In the nineteenth century, the American classroom was sparsely decorated and furnished. School design was simple, expressing the frugality of a largely rural, agricultural economy. Rural communities had few resources to expend on education, and there was a lack of commercially available products for schools. Often the school would be open only for a few months of the year, usually when children were not needed to work at home or on the farm.
In the one-room schoolhouse sat students of all ages and abilities. The sole teacher was usually an unmarried woman; sometimes the students were older than the teacher. Using only the most basic resources slate, chalk, and a few books teaching and learning consisted mainly of literacy, penmanship, arithmetic, and good manners. Recitation, drilling, and oral quizzes at the end of the day were the norm in classrooms across America.
The power of community and the high value placed on education are evident in the shared efforts involved in maintaining the schools. Farmers supplied the wood or other fuel for the stove to keep the schoolroom warm in the winter. Parents built school desks and took turns cleaning and stocking the stable that housed the horses the children used to get to and from school each day. Teachers often lived with local families, rotating from household to household.
At the turn of the twenty-first century, the American school is a much different place. Large systems of education govern schools. Teachers must have specialized training and a college degree, and are a more diverse group. Students are separated by grades. Classrooms are filled with books, maps, and electronic equipment. Telecommunications empower students to cull information from around the world directly into their classrooms. Students can participate in classes led by teachers in other states. In some communities, children attend school year-round, including summer. Schools are larger, with expanded sports and extracurricular programs. Many schools today also serve as the venue for community functions and activities.
Photographs from ONE-ROOM SCHOOL. Copyright © 1999 by Raymond Bial, www.raybial.com. Used by permission of Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.
Photographs from A One-Room School. Copyright © 1994. Used by permission of Crabtree Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
Photographs from Early Schools. Copyright © 1982. Used by permission of Crabtree Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
Photographs from How Teachers Taught. Copyright © 1993. Used by permission of Teachers College Press. All rights reserved.