Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The One-Room Schoolhouse

I went through a frontier phase as a child; I had a Holly Hobby bedspread, doll, and lunch box, I read every Laura Ingalls Wilder and even Rose Wilder Lane book at the Greenville Library, and naturally, being a product of the 70's, my must-see TV was "Little House on the Prairie".  Of course, I enjoy many modern conveniences, including indoor plumbing, furnaces, airline travel, desk jobs, cheap and easily attainable food, and medical advances.  Neither my 5-week premature daughter, nor I would be here today without respirators, blue lights, TPA's and heperin, so I gotta give props to science, yo!  However, there are parts of settler life that we could probably reimplement, especially in the moral and character building realm: self-sufficiency and responsibility ranking high amongst them.
I brought home a middle-school level book called "A One-Room School" which describes early American schools.  The students' academic day would begin by "making manners" to the teacher; I consider myself lucky if I get a 20% return rate on my "good morning"'s with my students.  Obviously, greetings are no longer something that we can assume will occur.  Frontier students were also required to do chores such as fetch water from the well, bring firewood from home, and clean the floors, chimneys, windows and blackboards.  In comparison, the other day, one of my students sat in gum, so I asked her if she could get it off the chair with the intent to not disrupt her education.  She tried for less than 1 second, and said that she could not.  Maybe I should add perseverence to the list of characteristics above from the frontier period that we should reemphasize today.   Anyhow, I sent the persistent student to the nurse to call home for a pair of new pants.  The irate, angry-at-somebody-but-I'm-sure-it's-not-me, father called saying he was confused why I was making his daughter do the janitor's job.  Might we have swung the chores pendulum a wee bit too far?
Now let's compare the supply issue.  As a teacher, I have to constantly confront students about why her own, as in bought with her own money, scissors were returned snapped in two, and then I have to endure the inevitable cover-up ridiculousness about how the scissors were dropped (please demonstrate with this exactly similar pair), uh, no, uh, how they were stepped on (go ahead and jump up and down on this pair to demonstrate again how they were twisted in two when they were stepped on) and a likewise string of embarassing, ever-changing lies.  But then I can't actually use the word lie, because that is corporal punishment and would irrevocably damage the deceitful, property destroyer's self confidence.  As a teacher, her markers are left uncapped, her books are ripped, her legos are stolen.  I would like to show these entitled, unappreciative students the supplies that settler children were given: nothing.  The schools couldn't afford more than two books: a primer and the Bible.  The latter book is a subject I won't even attempt to broach, and a primer is equally taboo today.  Children wrote on slates, that they themselves bought, which to me seems one step away from writing on a stone with a chisel.  The students of yesteryear would surely be horrified at the mass of pencils and unfilled notebooks that the school custodians sweep up every night.

Finally, "A One-Room School" talks quite a bit about punishment.  I am old enough to remember corporal punishment.  I know, I know, that IS hard to believe.  My sixth grade teacher, Mr. Holland, kept a paddle behind his desk; all the teachers in my middle school in Ohio had paddles, and they all used them.  Did it keep kids in line?  Yup.  Do I condone corporal punishment?  Nope.  But, corporal punishment has been expanded to include anything that could be construed as possibly ruining a child's self-esteem.  If a child is embarassed because he has to wear gum on his nose, well, that's sort of the idea.  What kind of authority does a teacher have if they cannot provide consequences for the students?  I'm still waiting for that answer.  I can tell a child a hundred times a day, and do, to not chew gum, but without a punishment for not conforming to the rules of the school, they will not stop.  I would love to see how police officers would fight crime if they were only allowed to ask the criminals to kindly stop their illegal activities, thank you.  Which is what is wrong with education today.  It is not the teachers, it is the mamsy-pamsy, don't ruin a child's self-worth, let-children-run-ramshod-over-the-teacher parents and their lawyers that are ruining education.

Thank you, "A One-Room School" for bringing this important lesson to the students at my school.  I will return you to my classroom tomorrow, to either be vandalized, ripped in two, covered in gum, or left on the floor to be swept away.


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