The Daily Gazette is reprinting excerpts of the late Larry Hart's long-running column, “Tales of Old Dorp.” Schools will soon be out for summer, but Hart has one more lesson for the kids before they begin pool and pajama parties. This column excerpt originally was published May 15, 1979.
Al Saulwater, a bowling pal of ours, came up with an interesting treatise on “School Days Gone By,” printed on a place mat in an out-of-state restaurant. It may bring back some memories for our readers.
“Cold in the winter, hot in the summer — that’s what it was like in the one-room schoolhouse. Supplies were few; some unruled paper and a goose quill pen with homemade ink, big brother’s hand-me-down speller, and a ruler that Dad had made. When the paper ran out, children had to practice their letters by writing in sand spread over a plank stained black.
School days consisted of reciting passages from the Bible, practicing letters and a little arithmetic, getting into trouble, staying out of trouble and recess.
“Of course, in a room with children of all ages, staying out of trouble could be the hardest thing to do. The punishment was often swift and harsh. For example, a child who played hooky was sometimes shackled to his desk to spend the night in the school alone — a scary thought, but discipline was often maintained by sheer fright.
“Students, when reciting, had to ‘toe the mark’; they had to stand with their toes on a certain crack in the floor boards and not move while they recited their lesson.
“ ‘Readin’, ’ritin’ and ’rithmetic, spelling bees and McGuffey readers — the school bell has been ringing since ‘way back when’ but things were certainly different. Indeed, schools have changed with the times. But one similarity remains — part of the school day still consists of getting into trouble, staying out of trouble and recess.”