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Five Things Kids Learned Better in One Room Schools

My hero in Larkspur, Galen Ramsey, has a son who is nearly seven and hasn’t yet started school. This isn’t surprising, as he’s too young to make the half-hour ride from their homestead to town alone. However, Galen has been thinking a lot about his life and his son’s since meeting my heroine, and he’s decided to drive Hunter back and forth to school.

It’s terrifying for both of them. Galen only spent one week in school himself before getting in a fight and being strapped, after which he quit. School must have been absolute hell for so many kids in the nineteenth century, with rigid teaching methods and even more rigid discipline. I’m afraid it won’t be long before little Hunter finds himself in trouble.

My grandmother started her teaching career in one room schools as a teenager. She loved teaching and taught for close to fifty years. My parents both attended one room schools. They learned some skills that I find kids don’t learn as well in modern classrooms, including mine.

  1. They learned to concentrate. They might have to read while another class was up front reciting multiplication tables. There might be forty kids from primary to grade nine in the room. They had to be able to block out distractions.
  2. They learned independence. They had to work and study on their own while the teacher was busy with another class. Older ones helped the younger ones at times, which reinforced their learning, too.
  3. They learned to memorize. Lessons were often recited from memory. Memory training has all but disappeared from schools today, which I think is a shame.
  4. They learned time management. If they didn’t get their lessons learned during class time they would be kept in at recess or lunch to learn them. Instant assessment, instant feedback.
  5. They learned fewer subjects more thoroughly. I’ve seen copies of exams from those times, and the expectations for grade 8 and 9 in reading, writing and math were way beyond those of today. I often think the curriculum we teach now is a mile wide, but only an inch deep in some ways.

I’m not saying that the old ways were definitively better. I know my parents wouldn’t say so. But I do think that if we took some things from the legacy of those old one-room schools and applied them today, we’d improve the quality of education kids are getting. As for my story, little Hunter will settle in eventually and his father will end up learning with him. Even if neither of them likes it much.