As a precursor to the school year, we took a visit to the one-room schoolhouses at Greenfield Village. And well, I think the thought of a summer being over was a little overwhelming for certain members of my crew.
We spent some time inside the McGuffey Schoolhouse, erected in 1934 by Henry Ford to honor William Holmes McGuffey. It’s built from logs taken from the Pennsylvania farm at which McGuffey was born in 1800. The McGuffey Eclectic Reader series of texts were commonly used in schoolhouses across the United States. Our nine-year-old Henry eagerly stood at the teacher’s podium and began to lecture his five-year-old sister on the Civil War. I attempted to explain to him that the Civil War hadn’t even occurred at the time the readers were written. Chronology wasn’t going to slow him down.
When we looked inside the Miller and Scotch Settlement schoolhouses--school’s Henry Ford attended in the 1870s--I have to be honest, I yearned for a little bit of their simplicity.
A clean slate.
No clutter, wires, smart boards, website passwords, Internet policies, consent forms, security doors, and bins of paper waiting to be recycled. Don’t get me wrong, I think technology is great and a welcome result of much of the innovation showcased at The Henry Ford. But I can also say, one of things I like best about Greenfield Village is how a visit transports you to simpler times. And I’m sure that many parents who have been presented with the infamous “school supply list” and navigated through back-to-school shopping mayhem, might just agree with me and find themselves (at least occasionally) hankerin’ for the bare walls those 1800s school houses.
Henry Ford moved the Scotch Settlement Schoolhouse, and the home of his favorite teacher, John Chapman, to Greenfield Village in 1934. When Ford was nine, Chapman left the Scotch Settlement Schoolhouse and went to teach at the Miller Schoolhouse, Henry Ford transferred and remained Chapman’s student until he was 15. (Built at Greenfield Village in 1943, the Miller Schoolhouse is an accurate a replica of the original building.)
The Scotch Settlement and Miller Schoolhouses remind me of the schoolhouse on the 1970s television show “Little House on the Prairie.” I remember visiting the schoolhouses at Greenfield Village as a girl and pretending with my older sister. I was always (appropriately) outspoken, freckly and big-toothed Laura. She was beautiful Mary. I remember hoping my parents would just leave me so I could imagine all the Laura Ingalls Wilder stories I had read and the sentimental NBC/Michael Landon versions I patiently waited for each week. Oh how I yearned for one of those bonnets. (Which, by the way, are for sale in the gift shops!)
Students used to walk several miles to school each day since the one-room schools were in rural communities. (You can tell your parents that there is no evidence that the route was uphill both ways.) If children arrived early, they could play with their friends until their long school day started. Students of all ages shared that one room with girls on one side and boys on the other. They learned arithmetic, spelling, geography, music, history and art, and older children were assigned necessary chores like washing blackboards, preparing firewood and clearing snow.
Children shared books and brought books from home. Books like the McGuffey Eclectic Reader and the Webster’s Blue Back Speller were passed from generation to generation. The main focus in education at the time though was proper moral training and character development.