The Story of a One-Room Schoolhouse
A One-Room Schoolhouse
Attending a One-Room Schoolhouse in the 1930s
If you have read my other articles (hubs), you know that my Dad grew up on a farm during the Great Depression. In these bygone days, he and his older brother, Don, attended school in a one-room schoolhouse that was perhaps a mile down the dirt road from the farmhouse Dad was born in.
In the schoolhouse, the teacher taught grades one through eight. (I have been a teacher and can hardly imagine trying to teach eight grade levels at the same time! This was all about “multi-tasking”!)
Dad told me he never felt deprived in his education at all in this now-rare type of schoolhouse. The kids were extremely well behaved, which is in stark contrast to today’s typical classroom behavior problems!
Ordinary one-room schoolhouse teachers spent substantial organizational energy on the job. For instance, they might put one set of kids to work on a writing project, then get a second set busy working their arithmetic, then have a third set of kids doing lessons on the blackboard. The activity level was high. I can tell you from a teacher’s point of view that this would have required a lot of juggling!
Dad said this was actually a pretty nice environment because if he finished early on some assignment, he could “listen in” to what kids in a higher level were doing rather than be bored. Also, kids tutored each other in lower grades because there were no teacher’s aides in those days. Certainly, one way to ensure that you have learned any academic material is to teach it!
The building itself was rather Spartan and would have been constructed by those in the community. There was a cloakroom off the entryway with hooks the children hung their bulky coats on during snowy winter days. Underneath these were built-in benches that opened up for storage of overshoes. The desks were of the type that opened under the writing surface to provide storage for books.
The older kids might periodically be assigned the task of feeding wood into the pot-bellied stove that provided heat for the little schoolhouse. Parents provided the cut firewood.
A local pharmacy received lists of required books which they purchased to have on hand for parents as needed for their children. The curriculum and books were regulated by some state entity. A generally good elementary education was had at schools such as these in rural areas.
During the Great Depression, in particular, once children had mastered the material and no longer needed their books, they could be passed along to a family in need. Remember, farms were being foreclosed regularly and some families were barely hanging on! Neighbors helped in any way they could.
Interestingly, my Dad's father, my Grandpa had but an eighth grade education. He was still successfully able to run a farm with only that plus a large measure of "good old common sense".
After Eighth Grade
After eighth grade, the children went into the small local town to attend high school. The distance was not too much of a hardship for farming families who had several vehicles, as my family did. Let me clarify here that some small farms only had farm trucks or vehicles that were in use every day all day and many kids had to walk long distances to the school. Thus, my family was fortunate that one of the vehicles could be parked at the high school all day long.
Dad remembers an old Model-T Ford, but there were also several Plymouths and one called a Whippet. Usually, children were driving by about age 16, so kids in the upper grades often did the driving.
Children of less fortunate families without extra vehicles often rode in with them. But, also, there was carpooling and back-up arrangements because vehicles in that day were much less reliable.
People knew that times were hard and it was always possible to find another less fortunate person to help out. Some local children had terribly worn-out and ratty clothes befitting the times. When my Dad, being the youngest, outgrew his clothes, Grandma passed these on to such kids in the farming neighborhood. She also mended and re-mended clothes regularly until they were practically threads!
Readers, do continue reading to find out what happened to Dad after his years in country and small town schools!
Twenty Years Later
About twenty years after my Dad completed his studies at the little one-room schoolhouse, he had left farming for a more modern profession. He was married to my Mom and our family went about every other summer to the farm to see Grandma and Uncle Don.
Going to the farm during the summer was a treat! As a young child, say six, I knew that Dad had gone to such a schoolhouse and asked where it was. I wanted to go see it.
Dad responded that it was just down the dirt road leading from the house. It had been unused for many years and the roof had caved in. He said my sister and I could walk down and look at it. He advised us to be very careful though and not go in past the cloakroom because the structure was unsound.
My older sister and I did walk on down to the now ramshackle and broken little one-room schoolhouse Dad had attended. As Dad had said, the roof had caved in. Also, the floor past the cloakroom had caved in and there was at least one groundhog living there. (We were always warned to stay well away from rodents, so we didn't go near it.) The cloakroom itself was still largely intact at that time and I saw the built-in benches where Dad had once stored his overshoes. Some of the hinges were pulled off.
I liked everything about visiting the farm in summers. After returning to the farmhouse on this day after visiting the ramshackle schoolhouse, I wondered aloud if I’d like growing up on a farm. “Naw,” said my Uncle Don, “you are a city slicker.” Oh, well!
Keep reading to find out how I finally got to see a restored one-room schoolhouse!
Sixty-five Years Later
About sixty-five years after my Dad completed studies at the little one-room schoolhouse and had left farming for a more modern profession, my Uncle Don passed away. Dad and I were at the farmhouse to put it in order for sale. It was sad to have it pass from the family, but the fields were sold to a local farmer and the farmhouse to local schoolteachers to live in, which was good.
I asked again about the little schoolhouse and Dad said it had been pulled down because it was a “hazard”. The wood had thoroughly rotted out by that time. The community was worried someone might get injured inside so they razed it.
He said he did know of a one-room schoolhouse of a similar vintage that had been saved and restored in the next county over. I was excited! I would actually be able to see a one-room schoolhouse that was not dilapidated!
So Dad and I drove over to see it. Inside was a large pot-bellied stove as in Dad's school. The desks were all in rows and a flag was at the front of the classroom. This flag had fewer stars than the ones now, but I don’t remember how many. 48? It's been several years, but I believe there was a framed picture of the presidents lined around in an oval pattern with their names and dates of their administrations as of about the 1940s.
On the blackboard were various examples of lessons. But what particularly caught my eye was a very interesting poem that went as so:
Never trouble trouble Until trouble troubles you. You’ll only double trouble And trouble others, too.
This was so exciting to me readers, that I can’t really put it into words! So much rural history was inside. So much learning went on over many years in a very small place.
I dedicate this article to my Dad and all the people who have worked hard to save for posterity a wonderful moment of time in that time-preserved little one-room schoolhouse.
Read on if you would like to find out why this is a part of a series of articles (hubs) about early farm life!
About My Farm Nostalgia Hubs
This is the third in a series on farm life and growing up on a farm as recalled by my Dad.
The first hub I wrote about involved the loss of a limb by one of the family dogs, A Pet Rescue Story: Brownie, the Three Legged Dog.
The second hub was about a near-accident my Uncle Don had, Life and Limb: A True Story From an American Farm.
My third was the Hubnugget winning The Story of a One-Room Schoolhouse.
A forth on is Farm Life During the Prohibition.
The response of readers to these stories touched me personally and readers have continued to ask for more stories! So now I regularly call Dad so he can continue relating these stories and I will continue to publish them as he does. Thanks for reading! -- Laura in Denver