I recently came across a copy of The Haliburton Second Reader. This was the schoolbook from the early 1900’s that folks used to learn phonetics – to read and to write. It was employed in homes and in many one room schoolhouses throughout the country. But, it was not called the “second reader” because it applied to the second grade. Where it certainly provided a gage of accomplishment, it did not present a barrier to advancement either.
The one room schoolhouse required one teacher who taught all of the grades with each student progressing through their studies at his own pace and yet all of them benefiting from the communal atmosphere that required the older children to handle the harder tasks and younger ones to do slighter tasks according to each’s ability and stamina. To say that there was an education outside of just book learning would be a vast understatement.
When our own children were young, we would make it part of our daily schedule to share breakfast. It was during this time that, as the father, I would read from a wide variety of books, from the Bible to Aristotle Made Easy, encouraging communication and thinking. Our son, being the oldest by 4 years was the target of much of our instruction. After all, his sister was still too young to deal with many of the issues that he was facing as a young man. As years went by, we came to understand that the younger child retained more of the instruction intended for her brother than he did.
This brings me back to the one room schoolhouse and education in general. Unlike in today’s schools where subjects are studied in a single grade, where they are “age appropriate”, these children were allowed to learn when they were able to. No one was holding them back from retaining knowledge, and many learned to be teachers and went on to be teachers by giving help to the younger children. Everyone, including the school master, was constantly learning. Social sciences like, History and Government were continuously and repeatedly communicated in the classroom, rather than being restricted to certain grade levels. There was a solid foundation laid; and, to my way of thinking, a better foundation than our modern system of higher education offers today.
Life was not easy for these people. This was an agrarian society. Most would never go on to institutions of higher learning. Many would have to teach their own children at home because the distance into town was too far or they needed them at home. For the most part, the Haliburton Readers and their Bibles would be their only tools for instruction.
It is easy to perceive how much of what we call American patriotism might have sprung from these roots.