Archive for Thursday, October 16, 2008

Teamwork required in education

October 16, 2008

During the past half century, public education in the United States has changed radically. It has gone from one-room school houses with one teacher and textbooks to modern centers with a myriad of electronic aids that boggle the mind of anyone over 50 years of age.

Public education has been a vital part of our culture since the earliest days. For more than two centuries, most schools were one-room facilities with one teacher for eight grades. In Kansas and much of the United States, one-room schools dotted the rural landscape. In general, these schools served a rural neighborhood area and provided basic education. Incidentally, one-room schools were also common in other countries including Canada, New Zealand and Australia.

Cities had what might be called “traditional grade schools.” In many cases these included classes from kindergarten through eighth grade, although there were some junior high facilities.

Now I never attended a one-room country school, but my wife did. She has always been impressed with the quality of education that she received. In her school, the teacher would call two classes to the front benches where the lesson was taught. Other students would be at their desks doing work, but since they were all in one room, students were able to hear a bit of the lesson. This meant that during the school day, students heard new information that they had some familiarity with and also were able to listen to younger classes and review the lessons that they had earlier.

In both city and rural schools, the day started at 9 a.m. and continued until 4 p.m. There were two 15-minute recesses and an hour for lunch. In city schools, students usually walked home and walked back. If you made it back early enough, you could have some playtime. You were taught the basics of reading, writing, math with some geography and history thrown in on the side. Most folks I have talked with remembered that art and music were only held on Friday afternoon.

In rural areas, the country school was the center of social activities. Jean talks of the joy of attending PTA meetings as a child. She pointed out that the entire family went and programs were always interesting. The rural school was the center for education and social activities.

I have great respect for the one-room school teacher. In most cases the teacher was a woman and she had to have tremendous general knowledge. She had to know about all subjects, be an administrator and deal with the school board as well as keeping discipline.

Jean said her school had tremendous discipline, however, that wasn’t always the case. Her dad used to laugh about waiting until the teacher fell asleep at her desk after lunch and the boys would sneak outside and smoke pencil sharpener shavings wrapped in cigarette paper. I read a story in the Chieftain a century ago about a teacher who spanked a girl. The next day the girls’ mother and sisters came to school and beat up the teacher. I suspect that discipline in those days was the same as it is today — great in some classes, not so good in others.

What has always struck me as amusing was that for decades, teachers had to be unmarried. Now I have never been able to understand that strange logic, which was popular in the “good old days.”

The world was much different in those days. In rural areas, boys dropped out of school after the eighth grade and went to work on the farm. In my day, there was no concern about educating everyone. If you got kicked out or quit, you joined the Army for a couple of years and came back to a good union job in a factory. Of course that, like the one-room school, is now just a memory.

As education became more complex, the one-room school disappeared. Now, the buildings are long gone or have been converted to other uses. The school Jean attended has been an insurance office and is now a single-family residence.

While some may disagree, school is much more difficult now than it was 50 or 100 years ago. Students are pushed to take more difficult courses. When I graduated from high school, only 16 credits were required. Now students need 24 credits. Students now must be computer literate and have the background to learn the more complex skills required to have a career in the 21st century. Unfortunately, there are parents who expect to drop a 5-year-old off on the steps of the school and come back 13 years later and pick up a young person who is socially trained and well educated. Now more than ever, parents and teachers have to work as a team to insure success.

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