Tuesday, February 07, 2006

One Room Schoolhouse

Webster School, Bible Grove, Illinois. Loren Gould - fourth from left.
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"Wisdom is not a product of schooling but of the lifelong attempt to acquire it" ~ Albert Einstein (1879-1955)
It is said that the distance a man had to walk to school increases in direct proportion to his age. I've heard the stories of farmboys walking to school in the dead of winter with two feet of snow on the ground, five miles to and from... uphill both ways. Of course parts of this story do not hold up well. First of all, the little schoolhouse was at most only two miles down the road. Second, there is only rarely more than a few inches of snow on the ground at any one time in southern Illinois, in contrast to northern Illinois and other parts north. Finally, while it is true that the old homestead was on the only "hill" for miles around; this hill was only a small knoll perhaps 20 feet higher in elevation than the surrounding prairie. Southern Illinois is some of the flattest land in the country, the beginning of the great plain to the west. There is no possible way for any walk in any direction to be up hill.

Webster school was a one room schoolhouse. One teacher teaching grades 1 to 6 in the same room. These were a monument to classroom discipline. The little first graders had to sit still, quietly doing their seat work while the older classes had their lessons taught. Students had to learn with less teacher time per class level, but the younger ones had the advantage of hearing more advanced lessons multiple times during the day and the older students had constant review.

After sixth grade the boys had to board a bus in the morning darkness to make the trip to Effingham for junior high and high school. They survived and prospered. Two of the brothers became farmers, following in their father's steps. Their sons too are farming the land now. The oldest boy went to college and became an engineer. The baby, a girl, joined the air force, finished college and works in the computer field. My dad, Loren, went to college and seminary and is a retired minister.

The old schoolhouse served the farm community well, then when no longer in use, fell into disrepair. Each time we visited the farm, Dad would retell his walking to school story and each time the schoolhouse looked more dilapidated. It seemed to almost shrink in upon itself, losing planks and boards until it was gone. Now no trace of the school remains, just a bare field planted in soy beans or corn. The school remains in the hearts and memories of it's students, some of them also now gone; and in the stories passed down to the next generation and the next.

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