12 Things That I Learned in a Two-Room Schoolhouse That I Never Learned in Our City School System

This is a male student in an early school in the 1800's
This is a male student in an early school in the 1800's
This is a school marm. Our teacher was not like this. she She was more modern
This is a school marm. Our teacher was not like this. she She was more modern

In honor of New Home School

Today’s topic deals with one and two-room school houses. And I dread writing this because these early school buildings are now nothing more than visible-reminders of a time when education was learning the “Three R’s.” If you grasped this “complex” area of early-education, you were considered a real “Einstein,” who by the way, gained a segment of his early-education in a primitive school building.

Most every state in America has a one-room school house that some historical group has restored and got it registered on the List of Federal Landmarks so it can be protected from lawless-vandals and other criminals for the rest of its life. Hooray, Federal Government and the groups who love our “relics.”

I started my first day of school in 1961 in a two-room school house which was made of wood. It was called New Home. This country school had a man and wife team for teachers: L.J. and Gertrude Ballard, from Hamilton, Ala. Gertrude taught grades one through three, and her husband, L.J. taught grades four through six. New Home was a proverbial “rural utopia” for our school was located in the quiet surrounding of a beautiful rural part of Marion County, the county where I lived.

Did you or someone in your family ever attend a two-room schoolhouse?

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Two- room schoolhouse
Two- room schoolhouse

Some lessons are best not taught from textbooks

Things besides math, science, and history were taught. Topics such as manners, courtesy and respect—both self respect and respect for others and their property. In 1961, New Home was considered “top of the line” in teaching us farm children for whom all of these early school houses in the state of Alabama were built—giving rural children who had to help work their farms a chance to get a head-start on their education.

New Home and other one and two-room schools were shut down in 1966 by the Alabama State Department of Education and their accreditation ended. All of the rural students were actually “thrown” into the tougher, more-rigid city school systems. Honest to God, I hated my time in the Hamilton, Alabama city school system. I have my reasons, but I will not divulge them here.

Instead, I would love to pay a personal homage to New Home School and all of the rural schools in Alabama with a little ditty I like to call:

12 Things That I Learned From a Rural School That I Didn’t Learn From Our City School System

Norman Rockwell, iconic American painter, would have loved to paint New Home School
Norman Rockwell, iconic American painter, would have loved to paint New Home School
Two-  room schoolhouse in St. Augustine, Fla.
Two- room schoolhouse in St. Augustine, Fla.
Students in an early two-room schoolhouse
Students in an early two-room schoolhouse
A water pump was sometimes thhe only means of getting water in two- room schools
A water pump was sometimes thhe only means of getting water in two- room schools
Clipart of two- room schoolhouse
Clipart of two- room schoolhouse
Students in a latter school setting
Students in a latter school setting
A quaint one= room schoolhouse
A quaint one= room schoolhouse
Pioneer school building
Pioneer school building
Artwork of early school
Artwork of early school
Students in one- room school Dec. 1, 1941
Students in one- room school Dec. 1, 1941
Lovely two-room historical two- room school building
Lovely two-room historical two- room school building
Improved school room
Improved school room

HANDING PEOPLE—sharp objects such as scissors, knives and other sharp-edged things. Mrs. Gertrude Ballard was very stern about us learning this vital life lesson. “You want to hand the other person the scissors with the point toward you, not them, so you will not hurt them,” she would say most everyday. Our city school system never bothered showing us anything like this.

COMMON COURTESY—“Yes, ma’am,” “No, ma’am,” and likewise with male persons were strongly encouraged in our early education. It was “push come shove,” in our city school system and everyone out for themselves.

SELF-CONTROL—to stay in control and avoid violent confrontations that lead to fights, verbal and physical. The Ballards hated violence, and since we had no school nurse, they stressed self-control the more-frequently.

SPEECH HABITS—were taught to be decent and clean. If we were caught using profanities, we “got the board,” a piece of pine lumber that Mr. Ballard used for lawbreakers. One visit with “Mr. Lumber,” and you learned to “toe the line.”

RESPECT FOR OTHER PEOPLE’S PROPERTY—was very important to the Ballards. Their teaching was: “We need to act as if our neighbor’s property is our own, and then we will not be guilty of damaging anyone’s home or belongings.” You’d think that in 1961, this was an outdated topic, but thank God it was still in-fashion to teach this remedial item to us rural children. NOTE: we boys were even scolded if through fun, we damaged the playhouses that the girl students built near the playground to learn to “play house.”

TEAMWORK—no matter if it was a class project or playing softball, teamwork was heavily-stressed. The teaching was “we” all need each other in life so when we see someone in need of help, we will automatically stop what we are doing and lend them a hand.

