Link Red-StaterWisdoms

Red-StaterWisdoms explores the differences between the Red and Blue states on social, personal and political issues.

My Photo
Location: New York

Thursday, December 16, 2004

"Effective Education--Then and Now"

Note from Sallyann: Ian G. Mackenzie, member of the Corning Historical Society, has written a small handbook on the “History of the One-Room Schools” to be released at the end of January 2005. I wrote this Epilogue for his book and thought I would share it with readers. The message seems timely. I attended the River Road (Lindley #4) School in the mid-50's.

In 1954, the era of the one-room schools in the greater Corning area was coming to an end. The voters had decided, and the proponents of consolidation had won. By 1957, the doors to some 50 one-room, rural schools had been padlocked and the shutters closed, abandoned some said, for the greater good. But one of those plain school buildings that offered few creature comforts was all any community needed to produce exemplary citizens and hold a community together.

When I think of how crude those old schools were compared to the modern classroom, I am struck by what they accomplished. With few supplies—a box of #2 pencils, a hand cranked pencil sharpener, an eraser, paper, ruler, a handful of books and chalk for the single teacher, giants of industry, doctors, lawyers, nurses and the working man moved this country forward to the Super Power it is today. In fact, the last time students scored consistently high on the SAT’s was 1964. This leads one to believe that the brightest students were the last graduates of the one-room schools. Since 1964, the SAT scores have steadily fallen.

How did the rural teachers manage to educate a generation that sent a man to the moon, invented the computer and the internet without access to progressive teaching methods and the bells and whistles afforded modern educational institutions? To put it simply—it was a different time. Students learned by rote memory. Lessons and grades were repeated until they were mastered. The ability to think creatively, the preferred measure of intelligence by today’s progressive standards, was fine tuned during recess when confronted by the bully on the playground.

The classroom embodied a culture of personal responsibility, holding each child accountable for his or her achievements or failures. Teachers did not concern themselves with a child’s
self-esteem. Their concern was for the “content of our character.”

Patriotism and nationalism were never suppressed, always celebrated, and students never knew who the teacher voted for.

A prayer was said at the start of the school day, and no one was offended. Poverty, much meaner than today, became a fierce motivator for impoverished students who had dreams of “better days to come.” Acts of charity were commonplace. Corporeal punishment was delivered infrequently, usually with a just hand, and the recipient learned a valuable lesson on respect. The quiet order in the classroom was foremost in the teacher’s mind.

A student was never too far from home or from the larger kinship of community that strengthened and unanimously supported the one-room schools. Students emerging from rural back roads into the classrooms shared common goals, reinforced by a long history of traditional family values, expectations and pioneer-like beliefs in the American Dream. All any one-room teacher had to do was take rag-tag country kids empowered with community values, ethics and well established personal principles and provide them with a fundamental education—the ideal formula for academic success and the making of a productive citizen.

The record clearly illustrates that after the closing of the rural schools academic achievement steadily declined nationwide. It’s important to note that present-day educators state the quality of student entering school, the lack of parental and community involvement, and funds as primary reasons for failure. One might argue that consolidation disrupted the social and educational successes achieved so efficiently by the one-room schools by dissolving a cultural institution—the community school that was proven. It is my hope that scholars looking for answers to solve the present-day dilemma of a failing educational system revisit the techniques and traditions of the past when the one-room school was the center of the community. Surely, there’s knowledge to be gained from more than 150 years of success.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very well written!

4:42 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home