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Bigger not always better

“The more things change, the more they remain the same.” Alphonse Karr, French novelist.

The Danielson School, a one-room schoolhouse, was less than a mile from my childhood home. The school housed kindergarten through the eighth grade, was attended by students who arrived and departed on foot, although a few rode on horseback. One-room schools were spaced two miles apart so that no one had to walk more than a mile, which, in bad weather, could be challenging, especially if it was through drifted snow.

There was a creek that ran behind the school, a cold stream with brook trout darting beneath its banks and water bugs dancing across its surface. The children played in the creek at recess and on more than one occasion someone ended up wearing wet clothes the remainder of the day, either the result of a tussle or a convenient slip off the bank.

There was no kitchen, but mothers of the students took turns bringing lunch, and I’d guess there was competition over whose mother brought the best lunch. It was more than a school; it was community.

My neighbors, who were close in age and also playmates, rode ponies to the school while I had to ride the bus to Spitler Elementary School. As you might imagine, having to go to any school that was named Spit-ler was cause enough for a burgeoning inferiority complex, especially when one’s playmates got to ride their mounts to school and mine sat idly in the pasture. One might as well have called it Fart-ner School (which rhymes with Hart, the name of the town where this little gem was located.)

This is how my parents saw things: Spitler was a proper school, with a teacher for each classroom and two classrooms for each grade, a cafeteria, a music teacher, a large playground, a principal with a PRINCIPAL’S OFFICE (which I visited in third grade after hitting Danny Devila who mercilessly teased me over my corrective shoes.) There were fire alarms with proper fire drills and all of it was housed inside a modern brick and cement structure. Apparently, they believed I would be advantaged by the arrangement.

This is how I saw things: My friends got to ride their horses to school and I had to ride a stinky bus to a school with a name that included spit. UNFAIR!

The children who went to the Danielson School have since led successful lives. The younger children were challenged by the older children to excel and excel they did. There were organized sports and other outings. The advantages of being in a neighborhood school, small as it was, were many and far offset the disadvantages.

The school closed in 1960 and the building was subsequently used as migrant housing. Sadly, the clapboard-sided building no longer exists.

My dad often quoted Karr, and in a day when children have been prevented from attending school due to a pandemic, the saying has proven prescient. Homes became one-room school houses out of necessity. Remote learning in small settings replaced large, centralized classrooms.

In the course of this social upheaval, parents also discovered what their children were being taught. In some instances, it wasn’t the three R’s; it was the world viewpoint of the educator, insinuated into the lesson plan. Parents were rightly up in arms when this became known. Even worse, teachers attempted to prevent parents from observing lessons. It was an eye-opener for parents who trusted in teachers to educate, but who used their positions to indoctrinate instead.

The more things change, the more they remain the same. I wonder if the pandemic will lead to a shift in our education system. It’s not likely to happen, but if schools were decentralized, it could reignite community involvement and parental ownership over what children are taught.

Perhaps those one-room schools provided a superior education after all.

(Much thanks to Janis Wieber Bucher who attended Danielson School and provided information for this post.)

The Danielson School: credit, Janis Bucher.

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