Archive for Thursday, April 21, 2005

Quills and cornbread

April 21, 2005

Wearing a long-sleeved, high-necked, floor-skimming dress with her hair swept up in a chignon, the schoolmarm peered suspiciously over her wire-rimmed glasses at the pupils filing into her class -- they had about 300 years' worth of shaping up to do.

Convincing a roomful of circa-2005 fifth-graders to bow or curtsy for roll call, sit up straight and "be not a dunce" was the task of parent volunteer Amy Bauer, who led the one-room school at Mize Elementary School's Colonial Day Friday.

Caitlin Walker concentrates on her quill-manship during a mock
one-room school lesson. Writing with a feather was just one
antebellum activity Mize Elementary School fifth-graders
experienced Friday during the school's Colonial Day.

Caitlin Walker concentrates on her quill-manship during a mock one-room school lesson. Writing with a feather was just one antebellum activity Mize Elementary School fifth-graders experienced Friday during the school's Colonial Day.

Students found old-fashioned food, pastimes and especially class a far cry from today's counterparts.

"The bowing thing was a little much," said fifth-grader Hayden Abbot. "I thought it was pretty strict for school. I'd be a little bit nervous every day."

Hayden also said he had a hard time imagining school without technology -- not even pencils -- but that he thought most of the day's activities were pretty fun. He said the Colonial food, which included cornbread, was "okay."

Fifth-grade teacher Jessica Brown said Colonial Day was a wrap-up for the fifth-grade social studies unit about Colonial America.

Teachers and parent volunteers led activities that included hand-dipping candles, sewing bonnets and tri-cornered hats, playing outdoor games and making toys.

Charged with blasphemy, drunkenness, stealing and the like, students could spend a few moments in the stocks, just long enough to have their photos taken.

As fifth-graders entered the mock one-room school, set up in one of their regular classrooms, Bauer primly notified them of the first rule: "Boys on this side of the class, girls on this side, please."

Lessons on respect and morals were of utmost priority in Colonial schools, Bauer told the class. A typical day started with a list of reminders like love God, fear God, don't swear, play not with bad boys, tell no lies, hate lies, love your school, mind your book and be not a dunce.

But with Bauer's every mention of the word 'dunce,' nearly every modern boy's eyes lit up and hands shot in the air, each hoping he would get to be the one perched on the stool at the front of the room underneath a towering, cone-shaped dunce hat.

"Now keep in mind," Bauer reminded, raising an eyebrow, "you would not want that to happen."

Bauer also reminded students that Colonial children likely would have had a lot of other duties that may have competed with minding their books.

"Maybe you were working out in the fields all day before you came to school," she said. "You might be tired."

Also, without today's running water and hygiene practices, it was common for people, not just animals, to pick up pests like fleas or lice.

"You might be really itchy," Bauer said.

"Blech," students said.

But in a Colonial school, students were to behave with the utmost politeness regardless, Bauer said.

As such, she added, there would be no slouching, and most certainly no scratching.

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