Sharing with you things that are on my mind...Maybe yours too. Come back to Wrights Lane for a visit anytime!

23 October, 2012

A VISIT TO THE SCHOOL SYSTEM OF YESTERYEAR

School in Dresden attended by my parents and their son, demolished
 in 1960s. 
I have been involved in research recently that has impressed upon me just how much our education system has changed in the past 100 years.  No question that the school that my parents attended at the turn of the 20th century was not as much fun and as exciting as the schools enjoyed by their great grandchildren in the 21st century.

You only have to look at vintage news reels to see that our parents' and grandparents' generations suffered a tawdry, monochromatic education, dismally devoid of colour and imagination.  It is not too surprising that many students dropped out before ever making it to high school.  Of course, apprenticeships were readily available in many vocations in those days and economics were also a factor...Out of necessity, young people (boys in particular) were required to start making a living for themselves as soon as they were physically able.  School start times were also adjusted to accommodate farm kids who were required to work in the fall harvest.

Punishment and discipline were high on the agenda too.  Not learning math or neglecting homework often resulted in teachers administering the strap for insubordination.  If work was not up to standard, students were actually failed and held back a year...Just ask me!  I failed a grade when my father passed away during my first year in high school...An embarrassing  and belittling experience that haunts me to this day, forever carrying the stigma of the "dummy" label.  There was a certain regimentation too and the old school in Dresden (see photo above) that both my parents and I attended was no exception.

Extra curricular activities were virtually non existent.  The biggest "social" event of the school year was the annual commencement exercises.  An activity highlight was "track and field day" held in October of each year.

During elementary years, boys were assigned to one side of the school yard, and girls the other.  Heaven help anyone who ever strayed beyond that invisible dividing line. Students also had separate entrances at the back of the school.  Upon graduation (moving up) to high school on the second storey, boys and girls were privileged to use the same front entrance to the school as a first exposure to co-ed, co-existence in the society that awaited them.  For most kids, it was a rite of passage -- an "I have finally arrived" sort of thing.  Teachers, of course, had their own private entrance.

Children in my old hometown spent a good 12 years going to the same continuation school with primary grades on the first floor and senior grades (high school) on the second.  This may account for why so many of us have a special feeling for our old schools.  Kind of like our second home, in a way.  We spent almost half of the first years of our life walking those familiar halls of learning.  A place where our minds and personalities were formed, for better or worse.  By my rough calculations, I figure that I and my dad each walked 7,200 miles over the Sydneham River Bridge, to and from the same school in our formative years.
It is interesting too that there is a good possibilty that at some point in time I actually sat in the same desk as my mom and dad during their days at school some 35-40 years earlier. The photo to the left shows school desks that were common in the first 40 years of the 20th century.  They were bolted to the floor, so there was no moving them around.  Note the intricate iron frames and oak wood seats, backs and desk tops with ink-well holes for ink bottles.  Stock pens with replaceable nibs and fountain pens were the allowed writing tool of the day....No such thing as today's ball-point pens which came on the market only in the mid 1940s.  Penmanship was actually a mandatory course on the curriculum.


Slate board and slate pencil.
When my mother and father went to school (1905-1915-'16) paper was at a premium and not readily available.  "Scribblers", when available, were reserved for higher grades.  Each child actually had their own slate board to write on and to do arithmetic calculations. Slates and slate pencils were very handy (see photo to the right) in the early grades in particular.  Children were able to write on the boards, show their work to the teacher, and make corrections without wasting paper.  You could just wipe old work off your slate with a cloth, hand or shirt sleeve, and start all over again; hence the expression: "starting with a clean slate", so often used in conversation today.  Slate boards made it easy for teachers too.  With old work erased, all they had to do was move on to another lesson.  Not a bad idea then, or now too for that matter!

Just imagine how many trees could be spared today by re-introducing slate boards to the education system.  Guess we won't hold our breath on that one...!

Remarkably, schools in the first half of the 20th century turned out many brilliant minds and top scholars, so don't get me wrong.  There were redeeming features.  There will be a few (like me) reading this post who were virtual products of that very system; so I choose my words carefully.

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