Lancer Letter – The Register

Submitted by Richard Scaletta, GM School District

These days, one of the hot topics in education is the “Common Core Standards.” Some people strongly object to them for various reasons but the objection I find most amusing is based on not wanting the federal or state government to dictate what children should learn (that is not the case with Common Core Standards but much misinformation abounds). But here’s a news flash: spelling out what children will learn at each grade level is nothing new.

As evidence of my statement, let me present the Classification Register for the Welch System of Close Supervision, Pennsylvania Edition. I have a copy of this register in my office which has all the recorded grades of students and the course of study, carefully spelled out, for grades 1-8.

For example, second grade “standards” under the “Numbers” category state that students will know that 2 twenty-five cent pieces = 50 cents as well as many other relationships of coins to value. There are also gallon to quart conversions students should know. The whole first part of the Register clearly lists everything to be taught, and how to teach it in each grade. It almost appears that anyone could teach following the instructions given and indeed, the teacher noted for the three years recorded in the register changed every year.

After the section detailing what is to be taught when, there are pages for every school year where student names and grades are recorded. The title page for the register notes, “In strict conformity with the present School Laws.”

Oh, did I mention this Register was published in 1904 and the students contained therein were in school from 1911 to 1914? I do not know what one room school house this is from but I do recognize local names.

The register also lists the “Apparatus” needed for each grade. In first grade, it is “Slate, pencil, sponge and rule.” By eighth grade it becomes, “Slate, pencil, sponge, pen, ink and practice paper.” (It appears that 3rd grade is when the transition from pencil to pen and ink began.)

Many things have not changed since 1904 and some have definitely changed. The opening instructions to the teacher states:

“The following graded courses of study corresponds to the work as outlined in the course of study for the State. The subject matter is here specifically designated, so that a definite record of what each pupil did may be left for each succeeding teacher, and a report of the same be sent to the County Superintendent when required. The work in detail, with full suggestions, will be found in the State “manual and Course of Studies.”

So the state prescribed the curriculum. But the state did not mandate tests to ascertain if that curriculum was taught. The teacher instructions go on to state:

“The work laid out for each grade is what is usually accomplished in the time specified. It does not follow that every school should accomplish this work in the time allotted; some schools may do more, some less. The age and ability of pupils, the character of their previous instruction, the regularity of attendance, &c., are variable elements which will influence the time required to do the work laid out for each grade. This need make no difference in the classification record; for each pupil is classified in the grade in which he has been working.”

Aha! So in 1904, it was recognized that many variables impact a student’s learning but over 100 years later, there seems to be a belief that every child should learn at the same pace and we have standardized tests to prove if they did. Herein lies the problem with the standardized test craze as it is currently administered.

It should be noted that the one room school house had students of all grades in the same room. For example in this school in 1911-1912, there were 3 first graders, 1 second grader, 5 fourth graders, 5 seventh graders and 1 eighth grader. Students didn’t have to move from grade to grade in lockstep as the teacher just started them where they left off the previous year, following the prescribed state curriculum. Our post industrial revolution schooling now makes that difficult.

Most of the courses taught were the same as today: Reading, Language, and Numbers or arithmetic; but, physiology and hygiene were taught at every grade level. Some interesting statements teachers were to write on the board in fourth grade:

• Keep the skin very clean.
• We must not let our bones bend out of shape, for they may stay.
• Muscles grow strong by use.
• It is best to exercise in the sunlight and pure air.
• Alcohol and Tobacco cause disease and shorten life.
It is interesting that students were warned of the dangers of drug and alcohol back then and they didn’t have federal drug free schools laws! Well, in any case, don’t bend your bones.

The Lancer Letter is a weekly editorial by Richard Scaletta, Superintendent of Schools, General McLane School District. Opinions expressed are Mr. Scaletta’s views on the issues and subjects of discussion, and not necessarily those of or our sponsors.

You must be logged in to post a comment Login