Wednesday, April 30, 2014

One-Room Nation: Part 6

Crime & Punishments

Is your teacher soft or strict? In one-room schoolhouse days, you could look around the classroom for clues. The first thing you’d likely find is a long, thin wooden pointer or ruler used to hit unruly students. If no ruler or pointer was available, then a switch cut from a bush would do.

The teacher in this photo from the early 1900s has a full range of punishments available: switch in hand, rope whip on the floor, and dunce cap on head. (Photo courtesy of Library of Congress: LC-USZ62-37935)

Wanda Gág (who later wrote and illustrated ground-breaking picture books including the classic Millions of Cats) started her teaching career with “a brilliant system of ‘no whipping and no scolding.’” But most teachers didn’t. 

Your teacher might hit or whip you if you disobeyed. In the days of one-room schools, your parents would likely support the teacher’s decision.

As Charlene Fletcher Cobb recalls, “The teacher was always right. God forbid if the family ever found out about your kicking your heels up at school. You knew you’d get it worse at home than you did at school…”

Nobody liked wearing the dunce cap.
Teachers could force a student who was slow to learn to wear long, cone-shaped white paper hat, with the word “DUNCE” written on it. This form of punishment relied on humiliation. The idea was that by making a student feel really, really bad, he or she would try harder, just to get rid of the dunce cap. 

By 1908 when this photo was taken, the dunce cap was so much a part of life that kids played at administering this particular punishment. (Photo courtesy of Library of Congress: LC-USZ62-701013)
Compared to at least one other punishment, the dunce cap and pointer seem quite civilized. 

Finger stocks were designed to stop "fidgets" from fidgeting by locking up the fingers. Photo Courtesy of Islington Education Library Service.   
Finger stocks for “fidgets” worked this way: After you put your hands behind your back, you passed your fingers through the holes of the wooden stocks. This could be painful but it would force your hands to be quiet, so learning could presumably take place.

NOTES: Wanda Gág quoted in Growing Pains: Diaries and Drawings for the Years 1908-1917 (MHS Press, 1984), p142.  Charlene Cobb quoted in “Once, They Were Everywhere,” by John Clayton, March 9, 2000, New Hampshire Union Leader (Manchester, NH): a1.

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Could you survive in a one-room schoolhouse eighty or one hundred years ago? One-Room Nation, an ongoing segment of the Story-Slinger blog, will try to answer that question in a few dozen posts. Unless otherwise noted, the text and photos in One-Room Nation are the property of the blogger, so please contact the Story-Slinger if you wish to use them.

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