Claridge 1 Brandon Claridge Professor Blank HIST-1301 November 25, 2013

Schools and Education on the American Frontier Imagine yourself as a 10 year old boy living in mid-19th century North Texas. Every morning up until now, you would wake up in your log cabin expecting another day’s difficult chores, taking muchdeserved breaks only for mealtimes. But today is different. With the understanding that your parents do not always need you to perform tasks necessary for you and your family’s survival on the western frontier, they agree to provide you with supplies and books to attend school. You now feel fortunate that your town has a school for you to learn and take a break from the hard work at home, and happily walk daily through the thick brush of the Cross Timbers to reach your local school. Arriving at your oneroom wooden schoolhouse for the first time, you notice the wooden benches arranged for student seating. Your teacher, only 15 years old due to the lack of more educated, unmarried women, greets you and seats you and your fellow boys on one side of the room; the girls sit on the opposite side. Your teacher’s strict discipline defines your time at school: you respect her rules for student conduct (such as those shown in Figure 1). Boys who misbehave may receive blows from the teacher’s ferule (a 15-to-18inch long rod), or even forced to suffer the humiliation of sitting with the girls! Misbehaving girls could end up sitting on a one-legged stool (“Log Cabin Village Pioneer School Teacher’s Guide”). Even with strict school discipline, the chance to sit and learn to read, write, and perform basic arithmetic gives you a reprieve from the sometimes-harsh realities of life on the western frontier.

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Figure 1 – Example of rules for both students and teachers displayed inside Log Cabin Village’s Marine School. Photo courtesy of Brandon Claridge. Prior to the existence of public school systems, so-called “subscription schools” allowed children between the ages of 6 and 17, to learn reading, writing, arithmetic, and other topics, depending on the teacher’s knowledge or expertise. Unlike public schools, parents of children would provide the resources necessary for subscription schools to operate: everything from books and the teacher’s pay to even the schoolhouse building itself! Oftentimes, parents would provide their children with whatever books they had on hand, such as those that they brought on their westward journey. India Harris Simmons, a teacher at a one-room mud dugout schoolhouse on the Kansas prairie, describes the diverse variety of books students would bring to her schoolhouse in October 1888: “There were histories from

Claridge 3 Illinois, spellers and writing books from Iowa, readers from St. Louis city schools, and even some old blue-backed spellers, with their five-syllabled puzzlers.” In addition to the non-standard books made available by parents, the teacher would sometimes derive his or her lessons from the Bible (“School Life on the Frontier”). As schools became more common towards the end of the 19th century, more standardized texts became available and certification requirements imposed on teachers (“School Life on the Frontier”). With the passage of time, schools would grow ever more standardized and give rise to a bureaucracy of public education.

Figure 2 – Interior of the Marine School at Log Cabin Village, an example of a one-room schoolhouse. Photo courtesy of Brandon Claridge.

Claridge 4 Providing a place where children could learn reading, writing, arithmetic, and other subjects, pioneer schools provided children with the opportunity to take a reprieve from frontier life at moments when parents did not need their children to work to ensure the family’s survival. Such schools sometimes used young, inexperienced teachers when highly qualified instructors did not reside in the area. Many pioneer schools existed in the form of a subscription school, and parents would bear the responsibility of providing the school’s resources and paying the teacher’s salary. In the era’s lessdiverse, Christian-dominant society, teachers often used the Bible as a textbook. Compared to the large, bureaucratic, and standardized schools of today, the independent, disciplinarian nature of pioneer schools contrast with present-day conceptions of education that place less emphasis on punishment and employ a uniform set of academic standards to drive student achievement.

Claridge 5 Works Cited “Log Cabin Village Pioneer School Teacher’s Guide.” Log Cabin Village. Log Cabin Village / City of Fort Worth, 1995. Web. 25 Nov. 2013. <> "School Life on the Frontier." Encyclopedia of the American West. Ed. Charles Phillips and Alan Axelrod. New York: Macmillan Reference USA, 1996. U.S. History in Context. Web. 15 Nov. 2013. "Teacher India Harris Simmons Describes a One-Room School in Kearny County, Kansas." Gale U.S. History in Context. Detroit: Gale, 2014. U.S. History in Context. Web. 20 Nov. 2013.