By JENNIFER K. BAUER
At “Back to School in 1895,” people can experience what a school day might have been like in an authentic one-room schoolhouse. Teachers dress in period clothing. With slates and chalk they teach penmanship, mental arithmetic and poetry, along with “current” science, history and geography. Recess and lunch are tailored to the times and discipline is strict.
“We do warn that corporal punishment is a possibility,” said Dan Leonard, who acts as a school master in the presentation created by members of the Whitman County Historical Society.
The class takes place at the Jones Schoolhouse at the Palouse Empire Fairgrounds outside Colfax. Built in 1895 in Dusty, Wash., the school was moved to its current location in 2010. Society members created the class as a way to bring history to life in the vintage building. They offer the class during the county fair and as a field trip for area school children. A class designed for adults will be offered Tuesday, May 19 through a partnership between the Whitman County Library at Colfax and Spokane Community College. Preregistration is required by Friday, May 15.
The school day begins with students lining up at the front door: boys on one side, girls on the other; shortest first, tallest last, Leonard said. Inside, boys are on one side of the room, girls are on the other. Students are not allowed to sit until told to do so. Rote memorization was the main path to learning.
Punishment for misbehavior might include sitting in the corner wearing a dunce hat, Leonard said. Or, in another method, the teacher drew a small circle on the chalkboard and the student was directed to stand with his or her nose in the circle. The teacher drew the circle at an uncomfortable level, below the student’s height but not low enough for them to kneel, Leonard said.
To design the class society members studied period textbooks and photographs from the region. From one photo of a classroom chalkboard they know that local students once studied Edgar Allan Poe’s poem “The Bells.” There was much more emphasis put on poetry in 1895 than there is in schools today, said Leonard, who lives in Johnson and spent his career teaching in public schools in Idaho and Honduras.
“It was a way to teach a lot of different things and to engage the creative. Try to go back to 1895, there’s no radio, no TV. If the family wanted music they had to make music themselves. Poetry is using language as a form of music.”
The volunteer teachers work to not break character during the class. If modern-day conveniences are mentioned the teacher admonishes the student for dreaming. While it’s a fun way to immerse students in history, Leonard said the society hasn’t had as many schools participate in field trips as they thought they would.
Field trips can be arranged by contacting Leonard at (509) 332-8211 or Kathy Meyer at (509) 334-9089. The society is seeking more volunteers to act as teachers. Those interested can write to P.O. Box 67, Colfax, WA 99111.
if you go
WHAT: “Back to School in 1895: One room, all subjects”
WHEN: 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Tuesday
WHERE: Jones Schoolhouse, Palouse Empire Fairgrounds, five miles west of Colfax
Cost: $13. Preregistration is required by Friday at the Colfax Library or by calling Spokane Community College at (800) 845-3324. People should bring a lunch.