Sunday, November 26, 2006

Rural Training School, Richmond, Kentucky

In conversation yesterday with a coworker I mentioned having gone to school once in a one-room school. She looked at me surprised and seemed not to know what I was talking about. She had no concept of a "one-room school."

"You mean all the subjects were taught in one room? No changing classes for different subjects?"
"No, I mean all the grades were in one place."

"Every grade was separated in a little room by itself?"

"No. Every grade was in a single room. First grade in the first row, second grade in the second row, and so on for six grades."

"Wow! It must have been a really big room!"

"No, there were only four people in my grade. The grade behind me was the biggest; they had seven in that grade."

Even after I described the school she still seemed not to get it. The idea was too far out.

There are probably a lot of people still around who went to one-room schools, but the number is surely shrinking. With today's home schooling I think the notion would not be crazy at all, but for a generation that has never experienced anything but herding of students by the hundreds, even thousands, the idea is strange for sure.
Because of frequent family moves I attended five different elementary schools in Kentucky and Georgia, two states not famous for public education. Statistically I ought not to have amounted to much, but that is why my views on education do not conform to most popular opinions. I am a firm believer that all education is from, by and for the student. Teachers are mainly facilitators and it is the value the family places on education which makes the difference between poor, fair and outstanding academic performance. How else to explain the stellar results with Asian students sitting in the same classrooms with fourth generation or more American kids with lackluster or failing marks? But, as usual, I digress...
The Rural Training School in Richmond, Kentucky was built for the purpose of allowing student teachers from what was at the time Eastern Kentucky State Teachers College to have on-the-job training. My mother had graduated from Eastern (now Eastern Kentucky University) in 1939 so the idea of my going to a "rural" training school was not unheard-of. The thirty-five or so children who went to that school were collected by bus from a few miles along the Lancaster Pike and provided just the right number of students to be taught and coached by young, newly-minted teachers before they got assigned to permanent jobs.
I don't remember much about the student teachers, except that they were only there a short time. But Mrs. Scott was the principle and had been there for years before I came and was there years after I went on to other places. She was the perfect model of old-fashioned educator, teaching both students and younger teachers at the same time.
I could fill pages of description and stories, but most readers would find it tedious. Suffice it to say there was no indoor plumbing. Boys and girls outhouses were not too far from the back door. Several times we took field trips in a caravan of cars. I first saw a museum, a zoo, and the state capital on trips from that school. Every Friday morning those who wanted to participate could hike across the field that separated us from the college and go swimming in a year-round indoor pool, after which we came back for lunch and the rest of the school day. Lunch, of course, was always whatever came from home. One-room schools don't have lunchrooms. From time to time the whole school participated in indoor recreation, probably due to bad weather, but I always remember it was better than playing outside. We played games, painted or drew pictures, using powdered colors mixed with water. I remember pushing all the desks to the sides to play drop the handkerchief or dancing the Virginia Reel. We performed plays, told stories, asked riddles and found all kinds of fun activities other than studying.
On and on the memories go. Such were the lessons that passed for academic excellence half a century ago, but I think we learned more about real life, about getting along with other people, about values than students now do (or don't) in school. We didn't have report cards (to my disappointment). Much more focused and a lot less open for misrepresentation, each evaluation period Mrs. Scott personally wrote a short letter home to each student's parents letting them know what was going well and what was not. Tough to finesse those letters if you had any problems with deportment. Ask me.
Teachers made study notes and tests using a hectograph, a precursor to the mimeograph consisting of tray of gelatin. The master paper was hand-written using a purple mimeograph pencil, then placed face down on the hectograph tray and moistened slightly. After a minute it was peeled up leaving the ink in the gelatin. Copies could then be made by placing paper down on the surface, then peeling them off with the inked side a copy of the original. After two or three copies, the surface had to be moistened again with a sponge, and the process would continue until the ink became too light to see...usually after about ten or twelve pages. Small classes didn't need more than that, so it was a practical, cheap method to make copies. The only drawback was the tray had to rest for a day or two while the ink sank to the bottom until it could be reused. I don't think they ever wore out. When my kids were small I ordered a hectograph from an office supply catalogue so we could play with it at home. They were fascinated and we had fun for a time making pictures to color.
The post is getting out of hand. I'll stop here. As I was writing, I had a flash that someone else from that same school might come across my little remembrance and get in touch. This is the age of search engines and it's not a wild idea anymore.

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