Here to return to
LATER CHARACTERISTICS, 1860 TO 1900
ATYPICAL country school of this comparatively recent period was that at a small outlying hamlet which I shall call Riverbend. One of its attendants was Charlie Smithson. He began to go regularly before he had reached his fifth birthday. On the first occasion that he went to school he was escorted thither by an older brother.
The little brick schoolhouse was only a five-minutes’ walk from their home, if they went straight there without loitering. This morning they were early enough to play for a while with the other children in the schoolyard. But presently the bell rang. A tremor of alarm ran through Charlie’s breast. The clangor of the bell filled him with fear, and the open schoolhouse door looked ominous. He turned away and began to kick up the dust in all haste on his way toward home. His older brother was shocked at this disregard of the necessity of getting an education. He promptly gave chase, caught the runaway, and dragged him back to the schoolhouse.
Charlie found it not so bad after all when he was once inside, and in a few days he was as willing to attend as any of the other children. His mother always brushed his hair and slicked him up before he started, and was careful that he should start on time. He was very confidential with her when she was getting him ready, especially if they were alone together and not too hurried. He even told her, once, of the bad words some of the big boys used.
“Those are not nice,” was her comment. “You won’t use them, will you?”
He looked up into her face and replied with an honest “No.”
The small children were sent more to relieve their mothers than for study, and for the first year Charlie had not much to do. He came out on the floor twice each day to learn his letters from some big white cards that had pictures on them; he listened to the others, and he was allowed to play with a fascinating counting-frame made of wires strung with blue, black, yellow, and green wooden beads. Sometimes the teacher let him lie down on the bench, with her shawl under his head for a pillow, and go to sleep; and once he fell off on the floor. The shock made him awake with a sudden start.
The Riverbend schoolhouse.
There were now three terms in the school year — a long winter term of twelve weeks and a spring and a fall term of ten weeks each. It was so much the custom for the teacher to be a woman that a man teacher in a primary school was looked on as a good deal of a curiosity. In all the time that Charlie attended the district school he only had one man teacher, and he taught only one winter term. Saturday had become a full holiday. “Boarding round” for the teacher had long ago been discontinued, and was now thought a “strange custom of the olden times.”
Teachers, as a rule, were picked from among the young women of the home neighborhood. They were paid five or six dollars a week. In case a teacher came from another town, she boarded at a neighbor’s in the schoolhouse vicinity at a weekly cost of two, two and a half, or possibly three dollars. The teacher, for the time being, was adopted as one of the family at her boarding-place. She would probably keep her own bedroom in order and help with the household work, at least to the extent of wiping the breakfast and supper dishes; and on such noons as the rest of the folks were gone, she got dinner for the hired man.
The schoolhouse at Riverbend was more roomy than those of most hamlets. It was also more substantially built, for the community that possessed a brick edifice was exceptional. Diminutive wooden buildings, painted white, were the rule. Riverbend schoolhouse stood on a low hill which was hardly more than a terrace. The little yard was hemmed in on three sides by a high and slivery board fence. In front was a white-painted quarterboard fence that, in its first days, had a good deal of style about it; but the boys rode that off in a very short time, and, indeed, it was not long before boards, posts, and all were gone. The other fence was more formidable and withstood the ravages of time and the boys much longer. But successive climbingovers, whackings, and the demand for see-saw boards made it disappear piecemeal, until there was left only one knotty cedar post, to which the committee-man hitched his horse when he called.
The commonest type of the country schoolhouse.
Among the advantages of having the school building of brick instead of wood was the fact that its outer walls furnished an excellent surface to sharpen slate pencils on. Once in a while there came a teacher to whose æsthetic eye the gray blotches which decorated the bricks about the entrance were not pleasing. Word of command was thereupon passed that the scholars should do their pencil sharpening instead on the heavy stone step before the door.
Sharpening his slate pencil.
At a back corner of the schoolyard stood a rickety little building that served for a wood shed. It was unpainted and battered, and had a decrepit tendency to lean sideways, and always had a look of great age.
