|Schoolhouse in St. Augustine, Fl.|
August has slipped up on us and that means the beginning of school for my kids. Yes, we’re in one of those counties with a “balanced year” calendar. We usually start the first Monday of August and have week-long breaks throughout the year to make up for the shorter summer. The kids are never crazy about going back this early, but none of us argues when that week off rolls around in September or February!
So, in honor of our first day of school, I decided to compare some things about today’s school versus schools in the past.
- One of the biggest things for my kids (especially when they were younger) is learning who their teacher will be. Not an issue for children of the past, because everyone was in a one-room schoolhouse with one teacher (at least in rural areas). Can you imagine trying to teach everything every child from kindergarten through eighth grade needed to know? That’s exactly what these men and women did – and for only about $25 a month in the early 1900s. The teachers also sometimes lived with families of their students. How would you or your kids like that?
- I start hearing school buses in our neighborhood by 7 a.m. because elementary school starts at 7:40. Kids had to get themselves to school in years past, which could mean walking as much as 4 or 5 miles each morning and afternoon. And it wasn’t always easy walking along roads – it was through woods, fields, and whatever else happened to be between their home and the school.
- The school year was much shorter years ago – which is a difference I’m sure most kids would love to see implemented again! The standard school calendar today is 180 days. When the Department of Education first began collecting data on school during the 1869-70 school year, students attended for an average of 132 days. The school day was also shorter. Children “back in the day” usually started at 9 a.m. and finished at either 2 p.m. or 4 p.m., depending on the area. They had an hour for recess and lunch.
- The centerpiece of every one-room schoolhouse was the cast iron stove. It often stood in a box of sand as a safety measure, so nothing would catch fire when sparks or coals fell out when the fire was stoked. It was the teacher’s job to get the fire going in the morning, and older boys helped split the kindling and brought in the wood.
My dad was born in 1932, and my mom in 1935. It’s always fun to hear their stories of school because she was raised mainly in towns and he went to a rural one-room community school. Both their moms were teachers, with his being their town’s only teacher for many years. She taught everyone through eighth grade, then the older kids could ride a bus to another town for high school. He and my grandmother both walked to school because she didn’t know how to drive. His hound dog followed them most days and snoozed just outside the door until they came outside for lunch when he would beg for biscuits or cornbread. Daddy got the fire started each morning and he and his buddies chopped all the wood. Even in the late 1930s, their schoolhouse still didn’t have electricity or plumbing. He tells all sorts of stories about their shenanigans, from things they would pour on the wood or coals to make the fire stink to outhouse pranks to trying to catch snakes during recess.
Yes, I’m glad I just hear Daddy’s stories instead of experiencing them myself. And I’m glad my kids also get to hear them because it helps us all remember that life was really, really different – and not all that long ago. Here’s to helping history live on!