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Out of the Halls and into the Classroom
"Life is like high school with money."
During the days of the one-room schoolhouse, teachers were normally offered room and board on a rotating basis at the homes of their students; male teachers were often threatened, beaten, and run out of town for sport by older boys who didn't want to be in class. Classes could include as many as forty students of all ages, with older students often recruited to teach the younger ones.
Teachers in the 1800s used to use tongue twisters to teach articulation. Read along with some of these vintage lessons:
Some shun sunshine. Do you shun sunshine?
The big black bear bled blood.
The sixth sheik's sixth sheep's sick.
Three gray geese sat on the green grass grazing.
She's so selfish she should sell shellfish shells.
Sheep shouldn't sleep in a shack.
One old Oxford ox opening oysters.
The skunk thunk the stump stunk.
"I see the mind of a five-year-old as a volcano with two vents: destructiveness and creativeness."
"The fellow in charge of Sumerian language studies said 'Why didn't you speak Sumerian?' and caned me. My teacher said: 'Your handwriting is unsatisfactory' and caned me. I began to hate the scribal arts."
—Mesopotamian student, circa 1700 B.C.E., found on a clay tablet in Nippur, Iraq
The Hebrew word musar means both "education" and "corporal punishment."
The classic school desk, with a sloping top and a storage space below, is based on the work desks used by monks during the Middle Ages for transcribing and illuminating manuscripts.
Not Another Apple!
"An apple is an excellent thing—until you have tried a peach."
—George du Maurier (1834–1896)
Giving an apple to the teacher as a symbolic gesture came from a time when American teachers were often paid in farm goods by cash-poor townspeople. It wasn't easy to be a teacher—many had to take after-hours jobs as choir leaders, gravediggers, or bartenders in order to earn a decent living.
According to a recent national poll, students and their parents gave 26,367,513 apple-related gifts to teachers last year. Of these gifts, nearly a third (8,076,028) were real apples—the rest (18,291,485) were apple-themed tchotchkes—coffee mugs, paperweights, picture frames, stationery, fridge magnets, and others.
The average K–12 teacher gets 7.06 apple-related gifts per year: 2.16 actual apples and 4.9 apple-themed decorations. Elementary school teachers get nearly twice as many apple gifts as middle school teachers and more than five times as many as high school teachers.
The highest number of apples received by one teacher last year? That record probably goes to fifth-grade teacher Paul Kueffner of Cider Mill School in Wilton, Connecticut. To teach his kids about the old cider mill that gave his school its name, Kueffner convinced his PTA to buy a small cider press. His students gave him 2,200 apples.
Kueffner was unusual in that he actually asked for apple gifts. Most teachers become ambivalent about them over time. One respondent amassed a collection of more than a thousand apple knickknacks over a long career. Most, however, said they'd prefer almost anything to another apple gift.
What did teachers in the poll say they'd like instead? Books, "a smile from a student," teaching supplies, an appreciative note, student photos, candles, gift certificates for movies, massages, and restaurants, "chew toys for my dog," flowers, chocolate, coffee, "a good red wine (preferably Bordeaux)," money, whiskey, "plane tickets to exotic locations," and "a millionaire."
Of all the farm goods once given to teachers, why has it become "an apple for the teacher" instead of an egg, a tomato, a sack of wheat, or a hamhock? After extensive research, we can say with relative certainty that nobody seems to know. Here are some educated guesses:
Apples are cheap and can be eaten without any preparation. They can also be given in the morning without going bad by the end of the school day (as opposed to, say, "a quart of milk for the teacher").
Students are wishing teachers good health, as in the apple a day that keeps doctors away.
Apples and education are linked in the public mind because of a Bible story. An apple is what granted Adam and Eve knowledge to discern good from evil. Unfortunately, that knowledge also got them expelled from the Garden of Eden. The disturbing thing about this interpretation is that it implies a comparison between a teacher and the snake that forever ruined humanity's innocent happiness on Earth. Such a thought, of course, is completely preposterous.
"Examinations are formidable even to the best prepared, for the greatest fool may ask more than the wisest man can answer."
—C. C. Colton
They don't name textbooks like they used to. If you were in a nineteenth-century classroom, you might find yourself teaching from a book called The English Reader, Or Pieces in Prose and Poetry: Selected From the Best Writers: Designed to Assist Young Persons to Read With Propriety and Effect, to Improve Their Language and Sentiments, and to Inculcate Some of the Most Important Principles of Piety and Virtue: With a Few Preliminary Observations on the Principles of Good Reading, by one Lindley Murray.
By the time you told your students to get out their textbooks, class would be over. How about: Osgood's Progressive Fifth Reader: Embracing a System of Instruction in the Principles of Elocution, and Selections for Reading and Speaking From the Best English and American Authors: Designed for the Use of Academies and the Highest Classes in Public and Private Schools, by Lucius Osgood?
