Three lessons about education from my two-room country school days

When it was District 1074, the building had many more windows, and also a swing set and slide.

When it was District 1074, the building had many more windows, and also a swing set and slide. Photo by Bobak Ha’Eri, licensed for use under Creative Commons 3.0

Two and a half miles from our farm, District 1074 was a big step up in education over my father’s day. A two-room school with about 40 students and a hot lunch cooked daily by Ollie Kielty, my school offered more teachers, books, friends and lessons than the one-room school just half a mile from home that my father and grandfather had attended. My kids, in turn, got a far better education in St. Paul Public Schools than I did in the two-room country school I attended through sixth grade — but District 1074 taught, in practice and by default, some important lessons.

Lesson #1: Recess

If I recall correctly, we had morning recess and afternoon recess, and lunch hour, too. In all but the coldest or rainiest weather, we had to go outside — which meant learning to play softball together, whether you were good or bad, as well as games like Red Rover and various kinds of tag, ice skating in season, etc. Physical activity, without formal classes, was a lot more fun than the phy ed classes, and the importance of play time was never once questioned.

Lesson #2: Music and performances

Mrs. Agren came to school once a week, playing the piano and teaching us the old standards, as well as preparing us for the annual Christmas performance. We all had parts to play, all got to show off for an audience of parents and other relatives, and all got treats afterwards. In restrospect, I might wish for more folk songs and fewer martial hymns, but the subliminal lesson was the most important: Yes, you can sing. Yes, you can act. Everybody can sing. Everybody can act. Everybody can do this together. And the whole community will turn out to applaud all of our children.

Lesson #3: Library

Books took me beyond what we were learning in the classroom, opening new worlds of fact and fantasy. Unfortunately, District 1074’s library was small and I soon ran out of books to read.

Today’s libraries are media centers, with books, audio and video, and computers and internet. They open windows on the global, interconnected, world our children will inherit. When I hear about library hours being cut, library access limited, librarian/media specialist positions eliminated, I cannot believe the shortsighted decisions and the denial of learning opportunities that this entails.

So — more recess, more music (and performance and applauding our children), more library resources of all kinds!

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