LISTENING—as well as responding to questions in class were important for us to learn. Mr. Ballard was famous for saying, “Conversation is not just about being a good talker, but more importantly, a good listener.” And would you believe, all of these mostly-obscure lessons in today’s society, stuck with us all like Super-Glue.

DOING CHORES—at first, didn’t mean that much to us as a school-related subject, but as time went on, and we would all take our part in sweeping, emptying trash cans, and other needed-chores, made us realize that education is not just found in textbooks.

CARING FOR ANIMALS—was high on our teachers’ list for things that would serve us well in life. If the Ballards even heard a rumor that we were mean to any animal, even a stray cat, they did not ask questions, but first asked us why we did it and if we didn’t give a good answer, we were disciplined. I was never boarded for breaking this New Home commandment. I had learned from my parents to love animals before I started to school.

TELLING THE TRUTH—no matter the circumstance. The Ballards did not respect a liar. Yes, we kids were tempted to lie and did tell a fib here and there, but overall, when Mr. or Mrs. Ballard asked us a question, we answered quickly and truthfully. You would come more apt to not get boarded if you were honest than if the Ballards caught you in a lie.

RESPECT FOR FEMALES—in first through sixth grades were taught to the children at New Home no matter what age. I believe that this subject and telling the truth were “the two” most-important things we were taught. Sure, we teased the girls and pestered them, but it was all in fun. There was no vulgar or profane words said to them or any inappropriate movements made toward them or else . . .”Mr. Lumber,” and a visit to our parents by Mr. and Mrs. Ballard.

RESPECTING THE FLAG—and our country. Oh man, did the Ballards get super-serious about us learning this one and respect for God too. I can remember even today how we listened to a Bible story read to us every morning by Mrs. Gertrude Ballard and then we stood, said the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag, and said a short prayer.

“A personal and sincere thank you to Mr. and Mrs. L.J. Ballard, for these and all of the school subjects that you labored to teach us. May your rewards in Heaven be great for you earned it.”

Uh, uh! It just hit me. I broke two Federal Laws at New Home and never even knew it.

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Comments 30 comments

JayeWisdom profile image

JayeWisdom 2 years ago from Deep South, USA

Hi, Ken - Your reminiscence about New Home sent me on my own trip down memory lane. There were a lot of small country schools dotted around the south before counties began to consolidate them with the nearest town school and bus kids for hours morning and afternoon.

I started school at age five in a rural southern school--not a two-room building, but not a great deal larger. Grades one through six were taught there. Each class only had a few students, so two grades were taught by one teacher in a single room, with each group having alternate lessons all day. It was there I learned to write essays in third grade, a skill that's been handy all my life.

The only down side was trying to concentrate on studying when the teacher was talking to the students in the room's other grade. (I wanted to listen to their lesson and often did.) It's an experience I wouldn't trade for anything because it gave me a good basic start and made me want to learn. My family moved after I completed the fourth grade, so trading 'up' to a larger school was a novel experience as well.

Voted Up++


OhMe profile image

OhMe 2 years ago from Pendleton, SC

We really need to go back to educating the way the Ballards did in your one room school house.

CruiseReady profile image

CruiseReady 2 years ago from East Central Florida

Fabulous article, and should give today's educators some food for thought! At least, I hope it does.

Ericdierker profile image

Ericdierker 2 years ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

Ha Ha we had 6 rooms in the brand new school house I attended in 1961. And we were the designated shelter for atomic bombs )-: Ours was the school all the Navajo and Hopi children had to attend. Wonderful times yet somehow twisted.

Kate Mc Bride profile image

Kate Mc Bride 2 years ago from Donegal Ireland

I enjoyed reading this insightful,interesting article which is full of wisdom and common sense.Thank you

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sheilamyers 2 years ago

My mom actually started off her school years in one of those little schoolhouses, but I think the one she went to only had one room. As for me, I attended an elementary school in a small town that had enough children that we needed a bigger building. Kindergarten only had one classroom with a morning and an afternoon class. All the other grades (up to grade 4) had two classrooms so they could keep the student to teacher ratio smaller. Even in that larger school building, we learned all of those valuable lessons you mentioned.

Sylvestermouse profile image

Sylvestermouse 2 years ago from United States

I understand completely that you have given us a glimpse of your own school days, but it almost sounded fictional because I have never had the luxury of in such a wonderful education environment. I believe I can identify with the "shock" factor you described of being forced to leave your comfort zone and go to unfamiliar, completely different territory. You see, I was uprooted from my neighborhood schools during the desegregation busing craze. I am now in my 50's and still question what they hoped to achieve by daily busing young children out of their neighborhoods and dropping them off at a school that was at least a 30 min. drive from home if stops were not required along the way.

The Ballards sound like wonderful teachers and excellent influences on young minds. Oh, how I wish the things you learned under their tutelage were taught in every school and in every home.