"The secret to speed-reading is moving your lips faster."
It's not just a popular stereotype: Most schoolhouses in the 1800s really were painted red. Why was that? Probably for the same reason that barns were—red paint hid dirt easily and was easy to make without having to resort to expensive store-bought paint.
How do you make "Schoolhouse Red" paint? Start with skim milk and mix in some linseed oil and lime for the base. Scrap off the rust from some old farm tools and put it in for the red color. Perfect!
"Nature makes boys and girls lovely to look upon so they can be tolerated until they acquire some sense."
—William Lyon Phelps, renowned author and Yale professor (1856–1943)
In 1921, reflective of anti-Cajun prejudice, the state of Louisiana specifically passed laws to prevent any teacher from speaking "Cajun French" in public schools.
O soft! What light on yonder student breaks? The Shakespeare play assigned most often in classrooms is Romeo and Juliet.
Both Socrates and Plato thought that reading was a poor way of learning. They believed that a student learned more from a good speaker than from a good writer.
"One of the disadvantages of having children is that they eventually get old enough to give you presents they make at school."
Jigsaw puzzles got their start not as an outlet for entertainment but as a teaching tool. Originally, eighteenth-century teachers used puzzles to teach geography, and students had to put together states or countries that had been cut out of a map. Puzzles became so popular that they were broadened to teach subjects like zoology and the alphabet as well.
The "Physical Sciences" technically consist of Mathematics, Physics, Astronomy, Chemistry, and Earth Sciences.
If you live in Missouri, you likely know that the state fossil is the crinoid, sometimes called the "sea lily." This odd, plant-like creature inhabited the region millions of years ago, leaving a large quantity of fossils in the state. You may not know, however, that if it weren't for a group of schoolkids in 1989 lobbying and pressuring the Missouri General Assembly, the crinoid might never have gained official status.
Do you remember William Figueroa? Probably not. He was the twelve-year-old who nationally embarrassed Dan Quayle during a spelling bee when he spelled out potato without an e. "I knew he was wrong, but since he's the vice-president, I went and put an e on. Afterward I went to a dictionary and there was potato like I spelled it." Figueroa went on to make money from the experience in commentating, sales, and appearances at places like the Democratic National Convention and the David Letterman show. Quayle never really lived down his gaff.
"He who has imagination but no education has wings but no feet."
—Old French proverb
In the United States, gold is used to make class rings more often than any other piece of jewelry.
In 1990, when preschoolers were polled about who should run for president, Mr. Rogers, of the children's show Mr. Roger's Neighborhood, was their first choice. Sometimes the greatest wisdom comes from the youngest among us.
"There must be such a thing as a child with average ability, but you can't find a parent who will admit that it is his child."
—Thomas Bailey, Florida's Superintendent of Schools
A researcher asked kids which season is most boring, and 53 percent said, "Summer." Apparently kids prefer school to just hanging around the house.
Don't Know Much about History
It was the written word that made school as we know it possible. Before that, young people had to repeat orally whatever they wanted to learn, and they could learn no more than their teacher had memorized.
In 1500 B.C.E., Semitic tribes developed alphabets that corresponded to vocal sounds, like ours, which made words easier to sound out. Certain Hebrew tribes began teaching reading and writing to everybody in the tribe, not just the affluent—boys in the schools, girls at home—so that all could read the sacred books.
"Learning without thought is labor lost."
Confucius practiced what he preached. He wrote that he never refused any sincere student, "even if he came to me on foot, with nothing more to offer as tuition than a package of dried meat."
Unfortunately, there's no evidence that the rest of China followed the sage's example. It wasn't until centuries later that peasant boys were given a guaranteed chance at an education.
Socrates, who died in 399 B.C.E., believed that everybody already has true knowledge within their brain somewhere. His teaching style, asking a series of probing questions, was designed to bring that preexisting knowledge to consciousness.
Socrates' most famous student was Plato. Plato's most famous student was Aristotle. Aristotle's most famous student was Alexander the Great, who used all of that accumulated knowledge to go on a military rampage, conquering pretty much all of the known world.
"The legislator should direct his attention to the education of youth. As a citizen the student should be molded to suit the form of government under which he lives."
Aristotle started a school he called the Lyceum. Everyone else called it the Peripatetic ("Walking Around") School, however, because teachers led discussions while strolling absentmindedly around the grounds.
The Romans took public speaking seriously, more seriously than most other school subjects. Marcus Fabius Quintilianus, a Roman oratory teacher in the '70s and '80s C.E., wrote a famous twelve-volume textbook called Institutio Oratoria, for training public speakers from infancy to adulthood.
Compare the educational systems in ancient Athens and Sparta:
In Athens, all sons of free citizens were given an education.
