|Back in 1854, school out on the frontier was different
from today. The schools only had one room and all the kids were taught
together. The children did not start school in September, either. The fall
time was harvest time and kids had to pick apples, husk corn, carry water,
and cook for the men working in the fields. They also gathered firewood
and helped preserve the fruits and vegetables. Children worked until November
when the harvest was over and then they went to school. Schools were
only open in the winter and summer. The children had to plant and plow
in the spring and help harvest in the fall. The older boys often didn't
go to school in the summer because of farm work. Sometimes in the winter,
the boys stayed home and worked on the farm, also.
Students of all ages were in the same class. Some of the younger students were three or four years old and other students were sometimes older than the teacher! The students weren't grouped by age; they were grouped by what book they were using. They all worked together on the same subject. They had to memorize verses and important dates in history and then they had to recite them in front of the class or quietly to the teacher. This was called recitation, as shown in the picture below.
Sometimes the students were given a Reward of Merit, which showed them that they had done well. It was an honor to receive this certificate because paper and printed materials were scarce on the frontier.
Most teachers didn't get paid very much money. They received $4 to $10 a month. A lot of teachers had to " board round", meaning they had to live with their students. Aren't you glad your teacher doesn't live with you? As you can see, school has changed a lot.
Over on the East coast, back in the mid-1800's, it was very hard for black people to get an education. Black children did not go to school, but some learned to read and write from whites who wanted them to be able to read the Bible. In most Southern states it was against the law to teach blacks to read and write. The white people didn't want the slaves to read about freedom in the north because they might run away. They didn't want them writing because they would probably write passes to leave the plantation.
People caught teaching African-Americans would get arrested or have to pay large fines. Blacks caught learning would get a whipping or some other punishment. Even though it was very dangerous, many black people still learned. Some were taught at night. Others traded something for lessons. For example, one boy would teach another to play marbles for a lesson on the alphabet. Slave children listened under school doors and learned as much as they could.
Even in the North, the schooling for African-Americans was poor. Some cities had public schools for black children, but they were separate from white children. This is called segregation. Black schools were weaker in studies and had fewer supplies than white schools. Some black parents paid white tutors to teach their kids rather than send them to the over-crowded public school.
The schools taught most things they teach us now. Some schools taught special things like music, drawing and knitting. Children learned and sang patriotic songs like Rally 'round the Flag in schools. Many slaves got their freedom after the Civil War. The slaves that were freed were called Freedmen and flocked to newly-set up schools around the South to get an education.