The past is a foreign country… (part 3): Schools

“The past is a foreign country. They do things differently there.” (L.P. Hartley)

… In the South, fewer than half of all children attended a school as late as 1890.”

“While urban students typically began their education at the age of seven, attended school nine months a year, and completed a year of high school, rural children went to school six months a year for less than five years.”

In 1910, “a fourth of the schools in Montana held classes for no more than four months a year; in rural Arizona the school term averaged…105 days.”

Source: Huck’s Raft  A History of American Childhood, Steven Mintz, 2004

The first kindergarten in America began in 1856 in Watertown, Wisconsin. Instruction was in German. The first English language kindergarten in the U.S. began in Boston in 1860.

Source: Wikipedia

My grandmother, DeIna Ruth Buhrman, who married Al Logan, attended Kerr School, District 56, in rural Pilot Knob Township, Washington County, Illinois. Here are some statistics from the Kerr School’s “Teachers’ Annual Report — 1916-1917:” (This was several years after my grandmother attended school there — by this time, she was married and living in Washington County, Iowa — but the one report I could find.)

  • Kerr School had a 7-month school year: 141 days in session.
  • There were 22 boys and 21 girls between ages 6 and 21: a total of 43.
  • Two boys and two girls — 4 students — graduated 8th grade.
  • There was one male teacher/principal; in other words, a student-teacher ratio of 43 to 1. (And this was for all grade/age levels.)
  • There were 58 volumes in the Kerr School library (for all grades, reading levels, subjects, and ability/achievement levels).
  • The school property was valued at $1,000; school equipment at $250.

Illiteracy was a major issue in 1907. The Washington County, Illinois, “Township Trustees’ Report” contained these standard “causes” for illiteracy. Individual schools would report on illiteracy based on these categories/supposed “reasons”:

  • Idiotic and insane
  • Foreign birth
  • Blind or partially blind
  • Mute
  • Negligence of parents
  • Inaccessibility of school
  • Mental weakness
  • Ill-health
  • Indigence

Source: Regional Office of Education #13, Clinton, Jefferson, Marion & Washington Counties, Carlyle, Illinois


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