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Cape Cod The Little Red Schoolhouse

Like ever so many other parts of New England, Cape Cod towns had their “little red schoolhouses.” Often it was a one-room or two-room affair.

In the little red schoolhouse the pupils were widely different in age and size. In one or two rooms were contained all the grammar school grades. One teacher taught several grades, say from the first grade to the fourth or fifth. A grade contained anywhere from two or three children to ten or more, and a room might have accommodations for forty to fifty pupils.

The children came to school in mild weather, minus their shoes and stockings. They walked long, dusty roads, or cut through meadows lush with grass and spring or autumnal flowers, birds and small four-footed animals.

It was not always in the schoolboy’s heart to be present at class, and “hooking jack” was temptingly easy on a day when all nature beckoned him to linger by a cool pool, or go fishing, or just loaf in the woods till school was over. Sometimes these boys, coming from the farms and rugged, outdoor life, were as large or even larger than their teachers, who were usually women.

The teacher was an important person in the community. She was educated, but if she was also wise, she did not put on “airs.” Often she was lodged at community expense with some family, who were glad to have both the distinction of her residence with them, her possible scholarly assistance to their own children, and the financial aid which her maintenance yielded them.

The subjects taught were the familiar “reading, writing, and arithmetic”, spelling and geography, with history for older grades.

There was deep interest and competition in the weekly “spelling bee,” when two leaders for “sides” were appointed by the teacher, and these called off alternately their choices among the pupils to be on their sides. With all pupils thus divided and lined up at the two sides of the room, the teacher called first one word, then another. As children failed, they returned to their seats, until at last, only one remained standing on each side. Then the contest was keenest, and came to an end when the victorious pupil “spelled down” the loser.

In the little red schoolhouse stood a woodburning round-bellied stove for warmth in frosty weather. In spring and early fall, there were no screens on the windows.

Sometimes, boys caught bees to be set free during some sleepy moment when heads were drowsing over composition or arithmetic. An occasional mouse in the teacher’s desk drawer or waste basket was sure to rouse everyone from the spell of Morpheus.

The little red schoolhouse on the Cape had no water fountain, no vari-colored blackboards, no sound absorbing floors, no electric lights for darkish days.

By today’s standards the Cape’s little red schoolhouses would not be feasible or efficient, but old-timers were proud of the products they turned out, and Cape Cod still shares in that feeling.

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Posted by Cape Cod - (website) on 05/11/06
Categories: HistoryLife
Keywords: history, life, schools


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