At first look, I theorized that education in the Western United States was different from education in the East in the 1800s. However, I soon found out that the curriculum was standardized across the country. In the 19th century, efforts were made to allow equal opportunities for people of all socioeconomic levels and all regions in America. In the past century, people have made efforts to allow equal opportunities for people of all races and genders. The principle behind American education continues to be a standardized, one-size-fits-all education, when the world has been changing around us with new technology, jobs, and culture.
The curriculum of schools was the part of schools that was the most standardized; it did not vary much from the east to the west. The teachers would prepare lesson plans. Students often did individual work, but “older students took pride in tutoring younger students,” (Bial, 14-18) helping them with their work. Teachers would walk around the room, checking on the students’ work. Frequently, teachers would call groups of students up to recite lessons, which were usually verses from their readers. Some schools had exams, others did not. At Massie School in Savannah, Georgia, examinations were public events. Anyone could come and watch the pupils get quizzed on all subjects. For reading they used textbooks. An early textbook was the New England Primer, used from 1760 to 1843. However, in the 1830s, William McGuffey wrote another set of textbooks, which took over almost entirely. The McGuffey Readers were a “sampler of the best of world literature…” Sometimes instead of moving to the next grade level, students would move to the next reader, which went from a primer through a sixth volume. Not everyone had McGuffey Reader, however. For example, at Massie, textbooks were handed down through the family, and so teachers got used to having different authors or editions in one class. Also at Massie, the word method was used to teach primary students how to read. By the end of the year, the young students were expected to be able to read the First Reader. At some schools, they learned the alphabet and learned to read by finding letters in the word. For writing, sometimes “students worked at the blackboard, parsing sentences, breaking them down and explaining the part of speech and function of every word.” (Bial, 19-23) They learned uniform punctuation and spelling. They also practiced their penmanship by copying down the teachers’ sentences into small blank books or pieces of paper using quills and ink, and later, pencils. As part of reading and writing, they memorized verses and new spelling words and would recite them to the teacher at the front of the room. Sometimes they had spelling bees as well.
Students often did arithmetic problems on small slates using slate pencils and eventually chalk. Children often memorized poems or rhymes to help them learn or remember things. An especially popular rhyme taught multiplication of twos. Often students would go to the blackboard and race to be the first to solve an arithmetic problem. Students at Massie needed to do mental arithmetic, unlike some other schools, which allowed written arithmetic. The most important part of the curriculum in the 19th Century was the three R’s: reading, ‘riting, and ‘rithmetic, but there were other subjects they studied as well. Students had the opportunity to have music if their school was fortunate enough to have a piano or an organ. They also would study art, history, geography, elocution, and physiology, although everything that was taught in physiology was not completely accurate, as they did not know as much as we know today.
A few other things about school were generally the same across the nation. Their indoor appearance, the school year and day, and even the teachers’ duties were similar. The one-room schoolhouses in the west had a similar layout to the classrooms in the east. Often they would have a cloakroom by...
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