Histories: Trempealeau Co. Historical Accounts:
"History of Trempealeau County Wisconsin, 1917":
Chapter 23: More Historical Papers
-As transcribed from pages 889 - 890
School conditions were materially different in the early days from what they are now. The pioneer schoolhouses had homemade desks placed close to the wall. Sometimes as many as twenty pupils had to rise to let the classes pass to and from recitation. In many schools there were no recitation seats and the classes had to stand. The desks and woodwork were often unpainted, but teacher and pupils were expected to keep all as white as soap and sand would make them. Each teacher, with the help of her pupils, cleaned her own schoolhouse. Long-handled dippers, washbasin, soap, towels, and mirrors came gradually, as did maps, charts and other helps. The three R's, with the addition of grammar and spelling, were the essentials, and pity the teacher who could not do all the "sums."
It may be that undue emphasis was placed upon arithmetic, as nothign was omitted, even though it had no practical value in itself. But for those pupils who had no hope of ever studying the higher mathematics or a foreign language, the mental discipline from their arithmetic was invaluable.
In mental arithmetic drills, and it was mental, the pupil would listen attentively while the teacher read a problem once. He would then stand, repeat the problem correctly, give each step in the solution, and the conclusion, training along many lines. The pupils of early days did not have the culture that the pupils of later days have, but they learned how to work, they were able to help themselves, and they could spell.
What a frolic was the old-time spelling school! How the children did work over those spelling lessons! Books were taken home and hours were spent preparing for the next spelling school. Often three or more schools met and fought hard, if bloodless, battles for the championship. Yes, it was exciting fun, but it also taught spelling.
The children furnished their own text books, and often there were not enough to go around. Nor were the books always suited to the needs of the child. Four different kinds of readers or arithmetics were often found in one class.
Out of school the teacher was truly a part of the family with which she boarded. She sat with them around the kitchen fire, washed in the family basin, used the common family towel, and shared not only a room, but a bed with one or two children. The food was plain, but plentiful and wholesome, and although the houses were small and often very cold, they were real homes. Every one shared the joys and sorrows of the others.
- By Margaret Anderson
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