This was a time when demographics were changing America from localized rural schools to more city schools. During this time children did not always go to school because of responsibilities to help the farming family or the family business and when poor children and orphans had to work in factories that paid them for their cheap labor. School was not mandatory. In 1852, Massachusetts passed school laws that required students to attend. Shortly after that New York did the same. Within 50-60 years all states had such laws on their books to at least get America's pupils through the elementary school years. Catholic schools emerged as private schools. The Supreme Court in 1925 allowed children to attend public or private school, stopping any legal battles over compulsory public schooling.
Localized schools were small and tended to have boys on one side of the room; girls on the other side. Some schools had individual desks in neat rows. Others used tables and benches. Students of all ages were often in the same classroom and the older students would help with the care and teaching of the younger ones. Students tended to be gathered by subject, and not by age, so the children learning a math assignment, for example, might be younger students as well as older ones. Chalkboards were common, and inkwells or quill pens were the norm.
The August 17, 1999 edition of the Richmond Times-Dispatch shared with its readers that patriotism and citizenship were taught in schools, along with the three Rs. The Pledge of Allegiance was a daily practice. Teachers were often strict, and discipline was routine. Actually, the parents would not be pleased if a teacher was lax in disciplining the children for misbehavior. Whipping a child was banned in 1830s, but not the use of switches or paddles. Children were well trained to pay attention to the teacher, rather than the kids sitting around or next to them. Each was expected to know their lessons well. Children learned from others in the room too because as they would be working on their assignments others might be learning a different subject from the teacher that interested them too. Classrooms were noisy and children spent a lot of time memorizing lessons from textbooks and the Bible. They often recited their learnings before the teacher. Older children tended to the woodstove in the classroom to offer some comfort from the exterior cold. Some parents still felt that school was a waste of time for their students. Most of the learnings a person acquired were from textbooks, family and schooling as most families did not travel and have new more worldly experiences.
Black children were not allowed to attend school. Any teachings for them were done secretly. Some were taught by the white town members or missionaries who wanted them to know how to read the Bible. Even this was dangerous as the teachers were subject to being jailed or fined, and the students to being punished or whipped. After the Civil War ended, many blacks chose to go to new schools as Freedmen.
Today we go to school, typically, year round except in the summer. To help with the farming, children in the 1800s would work the fields in the spring and fall and go to school in the summer and winter. Some of the older boys helped on the farms in the summer too. Teachers might be tested, but often were just grown students now hired to teach the next generation. Teachers might have their own place to live, but could well be boarded by various student families throughout the year which was known as being "boardround."
Children walked to school, or rode horses. They might bring their lunch or might not eat at all. They did get recess. At about age 10, boys might be "apprenticed" to learn a job, which could stop their schooling days. Girls might be married by 15 or so and no longer in school. Penmanship was a course that was given serious attention, along with the reading, writing and arithmetic.
This look back more than 100 years makes me curious as to what schools will be like in the next 100 years. No doubt they will still be centered around the 3 Rs, but I find it hard to truly imagine the vast amount of future technological advancements that will enrich schooling and lifelong learning experiences.