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Lessons from the one-room school

  • 25 news 1school.jpg
    This former one-room schoolhouse at Clamtown, near Reynolds, is typical of primitive, countryside classrooms that excelled in producing well-rounded students despite a lack of technology and amenities. DONALD R. SERFASS/TIMES NEWS
Published June 25. 2016 09:03AM

Soft-spoken Marie Hill grew up in the tiny hamlet of Reynolds where she attended a primitive country school.

She told me what it was like and offered common-sense words of advice, something she learned early in life.

“There are good and bad in all people,” she said.

Years ago, I interviewed her in depth about her experience attending a one-room schoolhouse.

“We had several grades all in one room,” she explained. “They were grouped in sections.”

The idea seems primitive compared to today. We now have advanced technology and schools with computers, swimming pools and air conditioning.

But for many, the one-room schoolhouse was all that was needed to provide a solid education in the three Rs. One-room schools produced some stellar students.

That was the case with Hill, a gal with a photographic memory.

At age 15, she became the youngest female graduate in the history of Tamaqua High. The youngest male graduate was Donald Whitley. He, too, graduated at 15. Both had attended the same one-room school in Reynolds.

For some reason, the one-room school was a setup that worked, despite the crowded classroom.

Hill said it was an advantage to be taught in the same room with older children. The exposure to older kids somehow sparked curiosity and motivation.

Folks nowadays would cringe at that idea. It’s something that would never be allowed in today’s public schools.

But one-room schools were part of a different culture in a different time.

In truth, not everything was good. There were drawbacks, too.

Money was tight and one-room schools were bare-bones facilities that lacked amenities and sophistication. The room was heated by an old coal stove and there were no bathrooms. Instead, pupils used outhouses.

But the one-room school was a cavern of learning and much was done correctly.

Hill understood that people need to be taught how to think, not what to think.

“You need to learn to use your head,” she said.

She also believed in the advantage of making her own decisions. Lessons can last a lifetime and it’s essential to learn how to think.

Thinking skills are important throughout life.

That was a basic lesson of the one-room school.

But times have changed.

And change isn’t necessarily a good thing. For instance, I’ve seen the workings of common core math. I can’t help but think something is terribly screwed up if that’s the way today’s students are learning to add and subtract.

I sometimes wonder, too, if important basics are missing in today’s high-tech curriculum, such as the human-to-human, personal touch.

Of course, computers are an integral part of a modern educational program. They’ve added much. But at what cost?

Whenever we add something new, something else is taken away. Are we becoming too mesmerized by electronics? Has the process of learning been reduced to a PowerPoint mentality?

Hill’s education was as basic as can be. But somewhere in the barren, worn classroom of a one-room schoolhouse, she cooked up a recipe for success.

She was delighted to accept a high school diploma at age 15, an honor she’d earned using her brilliant mind.

Above all, she learned how to think for herself. And maybe that’s the best result of education and the secret behind the one-room schoolhouse.

Marie Hill passed away in December of 2007, but I’ll forever be proud that she was my mother.

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