An `inferior' education in a one-room schoolhouse
BY most standards, I would be considered the product of an inferior education. I was born in the rural Midwest during World War II and attended a one-room country schoolhouse for four years. When the school eventually closed, I rode a school bus to town, 10 miles away, and ended up graduating from a high school with no science lab, with coaches who taught academic subjects as a sideline. We had a few bookcases for a library, and there were 20 kids in my senior class. My own children have grown up in a big city, attending a fine private school with many science labs and foreign language training from the third grade. They have studied English in high school with superb teachers who have shown them how to analyze literature and write papers in ways that would have been impossible for me at the same age. Their math education dances circles around mine. And yet, there are times when I wonder if their own experience is truly superior.Skip to next paragraph
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My parents were not well educated. My father was a farmer who had finished eighth grade. My mother completed high school and a few months of normal training before being assigned a one-room schoolhouse of her own. They did not read books, but they read the newspaper and the Bible, and my father faithfully read me the ``funny papers'' daily.
One day, when I was 5, he was too busy to read to me. And so, after supper, I related to him what Cookie had said and done in that day's installment of ``Blondie.'' My parents realized I had learned to read. That September, I started first grade in the Graham School. There were five students.
In a one-room country school, you have a lot of free time. You recite your lessons, you do the next day's homework, and then you can either listen to the other recitations or ``go to the library.'' This consists of visiting a bookcase with a motley assortment of books. Some good. Many bad. I went there early and often. When it was discovered that I could understand the fifth-grade reader, the teacher sent it home with me so I could read as much as I liked.
In a one-room country school, you also work on your own a lot. Certain projects become open-ended by default. I recall a third-grade geography/history project in which the sole other third-grader and I wrote and bound ``books'' about as many countries of the world as we could.
Our mailman must have thought my parents were planning to become world travelers as he delivered packet after packet of the travel literature I had solicited through coupons in the National Geographic. Each arrival was a rare, exotic treasure that I regarded with awe and then cut up to provide the illustrations on ``food,'' ``clothes,'' ``customs,'' and ``geography'' for the country in question. My energy seemed boundless.
Nor was our bookbinding limited to history and geography. We pasted copies of Gainsborough's ``Blue Boy'' and other artworks on typing paper and wrote appreciative comments about them. We wrote poetry in both rhyme and free verse. We even learned about similes, and I wrote a very imagist poem about a red autumn leaf. With construction-paper covers and assorted decorations, ``My Poetry Book'' and ``My Book of Famous Paintings'' were complete.