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