The interior of the schoolhouse consisted of a long entry, and beyond that the main room. At the rear of the latter were sixteen box desks. These desks were long enough to accommodate two pupils, but while Charlie Smithson went to school, the number of scholars was never so large but that each could have a whole desk to himself. The children left the district school younger than formerly to attend the grammar and high schools at the center. The rear seats in the room, which were monopolized by the largest and oldest scholars, were thought the most desirable ones. There was only a straight-up wall for a back, and the wind came in rather too freely at the cracks on cold days, but the remoteness from the teacher and the all-encompassing view of the room that the position afforded were sufficient compensations.
In the open space in front of the seats were the teacher’s desk, two chairs, and the box stove, which sent a long reach of rusty pipe across the room. On the wall behind the teacher’s desk was a long blackboard, and there were other blackboards between the north and south windows. Beneath these last, against the wall, ran a bench, on which the little scholars stood when they were at the board, and which was liberally tattooed with imprints from the nails in the bottoms of their shoes.
A class in geography.
The walls of the room were adorned with a geometrically figured paper that inclined to brownness and melancholy in its general tone. In places it had started to crack off, and in one or two spots was stained by leaks from the roof. The woodwork of the walls and doors was painted yellow with a graining to represent polished wood. The desks and benches were painted green — all except the tops of the desks, which were white. These soft pine desk-tops offered facilities for hand-carving and original decoration, which had inspired the pupils to do a good deal of work on their once fair surface with their jack-knives and pencils. It was on the boys’ side that the desks were most energetically cut up, the girls’ genius running more to mild pencilings.
In the middle of the ceiling was a small square hole with a little door fitted to it, and known as “the ventilator.” Originally there was a string attached to it by which it could be worked from below. However, strings are by nature perishable, and presently that string was no more. After that the boys, when they happened to think of it, would clamber up the unfinished wall in the entry and pick a precarious way along the dark and still more unfinished loft and open the ventilator, or shut it, as the case might be. At the same time they usually called down a few remarks through the hole to the other scholars and threw some bits of plastering at them. At length, having properly adjusted the ventilator and thus insured the health of the school, the boys descended, and for some time afterward occupied themselves in freeing their clothes from the dust and cobwebs they had gathered.
Going to school with the teacher.
In the way of art the schoolroom had three or four small chromos; in the way of inspiration, a dark portrait of Abraham Lincoln in a still darker frame. In the way of helps there was a somewhat antiquated wall map of the United States, and on the teacher’s desk a small globe. The teacher’s desk was quite modern. It was of black walnut, and it had a green oilcloth cover on its lid and a pretty balustrade at the back. The scholars admired it very much when it was first put in. Of course, use and age made it totter on its legs, and from time to time it was found necessary that it should undergo a course of gluings and wirings. These were administered by a village farmer. Many of the farmers numbered carpentering among their accomplishments, but this particular person, by reason of his special attainments, might fairly be designated the community’s prize tinkerer. He could patch the roof; he could clean the stovepipe. He was appealed to when the door wouldn’t lock, and he was appealed to when it wouldn’t unlock. When the paint wore off the blackboard, he put on fresh. When a windowpane was broken, he got a new one and came down some evening with his putty, tools, and a lantern and put it in. He even took the clock in hand when it proved refractory. In short, if anything was the matter, or the teacher at any time was inspired with a new idea in the schoolroom economy, he was forthwith sent for.
A schoolyard game of tag.
In the corner of the room next to the stove was a big woodbox, unpainted and much battered, which, like most things in the world, came to pieces oftener than seemed strictly necessary. The stove, too, had its failings. There were days when it smoked, and at times its actions not only puzzled the scholars and the teacher, but the village carpenter as well. However, he would examine the stove some day after school, while he improved the opportunity, at the same time, to eat an apple. He would see that the joints in the long pipe were all right, and adjust the wires by which it was suspended from the ceiling. He might even bring a ladder from home, climb the schoolhouse roof, and look down the chimney. After that the stove, if it had any conscience whatever, probably behaved better.