Rhonda Lytle profile image

Rhonda Lytle 2 years ago from Deep in the heart of Dixie

I wish schools would return to this philosophy of teaching. I can't say I ever had the benefit of such a classroom. The schools were bigger by the time I started to school, about a decade after you. But, living in the backwoods of the boons, we still had Bible study, the Pledge, and many a lesson on respect and proper comportment in society.

Teachers are in serious danger of being fired today if they are even caught discussing religion in too many cases. Schools today are more a business than anything else. Millions are spent on fancy huge schools that look more like malls housing thousands of young people who wake up every day scared of what might happen to them in the shrouded back halls of what looks appealing from the road but reeks of a prison once you get inside.

With the one room schools, everyone left knowing how to read with comprehension, how to form an intelligent opinion and support it. Now, we have graduating young adults who can't comprehend a newspaper written on a fourth grade level. Progress? I think not.

kenneth avery profile image

kenneth avery 2 years ago from Hamilton, Alabama Author

Dear Rhonda,

I do enjoy your comments. They warm my spirit to know that someone actually relates to my hubs.

I appreciate you so much.

And thank you for understanding my rural schoolhouse days. They were pure heaven on earth.

I forgot to mention that we had ONE HOUR for lunch. Then a 30-minute recess afterwards. If we were getting along with each other, our teachers would let us play until our ONE bus came to get us.

Can you imagine?

Sincerly appreciate you.

kenneth avery profile image

kenneth avery 2 years ago from Hamilton, Alabama Author

Oh Me,

Thank you very much for your compliment on this hub.

I hope you can fathom just How MUCH your words mean to me. New Home is one of my favorite memories.

kenneth avery profile image

kenneth avery 2 years ago from Hamilton, Alabama Author

Hi, Cruise Ready,

You have a valid point. Educators today would be more at ease in a two-room or four-room schoolhouse and with a teacher at ease, the more educated the student.

Thanks for the comment.

kenneth avery profile image

kenneth avery 2 years ago from Hamilton, Alabama Author

Hi, Jaye,

No, thank you for your touching schooldays memories. I know what you mean by the having to focus on my teacher, Gertrude Ballard. I never got to finish my sixth grade here for my family moving so much so my dad would farm for people.

Mrs. Ballard would be teaching about how to print neat and cleanly, but through the two double-doors to Mr. Ballard's room, he might be talking about a history event--honestly, I was more-interested in the historical event than writing, but I dared to not tell Mrs. Ballard.

I wish my grandkids could experience what I did.

And you also.

God bless you, dear Jaye, for always being my good friend and talented hubber.

kenneth avery profile image

kenneth avery 2 years ago from Hamilton, Alabama Author

Hey, now, Eric,

Let me get this straight. Six-rooms, Navajo and Hopi Indians and the Atomic Bomb? Wow! What an exciting schoolday memory you shared and I am totally-honest.

We would have went nuts if we had been exp;osed to wisdom about the A-Bomb, but there again, what self-respecting Communist would want to hurt us in rural Alabama at New Home. LOL. The commies didn't even know we existed.

kenneth avery profile image

kenneth avery 2 years ago from Hamilton, Alabama Author


My sincere thanks to you for the uplifting comment.

Our teachers were no-nonsense, but plenty of common sense. I guess that was what hurt me the most when we were forced into our city school system. Teachers there didn't really want us there and in the fourth and fifth grade, they joined their "pets," the city kids in laughing at us, the rural rejects.

I still carry the scars on my heart for that.

Thanks for your visit and visit me again soon.

kenneth avery profile image

kenneth avery 2 years ago from Hamilton, Alabama Author

Thank you, Sylvestermouse,

I agree with you 100% about the bussing issue. I never did see why this was implemented.

We had to deal with this before I graduated high school and even the African-American students were showing dislike for us in an all-white school, so instead of progress, the fed's just caused more trouble.

I acknowledge that my hub sounded much like fiction, and compared to school setting today, it is fiction, but I was so blessed to be at New Home School while it lasted.

Visit with me anytime.

kenneth avery profile image

kenneth avery 2 years ago from Hamilton, Alabama Author

Hello, Dear sheilamyers,

Ahhh, the memories of days gone by with the one and two-room schools. A true iconic experience.

And do you know the two highlights of each month?

A visit from the Bookmobile and the regional 4-H rep who taught us things like what trees to plant where and what type of soil, etc.

Life was never the same after New Home.

I am sure that your mom would agree about her early schooling.

