick and Jane or Alice and Jerry, tug o’ war at recess, and a flood of others.

Here is a program that remembers it all, from the littlest scholars in the front row to the big eighth graders in the back, from the tiny cloakroom where sat the stone water jar and the shared dipper to the blackboard with its cursive writing chart adorning the front wall, flanked by imposing portraits of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.

There would be a stove in the middle, herding its flock of small, middle-sized, and large desks, each with its back on the front and its front on the back.  There would be swings in the yard, and, if you had an understanding local school board, a slide, teeter-totters, or even a merry-go-round!

In the summer there would be Annie Over and Pom Pom Pollaway, and in the winter Fox and Geese.  Cool water would gush from the pump in the yard.

School buses were superfluous and unheard of.  It was a two mile walk to school, with the usual temperamental bull in the pasture shortcut.  What Grandpa said about walking to school two miles, up hill both ways, in the snow, is true, and I have the pictures to prove it!  What he said about the outhouse and the Sears catalog in the winter is true, too.

We learned our penmanship from the Palmer Method, our vocabulary from Dick, Jane, and Sally, and our geography from the pull-down map that, if you incautiously let go at the wrong point, flailed wildly on its pivots until its spring was satisfied.

Teachers were nice young girls of 18 or 20 who had passed the teacher certification exam.  They boarded with the nearest family, got paid princely sums like $38 per month, and lived by rules like “no bobbing one’s hair” and “no marrying.”  Report cards told it like it was.  Miscreants sat in the corner, wrote corrective sentences 100 times on the blackboard, or got from the teacher the same thing they were going to get from Dad when they got home.  (I have the picture to prove that one, too.)

This program is great for getting Grandma to reminisce with the grandkids, or the grandkids to beg for stories from Grandpa.   Better yet, find a way to have the youngsters and the oldsters together to experience it, and be sure to leave plenty of time for stories afterward, for stories there will be.



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