THE ONE-ROOM SCHOOLHOUSE
We all recognize the one-room schoolhouse, that simple house tastefully, economically constructed and designed in the style of its community. The one-room schoolhouse is a neighborhood home, a house where children are guided into community, where youth grows into citizenship, where each young gentleman and lady becomes a curator of civilization. The one-room schoolhouse might be snuggled in New England’s woods, nestled at the base of towering Western mountains, the one-room schoolhouse might be lonely on the grassy plain or comfortably aligned among the gabled houses of a pretty street. Wherever the schoolhouse is found it is found to be a continuation of paideia, the Athenian tradition of Classive order, exercise in the literature of beauty, in the good health of mind and body.
In form, one-room schoolhouses have much in common. Each is solid, a single block balanced and well-formed; each shows windows orderly, evenly placed; the door is central; the façade is bilaterally symmetrical; the roof is single gabled; atop the roof, a smoke-whisping chimney and a bell to call the time of assembly, of recess, of completion; above the door a simple-painted sign that reads “McConchie School” or “Wylie School” or “Bunganuc School” of “Cedar Grove School” or some other of the 190,000 one-room schools that created the great America of 100 years ago.
Up the stairs and through the honest, simple door, an open room upon whose far wall a long, slate-board upon which in big-round-hand is written
Empty vessels make the most noise.
Neither a borrower nor a lender be.
Not all that glisters is gold.
It takes two fools to argue.
and other admonishments to virtue; there would be the teacher’s simple, sturdy desk; shelves of handy covered books; and upon the wall, pictured portraits of Washington, Lincoln, some local hero, and, perhaps, a familiar flag or slow-turning clock. Each desk might have personal slates or inkwell, each back-walled hook might hang a coat, and round about, for warmth the Franklin stove, for song the upright keys, and somewhere about might be a map, a paddle, a dunce’s cap.
Each schoolhouse would be kept by one teacher primly dressed. Youngest students in front rows, older students to the back. Lessons would be delivered in language, geography, history, math. Students advanced in scholarship would be asked to teach those coming along, the young scholars themselves becoming teachers, of a sort, responsible for the betterment of their younger fellows. There might be six, twenty, forty-or-more in the community of students, all grades in all subjects in one room, each learning by example of the elder, each elder learning to teach a distillation of the best of what has been thought, said, done in ethics, art, literature; there would be memorization, the recital of life’s and of civilization’s lessons.
“In the year of our Lord 1787”, the year of The Constitutional Convention, Congress by decree ordained, “Religion, morality, and knowledge, being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged.”* You will recognize the one-room schoolhouse to be the creation of this simple statement of fact, a sincere expression of intent, wise, responsible, eloquent. You will recognize the massive government schools to be warehouses of students created by huge government bureaucracies to serve the requirements of a vast corporate state. You will recognize the difference between the citizen and the voter, the difference between the educated and the trained, the difference between community and alienation.
At this writing, there are some 400 one-room schoolhouses that attend to religion, to morality, to knowledge, to good government and the happiness of mankind, and the number is growing. A One-Room Schoolhouse and Aletheia Christian and others continue Classive paideia through a variety of curricula that attend to beauty, goodness, truth, the fundamentals of creating citizens worthy of self-governance. Home-schools and home-schooling too are gaining popularity, are gaining strength as each day government schools are being weakened by the politics of health, as each day the government schools grow unpopular by the practice of privileging teachers over students.
There is a place, I think, in the landscape of America to create homes for education, one-room schoolhouses that profit by 3,000 years of paideia, that continue the essential tradition of American education, “religion, morality, and knowledge, the necessities of good government and the happiness of mankind”. As always, best to invent within tradition. The Franklin stove is no longer necessary; the McGuffey reader can be updated by a curated library; outhouses can become waterclosets, technology can be banked, storage can be increased, and a teacher might be granted some little quiet, some small privacy.
The floorplan shown here could be dressed in the many ennobling styles common to local communities, simply, beautifully, economically. Best practices in one-room school finance, business plan, and curriculum, can be found at The Good and the Beautiful.
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*The Northwest Ordinance, Section 14, Article 3
Featured image: One-Room Schoolhouse, teacher’s desk, Murdo, South Dakota. credit Nagel Photography
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