A one room school house in front of a field.

“Like a One-Room School House”

Header image credit: Brylie via Wikimedia Commons

The similarity has occurred to many of our parents and teachers.  It is a regular comment from visitors who learn we have ages four through college at The Saint Constantine School:  “Like a one-room school house!”

It felt especially so during the fall semester of 2017, as music instructor Lydia Holt and I discussed how to accommodate piano and pre-algebra classes in the same room (at different times).  We did find a way to co-exist, and even calculated the number of ways students could be placed at pianos. (5 students at 5 pianos = 5 x 4 x 3 x 2 = 120 permutations)

Every reader of Anne of Green Gables or Little House on the Prairie must have a secret affinity for one-room school houses.  My great-grandmother taught in a one-room school house in Oregon and kept a diary later published by my grandmother Helen Rees as Schoolmarms.  Like Anne, she taught multiple sets of siblings in a single room, and boarded with student families.  Recently I met three adult sisters from Kansas who were the last generation to attend a one-room school house in their town.  One remembered the privilege of sharing a desk with an older student, and another told proudly how she had tutored someone in a higher grade than herself.

One-room schoolhouses used to be the norm in the US. One CBS news article describes how:

As late as 1913, half of the country’s schoolchildren were enrolled in the country’s 200,000 one-room schools. But after the First World War, one-room schools started to close, as people moved into cities and small schools started to consolidate.

After almost dying out (only about 200 left as of 2014), the one-room school house is now experiencing a surge of popularity. New “micro-schools” are forming (you can read about one example in Kentucky), and some are calling for The Return of the One-Room School House.

Of course TSCS is not actually a one-room school: we have grade level-classes split across many rooms.  But the attractions of that older form of schooling may sound familiar to TSCS families: Small classes.  Personal attention from the teacher.  Students of different ages interacting. Strong family involvement. Students responsible to help maintain the school.

It is education at a human scale, very different from the huge schools which group children by grade on fixed rotations where they rarely run into their own brothers and sisters.  At TSCS, students know their classmates’ siblings, and often the children of their instructors. One parent described how interaction with infants at school has developed a new nurturing side to her daughter’s personality.  Another reported her middle school son was thrilled to be friends with high schoolers, interaction that might be considered “uncool” in a different school.

Looking at one-room school house photos or museums (such as this museum in League City, Texas), another similarity comes to mind.  Our school is intentionally low-tech. The school is filled with books, pictures, nature, and items that teachers and students have made themselves.  Like Laura Ingalls Wilder’s school, we don’t have flashing electronic displays or canned educational posters.  Yet in her time a student finished eighth grade with enough general knowledge, self-motivation and people skills to be able to teach a school.  We can hope for as much from our students.