When I drive around South Jersey, I notice the old buildings that speak of the lives of people who, though they lived long ago, were not so different from us. I try to imagine what it would have been like if I had lived then. Of course, that's impossible. However, it's what writers do. Perhaps, if I had lived a hundred years ago, I would have done what my female ancestors did, sewing. My great grandmother, Catherine Sandman, was a seamstress in Philadelphia, as was her daughter, my grandmother, Mabel, many years later. That was how they supported themselves and their children after they were widowed. My career, teaching, would not have been available to me had I lived at the time of the Little Old School Houses of South Jersey.
One of my favorite spots to visit is the Clara Barton One-Room-School in Bordentown. Quaint, evocative, and one of the first public school in the state, it was saved by a penny collection from school children. I remember those little penny collections from when I was a child. My church would send a little cardboard church shaped box and we would fill it with pennies for the missions overseas.
In the time of Clara Barton's youth, children received their education at home, if they received any at all, or by subscription, if their parent's could afford it. If they were lucky, there would be a charitable institution that would allow them to attend with the children of that religion, usually Quaker, correctly identified as The Society of Friends.
Clara Barton was hired to teach in a subscription school in Bordentown. She convinced the town to educate all the children whether their parents could pay tuition or not, and the school population swelled from a couple dozen to several hundred. A superintendant of schools was hired over Clara Barton's head, and she left. Most of you know where she went after that. She took a job in Washington D.C. just in time for the Civil War. Of course, then, she went on to found the Red Cross to help the wounded soldiers.
My favorite little school house is in Greenwich. Next time I post, I'll round up a photo of that little stone building which was donated to the community by a local patron. Having taken school house tours, I have been lucky enough to see inside both the Greenwich One Room School House, and the historic one in the town where I lived in my teens, Maple Shade, NJ as well as two dozen or more others.
It is my personal opinion that one of the things that makes America great is that we educate all the people, however effectively or evenly or consistently, the point is that we make that intention and one way or another, we follow through with it. As for why we don't 'score' with the other industrial nations, having lived abroad, I would say the main reason is that our school systems are laboring under uneven spending and a constantly fluctuating flow of migrating peoples from all over the world as well as from different regions of our own nation. Nonetheless, we try, and when you realize how recent laws enacting universal education actually are, it's a miracle we do as well as we do.
Can you guess with the little school house to the left of this blog entry is located? The building still stands and is in good condition as of January 2011. It is also used in the community for different functions.