A Personal Transition

When I began teaching, my principal used to mention that his favorite teaching experience was in a one room schoolhouse in rural Nebraska.  ‘The students learned more, were happier and it was easier to teach.’  This I found inconceivable.  It was hard enough to do six lessons a day for one grade level, let alone several grade levels?  My second year of teaching I read “Little House on the Prairie” to my fourth-graders.  I loved the pioneer life that was depicted and read the rest of the series to myself.  It was in the last two books where a fairly detailed picture of her education appeared and where I had a disturbing epiphany.  Fifteen year-old Laura Ingalls, living on an empty prairie, with one foot in the stone-age was more qualified to teach in her one room schoolhouse than I was at twice her age, half way to a master’s degree, and living at the end of the 20th century.  I purchased a number of antique textbooks from that era to confirm my observation that 19th century American students accomplished amazing levels of education.  How this could be was still largely inconceivable to me, but I did discover classical Christian education and joined its ranks.It wasn’t until I read John Gatto’s wonderful book, “The Underground History of American Education,” that I was able to see why the one room schoolhouse was so effective.   Students can and should learn independently.  They should learn at a pace independent of their classmates and they should learn independent of a teacher as much possible.   Gatto also pointed out how the modern ‘factory school’ is not the place to develop creativity or leadership skills.  He argues that confining thirty children of the same age to a classroom, to sit in desks, doing exactly what they are told, when they are told, might be somewhat detrimental to a child’s creativity, confidence and social skills.The concept of the one room schoolhouse is not an experiment.  The modern, factory school is actually the experiment; one that has failed badly.  It is time to resurrect the one room schoolhouse and provide an education that is fitting for a child made in the image of God: creative, able to wrestle with what is good, true and beautiful.

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