Looking back, it was a different world


“The children sometimes arrived before the teacher and helped with such jobs as carrying in firewood for the stove in the winter, or filling the water bowl in the warmer days of the school year. I never, not once, had any serious discipline problems with any of my students. They looked out for me as I helped them learn what they needed to learn for their life ahead. It was so simple, when I think of it this way.”

– Edna Tulle, one-room school teacher

printed in a 1948 newsletter, School days gone by

As August rolls in, the days of summer suddenly seem all too few.

Public schools seem to rush the calendar more and more with each passing year, and August signals “back to school” sales and last-minute summer plans.

I have been corresponding with an older friend who laments, as so many of us do, the changes in the very atmosphere of schools in our country.

Looking back. Sidney grew up in the 1930s and 1940s. He went to a city school from kindergarten through the third grade, but then his father decided to move his family to the country so that he could oversee his farms. It was then that Sidney was “demoted” from the fourth grade back to the third grade because the teacher deemed him not as advanced as the country school.

“I was so ashamed I used to cry and lay down on the floor every morning when it was time to go to school. I was 8 years old and so ashamed.”

Grouped classes. He recalls that there was one teacher for the first and second grade, one for the third, fourth and fifth grades and one teacher for the sixth, seventh and eighth grades.

“I did not have to take any books home as when the teacher was teaching the other two classes I would have plenty of time to do my homework.”

At that time, recess was “physical education” and no one had to get after a child to exercise. Now, I have come to think, physical education is partially fulfilled by virtue of the incredibly heavy backpacks the students are forced to carry home from school every day.

Sidney observes, “We got a really good education, our teachers were dedicated and my teachers would read Bible stories each morning before classes would start. There was practically no trouble in school, no drugs. What a different world.”

Huge role in life. The schools were a large part of the students’ whole world back at that time, as I have noticed by listening to the memories of older people. So many of their most vivid memories revolve around things that happened at the school.

Sidney recalls, “I remember going to the country high school gym with my father before the 1940 election and hearing Alban Barclay speak. He was with Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s election camp for 1940.

“I also heard FDR declare war against the Germans, Japan, and Italy in that same gym after the Pearl Harbor attack on Dec. 7, 1941, on the radio. All of the students were taken to the gym to listen to FDR.”

Sidney’s memories are vivid and clear and so appreciated. I feel that I can see the world through the eyes of the little boy who took this all in, especially when he shares such incredible memories as this:

“I also remember going with my father to the train station to see and listen to FDR make a whistle stop speech from the back of his train, which went from town to town in those days.”

Truer words were never spoken than when Sidney closes with this: “The world has changed so much since my boyhood days!”


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Judith Sutherland, born and raised on an Ohio family dairy farm, now lives on a 70-acre farm not far from the area where her father’s family settled in the 1850s. Appreciating the tranquility of rural life, Sutherland enjoys sharing a view of her world through writing. Other interests include teaching, reading, training dogs and raising puppies. She and her husband have two children, a son and a daughter, and three grandchildren.