One of the boys among the pupils held the office of fire-tender and floor-sweeper right through the term. He came early mornings to start the fire and have the room well warmed by schooltime, and once or twice a week he swept the floor. For this work he received one dollar at the end of the term, or possibly two dollars for a winter term. Not every boy had the genius to make the fire go well, for the ashes had to be poked just about right to make the draft good, and the stove door was broken in two pieces, and it required care to adjust it so it would in effect be whole and stay whole. Those hard-wood fires could be made tremendously hot on occasion. Once a certain boy who was suffering for amusement loaded the stove as full of wood as it would hold just before schooltime, that he might have the joy of witnessing the teacher’s consternation when she came in and school began. Yes, the teacher observed the heat and the baked condition of the air, and sought out the boy who was answerable for the crime. She told him that, as he had such a liking for heat, perhaps he would be glad to stand by the stove and enjoy it. This suggestion was not one that filled him with delight, but the teacher would accept no excuse; and he was soon perspiring and repenting at the side of the stove. But he was a gritty fellow, and when, just before recess, the teacher asked how he liked it, he said, “First rate.”
Starting the fire.
“Oh, well,” was the teacher’s response, “if you enjoy it so very much, you may spend your recess, too, by the stove.”
Then the boy saw the unwisdom of his reply. However, the sentence was passed, and there was no help for it. That particular boy made no more hot fires.
Occasionally, one of the older lads would bring a little red pepper or brimstone and sprinkle it on the stove and by these means make the teacher and the pupils sneeze. The boys liked also to put snowballs on the stove to see them sizzle. This contributed to their happiness, perhaps, but it was not good for the stove, which as a result was badly cracked.
On the bench by the woodbox was set the water pail. Beside it was the drinking utensil, sometimes a tin cup, sometimes a glass tumbler, and at one time a little custard cup. It was astonishing how many times a scholar could drink that custard cup full when he made the attempt. The small boy in the front seat would drink as much as he could hold, and then turn around and watch the progress of the water pail to observe if any one could exceed him. If the pail-bearer had a grudge against any particular one, or was humorously inclined, he might snatch the cup away before the drinker had taken more than a mouthful or two, or would give the cup a gentle but sudden tilt that inundated the drinker in a small way. The office of water-passer seemed to be quite desirable, and “May I pass the water?” was a question which required frequent answer from the teacher.
The water was brought from the nearest neighbor’s. A big boy could get it alone, but usually two went to carry the pail. In the interregnums between the wearing out of one pail and the getting a new one, the scholars all raced over to “Uncle Elijah’s” each recess to refresh themselves at the tub of running spring water which stood at his back door.
The clock has been mentioned. That was a recent innovation. For many years after the reign of the hourglass and sundial the teachers had been accustomed to carry watches, but a schoolroom clock was a very recent idea. This one was bought by a subscription that the scholars raised among their respective parents, and it was fastened to the wall over one of the blackboards, where the children could note how time flew, though it must be confessed they usually thought time did not fly at all, but on the contrary went very slowly.
First day - waiting for the teacher.
Another village subscription supplied the schoolroom with a number of lamps, which, with their shining tin reflectors, had been fastened up at intervals along the walls. These saved the trouble of bringing from the homes lamps and lanterns for illuminating purposes every time the villagers gathered for a lyceum, or a Christmas tree, or an evening prayer-meeting.
School began at nine o’clock, with reading a chapter from the New Testament. The scholars read in turn two verses each as long as the chapter lasted, and then put their arms on the desks, bowed their heads on them, and with the teacher repeated the Lord’s Prayer in concert. Next came the clatter of getting out books and other working apparatus, and the asking of questions and making requests of the teacher. In a few minutes they had settled down to their tasks, and the teacher began hearing recitations. The A-B-C class was called first, then the class in the First Reader, then the class in the Second Reader, and so on. The teacher had on her desk a little bronze bell with a wooden handle, which she tinkled to call and dismiss the classes. Each class was expected to stand in a straight line, toeing a certain crack in the floor which possessed greater merits for a toe-line than its fellows because it had more width.
