I do a little reading about new directions in education, methods, single gender classes and schools, the Khan academy, magnet schools, large multi-level classes, etc. Sometimes what I read triggers memories. A few months back I "remembered" something I had never really thought about.
In second and third grade, 1941-43, I went to a one-room rural school near Monroe, Iowa. I had gone to first grade in the tiny town of Udell, Iowa. The school had first to eighth grades (no Kindergarten) with more students than the town had people. (I have a picture of a sign that says "UDELL, pop 76".) Then my parents and I moved to Jasper County, near Monroe, about a quarter mile down the road from that one-room schoolhouse.
It was a typical building, very similar to others spread around the Midwest in those days. It was on about an acre of ground, in the corner of the section. There was a woodstove about two-thirds of the way back in the room. I don't remember who started the fire. One of the older boys would keep the fire going, and bring in wood when the supply got low. It wouldn't meet safety standards now, of course. But when your clothes were wet from rain or snow, or some kind of tomfoolery, it sure was nice to stand in front of that stove to dry off. John Mallon and I broke through the ice on the creek one day, and spent most of the morning by the stove.
As I remember, there were about 20 or so students, spread through grades 1-8. I assume that some grades had no students some years. I don't really remember that. The teacher would call for students in one or two grades to come to a small area near her desk for class time. Often there would be more than one class gathered there. Those teaching sessions didn't last very long. I don't really remember a lot of the specifics.
One thing I do remember; most of the students were also teachers. If we couldn't figure out a problem, or how to pronounce a word in the reading book, or maybe we couldn't get the swing of a penmanship exercise, we would ask somebody. We didn't have to ask permission. We just got up and went to the other kid's seat. Sometimes it would be someone a couple of grades ahead, or maybe some sharp kid in our own grade. Usually we didn't ask the teacher. Maybe a fifth or sixth grader would show a second or third grader how to use a dictionary. There were a couple of the older students who would get two or three younger kids together to help with arithmetic or reading or maybe drill them on their spelling words. I remember three or four of us in a circle, each reading a paragraph at a time, with the older kid helping with new words.
I think there was something good about that. I know times have changed. I know students today have a lot more to learn than we did back in 1941 in that little school in Jasper County. And of course there is no way we're going to build a bunch of one-room schools. But I have seen it demonstrated through many years that kids can get turned on to learning when they help other kids learn.
The non-profit I directed in Mankato had a small wood and craft shop for kids. After a kid had learned how to sand, for example, I would have him or her teach a couple of other kids. They discover new facets of who they were, and begin to learn that at a very deep level, the old adage is true; "It is more blessed to give than to receive."
JIM DINSMORE lives in Tehachapi. His column "The Human Scene" appears regularly in the Tehachapi News.