However, many students have the day off today in observance of George Washington’s and Abraham Lincoln’s birthdays. These founding fathers were educated in the one-room schoolhouses of the past, but the current Newberry Honor novel, Wolf Hollow, set in 1943 in Wolf Hollow, Pennsylvania, brings the one-room schoolhouse to life. Let’s take a look through the classroom window…
There were already nearly forty of us, more than the little school was meant to hold, so some had to double up at desks, two in a seat intended for one, two writing and doing sums on the slanted and deeply scarred desktop, two sets of books in the cubby under the lid. At a shared desk, we discover studious, hardworking Annabelle and her quiet, dainty friend Ruth whose father is a bookkeeper. We meet Betty Glengarry, an incorrigible, city girl come to live with her grandparents to straighten out. Betty is clearly bored by the farm children she encounters until Andy Woodberry graces the schoolhouse with his presence. The seemingly instant attraction and the unlikely friendship that develops brings a world of trouble to the Wolf Hollow school… In a different kind of school, the teacher might have noticed such things, but Mrs. Taylor had to trust that what was going on behind her back wasn’t worth her attention.
Ida Bidson, fourteen-year-old secret teacher, at The Secret School (Avi) must climb through the schoolhouse window to greet her seven pupils. The year is 1925 in Elk Valley Colorado. Ida, intelligent and industrious, drives her family’s Model T Ford to school as Felix (her younger brother) works the clutch and brake. Ida takes on the duties and role of teacher, when Miss Fletcher must leave to care for her mother and the school board refuses to replace her. Tom, Ida’s peer, a fellow 8th grader who loves math and building things wishes to attend high school, along with Ida, in Steamboat Springs. Ida and Tom must finish the year, sit and pass exams to be admitted. Tom suggests Ida as the replacement needed and the student body unanimously votes for Ida. The Secret School is born.
Ida works tirelessly to maintain and create new lessons, grade papers, and study herself all while holding down her daily share of farm chores which include milking before dawn. Ida’s secret school is a vibrant classroom filled with love of learning and mutual respect. This small crew strives onward. One exceptionally fine day, Tom demonstrates the crystal radio he has made himself with the help of Popular Mechanics. As Tom poked different places on the crystal, each student would call out the locations. “Kansas City!” “Albany!” “Spokane!” “We can go anywhere!” Felix cried excitedly. Ida had the idea of pulling down the map of the United States and, using a pointer, indicating where each place they listened to could be found.
In Holes, by Louis Sachar the windows of Miss Katherine Barlow’s one-room-schoolhouse set in Green Lake, Texas will not open. That is until, Sam, the Onion Man fixes them. Although these scenes are set as flashbacks, it is important to understand how Miss Katherine, fine teacher and respected member of the community, transforms into Kissing Kate Barlow one of the most feared outlaws of the west. Onion Sam had turned the old run-down schoolhouse into a well-crafted, freshly painted jewel of a building that the whole town was proud of. People passing by would stop and admire it. “That’s our schoolhouse. It shows how much we value education here in Green Lake.” However, Sam and Miss Katherine would not find a happy ending.
Generations later, Camp Green Lake exists to supposedly build character for troubled youth, but nobody is fooling Stanley Yelnats and the boys in D tent. Although far from traditional, their digging sessions are a classroom of sorts. One where they work through exceptional problems and in odd and wonderful ways learn to support one another. The beauty of this last window to look through can be enjoyed as both novel and film. Both marvelous. The soundtrack for the film is excellent too.
In conclusion, let’s celebrate One-Room Schoolhouses of the past and present (yes they do still exist). “We are so smug and complacent with our better buildings and teachers’ colleges and organizations” wrote an educator who had himself attended a one-room school “that we forget that learning is a highly personal matter.” One-room can provide the foundation for a lifetime of learning.
Quotations in this article are from primary sources listed and pictured.
Additional novels featuring one-room schoolhouses