As the forenoon wore on, the smallest children were allowed to go out for what was called the “little recess,” provided it was summer time. Just how they amused themselves it is not easy to say, for the youngest children manage to have a very good time with the very simplest of accessories. North and east of the schoolhouse were apple orchards, where the scholars were privileged to help themselves to such fruit as they found lying on the ground.
Just outside the school yard was a great maple, and down the road a short distance was another nearly as large. In the spring these trees dropped quantities of their winged seeds into the grass. If you laid them on the hard dirt and stepped on them just right, they would burst with a faint pop. A child dearly loves a pop, be it great or small, and will expend a good deal of time and ingenuity devising means whereby he can make things explode and rejoice his soul with the sound produced — the more violent, the better.
There was one period when nearly every boy had an empty tin can with a string run through the bottom and fastened to a stick. This contrivance, when its possessor whirled it about his head, made the most horrible noise that can be imagined. No one except the boys could stand the racket thus produced, but they gloated over it. Discordant sounds never disturbed their sense of harmony.
One boy in the school was so organized that he could throw his thumbs out of joint, at the same time producing a quite perceptible cracking sound. He was looked up to as an authority and genius in the matter of poppings and crackings. He could also, by opening his mouth and rapping on his head with his knuckles, produce a dubious and hollow sound that would make one think his head was nearly empty. Perhaps it was!
A paper bag blown full of air and crushed made a delightfully loud explosion, but these bags seldom found their way to the schoolhouse. The best poppers within reach were large leaves, which were laid across a circle made by the thumb and forefinger of the left hand and slapped with the palm of the right. The girls could make very pretty wreaths of the maple leaves, weaving them together by means of their long stems. Dandelions in the season were a source of amusement. “I’m going to see whether my mother wants me or not,” says Jenny. She draws in a full breath and blows very hard at the white dandelion head held before her pursed lips. If all the seeds are blown away, she knows her mother does want her; but if any remain, it is settled that she is not then needed. The long, hollow dandelion stems, if held in the mouth and split slowly with the tongue, curled in two very neat and tight rolls. When shaken out, these formed spirals that, hung over the ears, made quite enticing earrings.
A hard sum.
Another useful flower was the buttercup. It was an excellent medium by which to determine the important question whether one loved butter or not. Just hold it under Jenny’s or Johnny’s chin, and if you see a yellow reflection from its burnished petals, that is a sure sign that he or she loves butter.
Beside the road, near by, were some great coarse burdock plants. The green .and purple burs could be stuck together into very neat baskets. Then there was a sturdy dooryard plant, the mallow, whose round, flat seeds were called by the children “cheeses,” and which were considered quite good eating. Sorrel leaves and clover blossoms were other sources of food supply.
Back of the schoolhouse was a wide meadow where the children out at “little recess” chased the butterflies with their straw hats, and gathered bouquets of the flowers that grew among the grasses. The best of all the sources’ of pleasure anywhere near was a little brook that ran along the borders of the meadow. There were endless possibilities of fun in that bit of water. The children could paddle in it, they could sail things on it, they could wet up their mud pies, and they could build a dam that would make it overflow its banks. In winter, if the season favored, the brook filled two or three of the meadow hollows. These, when frozen over, made excellent skating ground. The scholars were often on the ice before it was fairly safe. There was a pleasurable excitement to the venturesome ones in sliding on a “bender.” A bender was made by sliding across weak ice which cracked as you slid. The longer the sliding was continued, the more the ice sagged beneath each passing weight; and the more it bent, the greater waxed the excitement. Finally, some one broke through and got his feet wet, and then the crowd all went up to the schoolhouse satisfied.
A drink from a stream on the way home from school.
