Friday, August 24, 2012

Schools in the 19th Century

Up until the middle of the century, school as we know it did not exist. Upper class children were tutored at home, usually by hired professionals, and then attended private college or boarding school. Middle class children might be taught at home, or their parents might pay for them to be taught by a neighbor who set up a "hedge school" or "dame school" in their home (one such lady charged one dollar per child per month). Another popular school was the "Sunday School," run by the local church, where children (and often adults) were taught to read the Bible. Most poor children did not attend school at all, but worked to help support the family. In larger cities, "ragged schools," usually run by churches or other charities, taught destitute children to read and offered a free meal.
Around 1830, school reforms began to appear. Private schooling was still available, especially in rural areas, but public or national schools became common. Especially in the larger cities, it was feared that uneducated, "immoral" children who spent their days working in factories might grow up to be troublesome citizens. An education was felt to create a sense of social responsibility in the working classes. Teachers were hired by local government, and at first, all children were taught in one room. Division based on age or grade was usually not possible due to the smaller population of most schools.
By the end of the century, all children aged 5 to 12 were required to attend school in most countries. After that time, they would either go on to college or into the workforce. The "high school," created for older teens, appeared in the early part of the century to prepare older children for college or the workforce. These were an alternative to expensive private academies, and focused on a practical curriculum with either college preparatory classes or vocational training.
Children in the 1800's learned "The Three R's" - Reading, 'Riting, and 'Rithmatic. Learning was by rote method, with the students repeating what the teacher said until they got it right. Reading was by the word method until the later part of the century, with the student memorizing each word instead of sounding out the letters as the modern phonics method does. Phonics was introduced toward the beginning of the 20th Century. History, geography and science were often included, especially toward the end of the era, to round out the education, but the main goal was literacy.
Often, a standard textbook was available, such as the Hornbook or McGuffey Reader. Paper was expensive, so children practiced on slate boards with chalk. The teaching methods, also, were what was termed "chalking and talking" -- teachers wrote what the children should learn on the board and explained concepts aloud. Until the 1850's and 60's, reading aloud was encouraged, with each child taking their turn; after that time, "silent readers" were published, which children could read to themselves at their desks. Girl students often had their own readers, which encouraged more "womanly" behavior than the boys' readers. "Exercises in Rhetorical Reading" (R.G. Parker) published a set of drawings for girls in 1853, showing proper and improper sitting and standing posture.

19th Century textbook writers, on the whole, were quite a serious lot, although some books did contain a little humor. In Alonzo Reed's 1889 "English Language Grammar," he advises in the introduction, "The teacher should guide the thought of his class, but, if he attempts to do all the talking, he will find, when he concludes, that he has been left to do all the thinking." Reading books of the time also lacked the amusing plots children today expect. Nelson M. Holbrook's Progressive Pictorial Primer" in 1857 offers this entertaining story: "We go. Do we go? We do go. We do so. See us go. We go so. Go as we go." 

Unlike modern schools, the teacher had to be able to teach all subjects from what is now called kindergarten through high school. This required a much more comprehensive education on their part, for an average salary of around $30 a month. Lessons usually lasted from 9:00am to 5:00pm, with a two hour break for lunch and recess.
It should be noted that in most areas, only white children were thought to be in need of education. Children of other races were usually destined for a life of hard work, and thus literacy was not considered important. Textbooks of the day, also, usually showed or told stories about only white children.

1 comment:

  1. WOW, this was truly informative to know and i absolutely enjoyed what you had to say here, Accounted for a really interesting and an engaging read. Good job!