Hands-on discipline in one-room school
BY STEVEN WARBURTON Staff In today’s schools, libraries are as commonplace as water fountains and playgrounds. Indeed, most of schools have entire rooms dedicated to the housing of books.
This, of course, was not always the case.
In the era of the one-room schoolhouse, there were no school libraries. Some of these schools were lucky enough to have a bookshelf or two, but the selection there was severely limit- ed.
It seemed that the school board knew that, so it introduced traveling libraries.
“The traveling library was just a big box full of books,” says Colleen Shepherd, who taught in a one-room schoolhouse in East Hawkesbury in the mid 1960s. “It was a real treat because the avid readers would have read all the books on the shelves by the time the traveling library got there.”
Mrs. Shepherd made her comments at the Tea Talk at the Glengarry, Nor’Westers and Loyalist Museum in Williamstown recently.
She was joined by a small contingent of other former teachers, and students, of one- room schoolhouses in Eastern Ontario.
Among the memories shared by Mrs. Shepherd was a lament for the lost art of cursive writing.
“When I was in school, we had to practise these swirls over and over again to get it just right,” she says. “Now they don’t even teach it. My grandson didn’t even know how to sign his name. I had to teach him.”
When comparing modern education to the way it was back then, Mrs. Shepherd says both eras had their advantages and disadvantages.
“The old report cards were very simple,” she says. “It was just a manila card with the grades.”
Contrast that with the present report cards where teachers are required to write at length about their various students.
At the same time, she points out that the modern era has a fuller understanding of learning disabilities whereas in the old days, an underachieving student was assumed to be of lower intelligence.
After her time in East Hawkesbury, she moved on to the two-room Maple Ridge school, which was located on the Maple Road between Alexandria and Lancaster.
That’s the same school where Eleanor MacNaughton taught much earlier. She originally taught in a one- room school house on the Glen Road back in the 1940s and was paid a generous salary of $1,200 per year.
At the time, she had 18 students and, since it was a country school, the classroom was filled with the stench of rubber boots and manure.
She says it quickly turned her off and she decided that if she was going to teach in a rural school, then no one was allowed into the classroom if he or she was wearing dirty boots.
She says that life in that time was not without challenges. She remembers one Grade 1 boy who couldn’t see properly due to crossed eyes. However, his eyes didn’t affect his vocabulary. Mrs. MacNaughton said he swore fluently.
His profanity was not merely restricted to his teacher. After undergoing corrective eye surgery at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Montreal, he also wound up swearing at his nurse, who – here’s something for the Small World Folder – happened to be Mrs. MacNaughton’s sister.
When asked if she ever had to use the strap, Mrs. MacNaughton says, “Only on two occasions.”
The first instance came after a stern warning to her students not to throw icy snowballs. Apparently, kids were getting bruised pretty badly, so the teacher told her students that the next perpetrator would be punished severely.
And as luck would have it, one poor Grade 1 girl named Georgette walked into the school with a badly swollen face. “She could have lost an eye,” Mrs. MacNaughton recalls. When the students came back in, no one would own up to the crime. It was only after threatening to keep the students every day until 5 p.m. that one Grade 5 boy named Bill confessed.
He was invited to the front of the class where Mrs. MacNaughton strapped him twice on each hand.
On the other occasion, Mrs. MacNaughton hid in the cloakroom in order to nab another pint- sized hooligan who had been pushing people around. It was there that she discovered the guilty party, a Grade 1 boy, and she strapped him too.
As it turns out, both boys had something in common – they were Mrs. MacNaughton’s sons.
“They couldn’t believe that I’d strap my own children but you have to do what you say you’re going to do,” she says. “Now, at Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners, those boys will sit across the table and tell everyone how I strapped them.”
Corporal punishment often hit quite close to home