In warm weather, when the whole school came out for the “big recess,” the favorite game was ball. This was more particularly a boy’s game, though the girls played too, sometimes. After the grass was cut they liked to have their ball game in the meadow, but for the most part they contented themselves with the dusty roadway. Playing horse was in high esteem, and at times even the charms of the ball game paled before the delights of racing, and every child carried around ten or fifteen feet of string in his or her pocket. There were all kinds of horses, from “Stick-in-the-Mud” to “Maud S”; from the trained circus-horse to the wild horses of the plains. The scholars drove each other to school, and they drove each other home, and raced at every opportunity between whiles.
“Jail” was another game played. The woodhouse served as a prison, and the jailor caught the prisoners running, and in imagination he shut them up there; but as the woodhouse had no door, it vas necessary that those caught should agree not to break out. “Bear” was played in something the same way. The woodhouse was the bear’s den, and thence he issued forth and captured the others. In the fall great piles of fallen leaves were raked together, and the “bear” was covered up in them. The school gathered around the heap, and then the “bear” sprang out with terrible growls and a grand scattering of leaves, and chased whichever of the children came handiest.
In winter, besides sliding and skating, there was a good deal of desultory snowballing. Sometimes the snowballing went far beyond the bounds of gentleness or mischief, and the white missiles were hurled in swift anger and there were fights, and faces were washed, and the vanquished were ducked in the snowbanks. This was not a serious matter to the big boys, but the little fellows had some hard experiences. Let some great rough boy catch a little one and proceed to jam him into a drift, or let the big fellow chase the small one with a threatening snowball — there will be few occasions in all the trembling, gasping little lad’s after-life when he will suffer such terror. At the time Charlie Smithson first went to school there was one big Irish boy by the name of Jim Londergrass who acted as a protector to the small children. He was a most good-natured fellow, and he would allow the boys to throw snow at him and knock him about as much as they pleased; but if any of them were rough with a little one, they heard from him very quickly. Jim left school in a year or two and went away to work. Charlie has never heard from him since, but Jim has always been treasured in his memory as a true knight and hero.
At times the boys divided into sides and had pitched battles with their snowballs. Once they built a snow fort and planned for a fight that was to be particularly grand. Some of the boys prepared frozen snowballs for the occasion. Luckily, a thaw set in which laid the fort in ruins, and this desperate battle was not fought.
The youngest scholar.
After the morning recess the several classes in arithmetic recited. All but the very highest schoolbooks were illustrated quite fully, even the arithmetics; and each book had a picture on its board covers. When reciting in mathematics, the scholars stood a part of the time in line and answered questions and repeated rules, and a part of the time “did examples on the board.”
Doing arithmetic examples
There was one teacher who kept Charlie Smithson on the multiplication table a whole term, in spite of the fact that he told her he was much beyond that. He got so he could say it over frontward and backward, beginning at either end or in the middle, and he frequently covered one of the small blackboards with it written out, from 2 X 1 = 2 to 12 X 12 = 144.
Charlie’s most serious trouble with arithmetic came when he met with long division. For several days he studied the new problems and attempted them on his slate, but they seemed hopelessly entangled. A boy from a neighboring town visited school about that time, and, though no older than Charlie, it was said he could do examples in long division. Charlie regarded him as a prodigy, and sank in deeper gloom. But one day light burst on his mind, and after that he could only wonder what it was that had puzzled him.
All the children struck snags of some sort in their arithmetic. Once a class was doing examples at the blackboard, and the teacher tested their capacity by giving them a few problems not in the book. Among the rest was this:
“How many years have passed since our forefathers landed at Plymouth?”
Most of the children put down their dates, and there was a sharp rattle and scraping of crayons as they each hurried to get the answer as near first as might be. Soon most of them had finished, and some had the right answer and some had not.
There was one little girl, however, with her nose to the blackboard, and standing first on one foot and then on the other, who was making no progress. She had the date 1620 written down and under it a figure 4, and that was all.
“Well, Katy,” said the teacher, “what does the one thousand six hundred and twenty stand for?”
“That was when they landed,” was Katy’s reply.
