Teaching Cleveland

Lesson 16


Most students went to public schools for most of their education. Here they learned geography, penmanship, composition, arithmetic, and "deportment" (behavior). The precise subject matter depended upon the level of the student and on the texts designated by the school board. Teaching techniques, however, were practically universal. Scholars had to memorize information and recite it or give it in written form to the class. In most cases members of the board visited classes to see if their guidelines were followed. The day most feared by students and teachers alike was the examination day when parents and board members closely observed the progress each student had made over the term.

READERS - McGuffey Readers were the most popular and admired books. The Readers exemplified the American Ideal of hard work, education, and good character. They suited all tastes and all ages, and could be enjoyed by the entire family. The poems chosen had a rhythm--a beat of their own. They possessed a humane and universal quality, good for all times. Books were treasured, for they were scarce and the price of a Reader meant at least a day's work at a time when men worked for fifty cents a day. Books were treasured and passed down from sibling to sibling.

SPELLING - Webster's series greatly contributed to the standardization of spelling and pronunciation and also nurtured an American craze for spelling contests. Prior to Webster, spelling was considered a minor subject in the student's curriculum. But after the publication of his books, a school's best speller was considered the equivalent of its brightest mathematics student. Champion students were often recognized with prizes or necklaces worn until forfeiture of their championship status. Spelling matches within and among schools were very common in the nineteenth century.

ARITHMETIC - Ninteenth century arithmetic books stressed the basics including: addition, subtraction, multiplication and division, as well as fractional and percentage problems written as common problem situations. Sentence problems of the nineteenth century yield insights into prices, products and lifestyles of the period.

Discovery: A Teacher's Guide to Regional History
Timothy H. Barret, Editor and Project Director
The Western Reserve Historical Society

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