School Days, School Days…

Dear old golden rule days.
Readin’ and ‘ritin’ and ‘rithmetic
Taught to the tune of the hickory stick.
You were my queen in calico
I was your bashful barefoot beau
And you wrote on my slate
“I love you so”
When we were a couple of kids.

“School Days,” Will D. Cobb, 1907

It’s that time of year again when the school buses are out, making their rounds to pick up students.  Your wallet feels a little lighter because your child’s backpack is that much heavier.  Summer lasts for another month yet, but the kids are back in school.

The first known school in Rockford began in 1837.  Miss Eunice Brown taught six students in a log house 110 South Second Street.  From about 1837 to 1855, most schools were private, and parents paid the teacher directly.  Rockford’s City Council began considering free ‘common schools,’ with two school districts on either side of the Rock River.  In August 1857, these first public schools opened to students with Adams School on the west and Lincoln School on the east.  The two schools had a combined enrollment of 900 students.

Turner School – located at Alpine Rd. and East State St.

With Rockford growing and expanding, the two districts quickly became three, and by 1880, Winnebago County was made up of 120 districts.  One-room school houses were not uncommon.  These buildings typically had two doors, one for boys and the other for girls, and the two groups sat on either side of the room.  Generally comprising of grades 1 through 8, classrooms were full of siblings and cousins.  Children brought with them their slate boards, slate pencils, and their book called a reader.  Their studies mainly consisted of the three r’s – reading, writing, and arithmetic – but also included geography, history, music, and even agriculture.

Naughty children had their knuckles rapped with a switch, or were made to balance on a one-legged stool or stand on their tippy toes with their noses on the blackboard.  While these practices are not done in today’s classrooms, certificates of achievement that are awarded to good children today have been in practice for over one hundred years.

Rewards of Merit – Presented to Eva Bruce – Circa 1890


While the size of the schools grew throughout the decades, the interior of the classroom remained mostly unchanged.  Here is a classroom at Whig Hill School in 1926.  Everett C. Sarver, a fifth grader, is the boy with the wide-eyed expression sitting in the first row from the right, second from front.  You may remember him as Captain’s Talker aboard the U.S.S. Minotaur

Everett used this slate board to practice writing.  Because note preservation was impossible with the slate board, memorization was greatly emphasized through recitation.

Everett’s Report Card – Grade 8 – 1907

Continuous updates to technology have not evaded the schools.  Today, students use school computers, laptops, and the internet to complete assignments.  Online classes are now preferred by students with hectic schedules.  The differences between today and the 1800s seem to be stark, while the similarities sometimes remain subtle, such as report cards and certificates of achievement.  What kind of similarities to you think we’ll see by the 22nd century?  What practices will change?


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