“Very good,” responded the teacher; “but the 4 — what is that for?”
“That,” said Katy, fingering her chalk nervously, “is for our four fathers; but I don’t know whether to multiply or divide.”
Sometimes the whole school joined in a mental arithmetic exercise. The teacher would say, “Add two and two; multiply by four; take away six; divide by five,” etc., and after a while ask, “Now, how many of you have the answer?”
Up would go the hands of those who had been able to follow the processes, or thought they had, and the teacher would call on some one for the answer. This exercise was considered very exciting and interesting.
The afternoon began with another hearing of the reading classes; then followed the class in grammar, one in history, and the afternoon closed with the geography classes. In the geography lessons the children often drew maps on the boards. Sometimes they drew them off‑hand, and sometimes they used straight-lined diagrams to help them make what they drew more like the real things.
A New England academy.
When Charlie got his first new geography book, and the class was organized, he went at the study with great energy and even took his book home. On the morning of the day they were to recite the first lesson, he informed the teacher that he had studied his geography over five times the night before. The teacher rewarded this assiduity by letting him stand at the head of the class, although he was one of its smallest members; but, to his surprise, in spite of all his studying, not a single question could he answer. He had simply read the words of his lesson, and had not attempted to fix in his mind the ideas. Next day, from a humble position at the foot of the class, he did much better.
A quarter of an hour before the morning recess, the writing books, which the teacher kept in her desk, were distributed, and the children got out their pens and uncorked their ink bottles, and proceeded to copy line after line of the mottoes at the head of each page. The smallest pupils exercised their ingenuity in making straight and curved lines with a lead pencil, or in tracing over the blue lines of printed copy, while the conscientious older ones gave their minds to putting in the flourishes and the shading just right. Meanwhile the teacher walked about and kept lead pencils sharpened, gave advice as to what had best be done when a bad blot was made, or a page filled out ahead of time, and now and then sat down by a scholar and showed just how a particular bit should be written. The teacher usually had the children sit in a certain posture, and tried to have them take an easier position with their fingers than the stubby grip on pen or pencil that seemed to come natural.
Occasionally, drawing was taught in the school, and every child had a brown-leaved drawing-book of the same oblong shape as the writing-books. On each leaf, at one side, were patterns to copy, with some printed matter explaining how it was to be done. First came straight lines and squares and circles, and gradually more complicated forms, solid bodies, vases, and flowers. In the book Charlie used, the final masterpiece was a bit of potato top in blossom. Potato plants he had always thought very homely as he saw them growing in the fields, but here it seemed really a thing of beauty.
Sharpening one of the children's pencils.
Many of the teachers had a few moments of gymnastics in school each session. The pupils stood by their desks to go through the various movements, and in the parts where there was stamping or hand-clapping, considerable enthusiasm was aroused in seeing how much noise could be made. In the bendings backward, forward, or sideways there was always interest in determining just how far one could go, even though it endangered one’s equilibrium; and in the motions which called for a clenched fist there were those whose imaginations were stimulated to fancy themselves engaged in a pugilistic encounter. Such were particularly exhilarated when their fists came into semiaccidental encounter with a neighbor.
Singing found frequent place in the school exercises when the teacher was herself gifted in that way. Gospel Hymns was the favorite book for selections on such occasions. Whatever the musical lacks of the performance were, the volume of sound could always be depended on to be fully up to the mark, when the song had a lively and easily caught movement.
Teachers sometimes read to the scholars a little each day, or for an hour or so on Friday afternoons. One of Charlie’s teachers read them an exciting book about Indians and hunters, and for that reason Charlie thought her about the best teacher that ever was. The book was so fascinating that the scholars would gladly stay in at recess to hear it read.
Punishments, as a whole, had become much milder than in the old days, and many teachers got along without any punishments that involved bodily pain or made the child a spectacle of supposed shame to his fellows. “Thrashings” were no more, but once in a great while a teacher would resort to feruling. The front seats and standing room on the floor were reserved for those who misbehaved, and there were occasions when it seemed necessary to keep a child in at recess or after school.
