“Aunt Sue, I’ve got to learn to swim well by Friday. You see, I have this
date ... he’s really neat ... there’s this party at the lake and....” I said,
“But Marian, I can’t do that by Friday!”
Here was a motivated pupil, talking to a willing swimming teacher and that
should have been enough, but it wasn’t. Teaching requires more than just
telling and showing. It takes time and patience and a different approach for
different pupils. And in swimming, as in learning to read or do long division,
the teacher hasn’t taught until the pupil has learned.
Before 1500 A.D., the average person had no need to read or write, but the
invention of the printing press was an important turning point in the history
of mankind. The reformers of the 16th century were responsible for “organized
and centralized” education ... “and Luther was its Father.” It was the
church that rushed education along when choir boys began to be taught to read
so they could sing!
Scotland’s John Knox, insisted that there be a school in every parish. The
effect of this was not immediately obvious, but people in other countries took
notice when the common people of Scotland seemed more intelligent than those
of other countries. Public education became popular. Boston had compulsory
public schools by 1635 in order to prepare common people to be able to read
In describing the Boston public schools of 1635, an early writer said, “The
rooms were cold and dark, small and shabby. Teaching equipment included the
rod, the cane and the raw hide.” Imperfect as early schools were, “it is
doubted that civilization has given people a more precious boon.” It was soon
considered the right and duty for the state to teach young people reading so
they could read the Bible. A century ago -- Feb. 17, 1897 -- parents and
teachers officially joined forces to improve children’s education.
One-room schools often had no electricity, running water, or school bus.
School desks were bolted to the floor, limiting the amount of play space for
rainy days. Toilets were three holers behind the school buildings, children
living more than a mile away often rode ponies. Big boys filled the water
bucket out of the cistern -- that most unsanitary hole in the ground that
collected water from the school roof during a rain~. And everybody used the
It makes a big difference when parents help teachers make education more
effective and meaningful. I joined the Parent-Teachers Association before my
children were old enough for first grade. Our wonderful teacher, Lucy Douglas,
taught about 24 children from ages 6 to 14 -- in a one-room school. Because we
were co~ncerned about her handling an accident or sudden illness, our PTA
installed that school’s first telephone!
I recall asking a board member of Carlisle School if they shouldn’t hook on to
the electric line. “Why, no.” he replied, “They only go to school in the
We often forget the influence that fathers and mothers have as they work with
their teachers to improve public education! On this 100th anniversary of the
PTA, let’s renew efforts to work for effective schools, even if we have no
school age children.
Today’s public schools are a far cry from “the rod, the cane and the