However, this was less than universal education, because free citizens made up only about a third of the city's population, and girls were not provided formal education (though many were tutored at home).
In Sparta, in contrast, boys and girls were both given schooling ... but unlike Athens' more rounded curriculum, Sparta's schools taught mostly warrior skills to the boys, and physical education to the girls, to make them healthy mothers of future soldiers.
Some of the character-building skills taught to Spartan youths included killing, stealing, and successfully deceiving others.
In 100 B.C.E., Rome built the most extensive school system seen up to that time. Their schools were modeled after Athens' liberal arts curriculum, and the schools taught both boys and girls.
Education was so distrusted as "pagan" by the early Christian church that at the beginning of the third century, anyone wanting to teach school was forbidden in the church. Schoolteachers were not even allowed to be baptized.
Julian, Emperor of the Byzantine Empire from 361 to 363 C.E., was the first leader to mandate state examinations for teachers.
Theodosius II, who ruled from 408 to 450 C.E., made it a state offense for any teacher to teach without a state license, and then made sure that the licenses went to people who conformed to the orthodoxy he supported. Not that anything like this could ever happen today, mind you.
Knight school in the Middle Ages was informal and consisted of some reading, writing, and figuring, but also such valuable subjects as lute playing, chess, and chivalry.
In the Middle Ages, Western European education at its basic—or elementary—level was divided into three categories of study collectively called the Trivium, consisting of grammar, rhetoric, and logic. Higher grades of education were divided into four categories. These were geometry, astronomy, basic math, and music, collectively called the Quadrivium.
In the 1100s, the first modern universities were developed in Europe. There were two models of university that developed about the same time. The University of Paris model, followed in most of Northern Europe, consisted of a guild of teachers who ran the school and recruited students into it. The University of Bologna model, followed in most of Southern Europe, consisted of guilds of students who ran the school, hired the professors, and set their working conditions.
University professors in Europe during the Middle Ages taught their lessons orally, so literacy was not a college prerequisite. In fact, many students decided it was best to put off learning to read and write until after they had gotten college out of the way.
The "dame schools" of England were often the only elementary schools available for village children in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. They were run by women who taught out of their homes for a small fee.
Early American colonists followed the "dame school" model. Only about one in ten children went to school—the rest became apprentices.
There probably wouldn't be a network of Catholic parochial schools in the United States if the Protestants in power had been a little more tolerant (or kept religion out of the schools completely). From 1830 to 1850 a million Catholics, many from Ireland, immigrated to the eastern seaboard. They were the target of suspicion and prejudice from the Protestants already living there, who passed laws to ensure that the public schools used the King James Bible, Protestant prayers, and Protestant interpretations of God and scriptures.
The Maine Supreme Court ruled that a school board had the constitutional right to expel a Catholic or any other child for refusing to read from the assigned version of the Bible. In Philadelphia, the school board agreed to let Catholic children read from the church-approved Douay Bible, but that was met by denunciations from Protestant pulpits, riots, the burning of Catholic churches, and several deaths. Finally, the Catholic hierarchy decided that starting their own schools was the only answer to keeping their children safe and in the faith.
New York had the first state board of education, established in 1794.
Kindergarten seems self-evident now, but it was a hard sell when Friedrich Froebel first suggested it. The idea of encouraging the growth of a child through action and play seemed like a radical idea at the time. In 1851 the Prussian government banned all kindergartens in Prussia—it didn't lift the ban until nine years later.
The Reform Movement of the midnineteenth century in America didn't just work for the abolition of slavery and better conditions for prisoners, laborers, and the institutionalized. Reformers also pushed for women's rights and for a free national public education system.
Forty-three educators in Philadelphia founded the National Teachers Association in 1857, which later became the National Education Association (NEA), "to elevate the character and advance the interests of the teaching profession, and to promote the cause of popular education in the United States." That's great, but the organization undercut its goals by refusing to grant memberships to women until 1866. It also excluded teachers in private schools.
Excerpted from Not Another Apple for the Teacher! by ERIN BARRETT, JACK MINGO. Copyright © 2002 Erin Barrett and Jack Mingo. Excerpted by permission of Red Wheel/ Weiser, LLC.
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A Word from the Authors
one Out of the Halls and into the Classroom
two Don't Know Much about History
three First in Its Class
four Where the Word Things Are
five Past Lives
six Before They Were Famous
seven Tools of the Trade
eight Teacher Appreciation
nine Fightin' Words
ten Teaching by the Numbers
eleven Educational Follies
twelve Life on Campus
thirteen Worldly Wise
fourteen The Wild World of School Sports
fifteen Truer Words Were Never Spoken
sixteen Teachers on Page, Stage, and Screen
seventeen An Alternative Education
eighteen Lunches, Libraries, and Bus Drivers
About the Authors