A rainy-day school at home.
There was a great difference in teachers. Some were in earnest and did careful, faithful work, but now and then there was one who was careless, and more interested in her own ease than in the scholars’ progress. But a very poor teacher was not apt to stay long. The pupils were sure to report at home what she did and said, and when the tide of public sentiment set strongly against her, she had to leave.
The garments the children wore were in patterns and materials much more varied than in times past, yet simpler than at present. The girls’ waists, as compared with the modern fashion, were quite tight-fitting. Their stockings for a decade or more after the civil war were striped in narrow horizontal bars, or white, though the latter were usually reserved for Sundays and dress-up occasions. Later, black stockings became the rule. The girls wore their hair short until about the age of ten, and held it back from the forehead with a pliant, semi‑circular comb, or with a pretty ribbon an inch or so wide that passed from the back of the neck to the top of the head, where it was tied in a bow.
Many of the boys and some of the girls inherited their elders’ outgrown or worn-out clothes, which needed only a little adjusting or making over to fit them for further duty. Short trousers began to come into vogue about 188o, but the country folk were inclined to regard them as a town affectation not at all desirable for comfort or beauty, and a number of years passed before they were generally adopted. Hats, both straw and felt, were the common head covering for the boys, with roomy earlapped caps for winter, but at length close-fitting little caps became almost universal. At one time the boys used to have copper-toed and red-topped boots for winter wear, but, later, shoes and rubbers came into more general use. In summer most of the boys went barefoot, and in the driest times it was agreeable to the boy to follow along the middle of the road on his way to school, stubbing up as big a cloud of dust as he knew how. Once in a while a girl went to school barefoot, but that was not the rule.
Visitors were infrequent. When they did come, the scholars seemed to think they would bear watching — at least they did watch them. The most important visitor was the chairman of the school committee. While he was there, the classes were all called out to give him an idea of the progress they were making. One thing he was sure to do in the reading lessons, after a child had . read, was to ask, “Now what was it those people did whom you were reading about?”
The class in the Fifth Reader.
The boy turned to his book and started to repeat the words in the same sing-song manner as before.
“No, no,” said the committee-man, “shut your book, and tell me what they did.”
That accomplished, he would try to get the boy to read conversationally, instead of sing-song, but his success was not flattering. Just before the committee-man left, the scholars shut up their books and sat up straight, while the visitor rose, put his hands behind his back, and made some “remarks” to them. These were to the purport that they should be tidy, and keep the room neat, and that it would be a great help to success in after-life to have good lessons and to learn to behave well.
The one grand occasion of the term was “examination day.” The schoolroom was swept out very clean the preceding night, or perhaps well scrubbed with soap and water, so that a slight odor of soapiness and sense of dampness lingered all through the following day. The morning session was a short one, that the children might have plenty of time to eat dinner and dress themselves in their “Sunday-go-to-meetin’s.” They came in the afternoon very spick and span. Chairs were brought in from the neighbors’, and a little mild play indulged in before the bell rang to call them indoors. Not much was done until the audience began to arrive, and an air of expectancy and solemnity brooded over the schoolroom. Women and very small children were the only visitors, usually, and it was before them that the scholars were called out to recite such things as they knew best, and possibly to speak a few pieces and read compositions. The visitors were further entertained by being allowed to examine the pupil’s writing-books, and to look through the school register, wherein each child’s regularity of attendance was indicated, and where were put down the names of such callers as had been to the school. By and by there was a recess, where, of necessity, the play was not very vigorous, because the children all had their best things on, in which they were less comfortable and free than usual, and which they felt under obligation to keep slick and clean. When school was finally dismissed for good and the scholars were out of doors, they rejoiced in a pandemonium of shoutings and waving of hats.
They rejoiced because the school term had come to an end; and yet what happier experiences does life bring than in the care-free days one spends in a Country School?
The good boy who is allowed to study out of doors.