ORIGINALLY WRITTEN DALE SUDERMAN
In my mind’s eye I can still see the one room school I attended for six years. Ridge School is a simple frame building eight miles south of Hillsboro and two miles east. It sits in lonely splendor on a slight hill in New England simplicity. It has six windows, two outhouses and a shed for coal and corncobs donated by local farmers to feed the wood stove.
(In reality, the building is now moved one mile south of Hillsboro and an eyesore along the 13-mile road. It is an abandoned storage shed and over grown with weeds with the windows broken out.)
In the morning, my brother and I walk two miles to school. If we are lucky, the Patry kids and the Boese girls who walk the same route join us. When the Hanneman boys get to school-the roster is complete. There are 16 students ranging from first grade to eighth.
The teacher rings the little hand bell and school is started.
When I am thinking positively, I remember “Miss Lois”-bright and perky. She was maybe 21-a subversive teacher who realized I was bored and slipped me her college edition of Mark Twain’s Hucklebery Finn and said, “Just read it-and don’t tell people.”
On my dark days, I remember another teacher who tore up books from the tiny library and used them as kindling to light the wood burning stove in the morning.
The alternative, for me, was to spend hours reading the encyclopedia. I was the only student in my class for six years and so I was both the best and worst scholar in my grade.
Ridge School was modern-it had electricity. There was no telephone. Water came from a cistern-which had an amusing range of worms, frogs and insects when we pumped it.
One-way to interest children in the biology of lower life forms is to have them study and reflect on the contents of their drinking water.
Recess involved played Handy Over-throwing the soccer ball or softball over the school building.
(The school board-mostly local farmers without children, and more interested in lower tax rates than education-would allocate funds for either a new soccer ball or a new softball each year.)
Some years we had a basketball hoop.
One-room schools were a version of home schooling-without the benefits of home. One-room schools did focus on basic education-but not because of any deep commitment to teaching the three Rs of reading, writing and arithmetic. The beleaguered teacher facing eight grades of children had no alternative but to do the basics.
Eight grades for eight months a year for seven hours a day did not give the teacher more than a few minutes for any subject.
One-room schools had their own hierarchy. The Kreutzinger School preserved at the Adobe House complex was the Cadillac version with two coatrooms and modest bell tower.
Ridge School was the low-end version of rural education. My sister still teases me when I have a “bright idea.”
“How smart can you be? You are, after all, a product of Ridge School.”
Some day, I’ll remind her she is also a Ridge alumnus.
Mrs. Viola Jost-once the county superintendent of schools and herself a former one-room teacher-told me she had tracked the success rates of one-room school graduates and found they were at least as good as products of “town schools” in the county.
My memories are bittersweet and nostalgia is a poor guide. I miss not having learned about sports and music.
Maybe learning isn’t much more than scanning the encyclopedia and looking at the world maps on the wall-even if they only showed pre-WWI Europe and the British Empire at the height of the Cold War.
The science department at Ridge School was an odd contraption that is certainly now a collectable. A tiny chain connected a model of the earth and moon that revolved around the sun. (I believe the chain was partly made of paper clips.)
Accept the theory that the earth revolves around the sun and you are good to go as an intellectual.
And maybe education should be hours of daydreaming. In my minds eye, I am still sitting at my desk in fourth grade and looking out the window. I can hear the meadowlarks, see the silo on our farm-and wonder if Dad is done feeding the cattle. I wonder about the dust cloud from the occasional car or truck coming up the dirt road.