The Right to Learn: A History of School

1855 One Room School / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)

In this isolated time, we can appreciate the value of our teachers and educational system. School wasn’t always considered a right, especially one that was extended to every child. For this lesson, we use media sources to examine 19th century schooling and the various obstacles that prohibited many kids from receiving an education.

Starting in the 1830s, The Common School Movement led to the development of public schools, which offered free education to all children (more on its limits below) For kids who were lucky enough to go, what was school like in the 1800s? In rural areas, many children learned in one-room schoolhouses, if they lived close enough to walk. Kids across ages gathered together under one teacher.

These country schools existed into the 20th century so you may know people that attended them. Call and ask about their experiences.
Some questions to ask:
—How did you get to school?
—What was it like to have multiple age groups under one teacher?
—How was the day structured?
—Did your school have indoor plumbing? How was it heated?
—How were children disciplined?

You can see a fictional depiction of the one-room schoolhouse in the TV show Little House on the Prairie.

Who didn’t get to go to school?–African American Children
Not every 19th century child got to attend school. Some groups of kids were not allowed to go to school. Seven states had anti-literacy laws that prohibited enslaved and free children from learning to read and write. Read here about the history of African American education. Then watch this overview. Why is literacy so important?

Who didn’t get to go to school?–Children with Disabilities
Some children with disabilities were also left out of the Common School Movement. Unfortunately, inclusive education wouldn’t happen until the late 20th century. Watch the video below. Why did it take so long for the United States to provide education for everyone?

Who didn’t get to go to school?–Child Laborers
Other kids couldn’t attend school because they had to go to work to earn money for their families. The number of children working grew over the the 19th century. In 1900, approximately 18% of children ages 10-15 were employed.

Photo by Lewis W. Hine / Public domain
“10 years old. Working 3 summers. Minds baby and carries berries, two pecks at a time. Whites BogBrown MillsN.J. This is the fourth week of school and the people here expect to remain two weeks more. Witness E. F. Brown. Location: Browns Mills, New Jersey.”  

With adult supervision, research online to answer the following questions:
1. What were some of the jobs held by children?
2. Describe the conditions for these jobs. Were they dangerous? How many hours did kids have to work per day?
3. Why did children have to work?
4. When did child labor become prohibited in the United States? Why?

Reflection Essay
In a short essay, identify three reasons that prevented children from getting to attend school. Next, discuss why school and good teachers are so important. What would your life be like if you weren’t allowed to go to school?

We might get sick. Seriously. Flexible Teaching in the Pandemic

So far, our discussions on how to move online have focused on pedagogical questions and conferencing tools. I enjoyed reading one of the few essays to go against the grain–“Please do a bad job of putting your courses online.” Dr. Barrett-Fox’s reassuring narrative really gets at what most of us are feeling.

The other key point we need to center on is that many people will get sick. We are moving online because of disease. I’m not saying this to fuel the fire. It is a fact. We as faculty should prepare our courses in such a way that if (or when) we are too ill to teach, or too busy providing care, classes can still continue.

If we prep and release several weeks of material (video lectures, prepped assignments, quizzes, exams, discussion submission boxes), we also extend the same flexibility to our students, some of whom will also get sick. Even for the healthy ones, we don’t know their situations. They may not have computer access at home. Or slow internet. Or an older device that can’t download new apps.

Our students are across time zones right now and facing many unusual burdens that take away from learning. If we can create some material in advance, then we grant students the flexibility to work around their additional challenges. We can still connect by offering real-time conferencing, but only as a bonus, not for regular course delivery.

I know that many instructors are panicking about producing any materials and this task seems daunting. You will not be able to replicate your normal class or even its ideal online version. Boil down your regular lectures into short videos. Use technology that auto-grades quizzes and exams. Use the textbook’s additional resources and the free technology, provided that learning it doesn’t suck all of your time. Find Youtube videos that cover some of your course topics.

We as faculty also need to use each other as resources. If you create a video lecture with wider appeal, offer it to others. Senior faculty should reach out to junior faculty that teach the same course. Don’t let pride or fear hinder opportunities to make it through, especially as childcare options are falling through, forcing instructors and students to parent at the same time.

This is a weird time. We need to prep for the worst and hope for the best.