Dear sheila and all on this hub . . .please have a safe week ahead.

bmd 2 years ago

I enjoyed your article but would suggest you go back and correct the numerous spelling errors or typos

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sheilamyers 2 years ago

kenneth: I'll have to ask her to give me some more details about the actual class time. Most of what I've heard about are the wonderful teachers she had. My favorite story she tells though has to do with getting school supplies. If she needed a new pencil, her dad would wrap an egg up and give it to her in the morning. She'd stop at the little store she passed on the way to school and the store owner would give her two pencils in exchange for one egg.

kenneth avery profile image

kenneth avery 2 years ago from Hamilton, Alabama Author

Dear sheila,

This would, what you said in your comment about your mom, make a terrific book. Have you ever thought of doing one about her schooldays?

Remember Laura Ingalls Wilder? Her Little House books made her a mint and her children and families even more monies with the series on NB C.

Thanks for the sweet comment. No one but you could ever come up with something as preciouis as wrapping up an egg for pencils and things.

You cannot make this stuff up.

God bless you, my Dear friend.

kenneth avery profile image

kenneth avery 2 years ago from Hamilton, Alabama Author


Sure thing. Thanks for bring this to my attention.

I offer no excuse.

ChitrangadaSharan profile image

ChitrangadaSharan 2 years ago from New Delhi, India

What a wonderful and insightful hub! You are so right that those small schools taught not only the subjects but also important lessons of life. They were real character building schools.

Enjoyed this thought provoking hub! Thanks and voted up!

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sheilamyers 2 years ago

Kenneth: I need to get a tape recorder and get her telling her stories. Even if I don't write a full-fledged book, I can add the stories into my family history notebooks. I wish I would've done that with my grandparents and never did. I don't want to lose the chance to do it with my parents.

kenneth avery profile image

kenneth avery 2 years ago from Hamilton, Alabama Author

Hi, sheilamyers,

You are correct. Tape recording her stories would be more-relaxed to allow you to NOT miss one of her priceless quotes or things of interest.

I am serious. This would make a great book. I have noticed that spy-thrillers, sci-fi even vampires have pretty much ran their course and Americans are now ready for a NEW style of books: One about your mom and dad. You will feel better when you get started.

Thank you so very much for your sweet comment.

kenneth avery profile image

kenneth avery 2 years ago from Hamilton, Alabama Author


Thank you for your lovely and warm comment.

We rural kids in our day, DID learn more about life, manners, respect, than we did out of books.

I think that our teachers saw the future coming and it wasn't pretty.

Keep in touch with me.

teaches12345 profile image

teaches12345 2 years ago

Along with many others here, our schools would do much better if they followed the teaching philosophy of the Ballards. Schools today lack the ability to properly train our youth in moral values. They only care about getting the top ranking for most students passing the standard test exams, which leaves little room for creativity and teaching values. Great post and should be read by all parents and teachers! By the way, not sure you wanted your poll to read as you wrote the title and first voting option.

kenneth avery profile image

kenneth avery 2 years ago from Hamilton, Alabama Author


Thank you not just for the nice comment, but for noticing the two typos which are now repaired. That was the teacher in you reacting. Thanks again. I have to agree with you on the comparison you gave of today's bigger, more-complex school systems as compared to the Ballards, who focused on real life along with the textbook structure.

I miss these people sometimes.

Thank you so much for taking the time to read and comment. I pray that you have a peaceful week.

Perspycacious profile image

Perspycacious 2 years ago from Today's America and The World Beyond

The nice part was, if I got bored with my own studies, I could learn those of the grades higher than mine, for we were right there together. It doesn't seem to have worked out too badly either. Thanks for the trigger to reminiscence.

kenneth avery profile image

kenneth avery 2 years ago from Hamilton, Alabama Author

Hi, Perspycacious,

You are sincerely welcome. I never knew that this hub did that for you, but I am so glad that you feel this way.

And the part about if you got bored, you could learn from the higher grades, same here, but I was NOT a bit interested in higher learning.

Do not hate me. I was just being truthful, as taught by Gertrude Ballard.

aesta1 profile image

aesta1 2 years ago from Ontario, Canada

I started schooling in a barrio school because our school in town will not budge around my being underage so my parents sent me to our farm school where my aunt was the head teacher. She told the teacher to just take me in as I would be tired of it in a week anyway and not come back. Well, little did they know. I stayed on and finished and moved on to second grade in town as with my credentials, they now have no choice but to take me in. Anyway, in these old schools was taught everyday, Good Manners and Right Conduct. Later, in the schools where I taught, we had Morning Talk given by nuns and these life lessons served us well in life.

kenneth avery profile image

kenneth avery 2 years ago from Hamilton, Alabama Author

Hi, aesta1,

Your schooling sounds similar to mine. And I forgot to mention that children with little siblings were allowed to bring them to school so both parents could work in the fields or gardens to get work done. It was like a dream, New Home School. Part Wizard of Oz and part Andy Griffith, but one Special place as I am sure yours was too.

Come back to see me.

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