Hands-on dis­ci­pline in one-room school

The Glengarry News - - The Opinion Page - News

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

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