One Room Schools Aren’t Dead

Technically there was more than one room in my K-8 school, but there was only one that did our textbook learning in. The room above the garage in my house used to be a home office, but when we moved in the office desk was exchanged for three wooden school desks and the file cabinet for a huge whiteboard. We called it “The Homeschool Room”.


Reading through the chapter “Why the Grammar of Schooling Persists” in Tinkering Toward Utopia  I was struck by the discussion of how centuries ago were one classroom buildings in which a single teacher taught all of the children from the surrounding area. The author then proceeds to explain how this way of teaching was snuffed out by the industrialized thought process of reformers who saw schools as yet another “industry” to be refined and compartmentalized into what we now recognize as school. The distinct levels, grading system, and subjects were created to expedite the process of teaching. However, quicker and easier does not always mean better, or even equitable learning experiences. While, the current system of school allows for uniform teaching and standardization, this is severely and negatively impacting children who do not fit the “average” expectations. It puts them at a disadvantage before they ever step foot into a school because they may learn slower or faster, through writing or watching, lack stability or freedom, and the list goes on and on. My point being, there is no single way every child can learn and perform to the best of his or her ability and therefore standardizing the learning process will inevitably be harmful.


As in the one room school houses of old, my siblings and I were at different stages in learning at any given time and learned in very different ways, but my mom was able to adjust her teaching style and curriculum to each of us. I worked best when I had a written list of everything I needed to accomplish that day/week that I could check off and track my progress with. However, my my eldest younger brother needed more oversight and encouragement throughout the day and a more flexible schedule so he could devote an entire day to a complicated science experiment he found particularly fascinating. Though we had different ways of consuming knowledge, we both got to the same end point, just through unique paths.


I understand that homeschooling is not feasible for all, or possibly even many, families in America today, and the one room schoolhouse is logistically impossible with the number of school-aged children, but I do think there are some ideas that could be taken from these alternative styles and implemented into America’s mainstream education system. First, the idea of meeting children where they are rather than waiting for them to achieve a benchmark put in place by lawmakers. It should not be the job of the child to become good enough to be taught, but rather the job of the teacher to foster, build, and develop the mind of the child. Second, having different levels, “grades”, work with each other in teaching and learning to build a sense of community. In the words of Benjamin Whichcote, “There is no better way to learn than to teach.” And third, developing non-traditional ways to learn about life rather than simply memorizing a textbook in order to pass a final exam. I recently came across a video (watch here) of a pre-school that operates within a nursing home. This type of “intergenerational learning” is radical and could have a huge impact if it was implemented throughout schools. While this is a somewhat extreme example (although I would argue incredibly awesome), even having high schoolers participate in the middle schools as teaching assistants or finding some way to incorporate all levels of learning would have hugely beneficial results.


In all, I hope one room schools aren’t dead in that I want to see some of the ideals reappear in traditional schools in order to combat the negative affects of standardization.


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5 Responses to One Room Schools Aren’t Dead

  1. madisongoers1 says:

    Kayleigh, I really enjoyed your post and I often consider how teachers must struggle to re-invent the curriculum so that students are staying engaged at various points in their learning experience. This is a problem that pre-school to college classrooms face and I don’t see the varying levels of students knowledge changing. With this being said, you did list numerous ways that we can challenge all students, regardless of level. One of my favorite teachers was in the 4th grade and though this was my hardest year academically in elementary school, it shaped me into a driven and self-motivated student. This teacher would assign small groups of 2 or 3 of us these challenging books that were of the genre of our interest and something she thought we would advance our reading skills. In turn, we were responsible for working together to read sections and comprehend. Then, weekly she would assess our progress, understanding, and answer questions through individual meetings. While our whole class was completing the same assignments, they were on a variety of levels of books. Looking back, this was a very innovative way for her to keep our entire class engaged.

    I also loved that you tied in the idea of intergenerational learning. What a wonderful way to both learn and build relationships within the community! The closest experience I have to this is when we would have “reading buddies” in elementary school. I remember being in fifth grade and reading to my kindergarten buddy and vice versa. While I was forced to look at reading in a whole new light, answering questions about why words were spelled or pronounced the way that they are, the kindergartner was getting one-on-one attention as they learned to read. My question to you is, how might we implement these ideas where we are striving to focus on the strengths, weaknesses, and learning styles of the individual learner within a traditional classroom? I would love to hear any additional ideas that you might have!


    • kayleighp14 says:

      Hi, thank you for your comment! I love the story of your 4th grade teacher! That sounds like a great way to challenge students in different ways relative to their strengths. I think that is the ultimate question that teachers who want to get the best out of their students face. How to challenge them individually when you don’t have time for one on one attention every day. I think the intergenerational approach is one way to help students get individualized learning experiences. I also am not a teacher, though, so I can’t pretend to understand the difficulties in personalizing education and monitoring how older students help and still gain quality education themselves.


  2. liznels says:

    I really appreciated you stance on homeschooling resembling the one room school. Many arguments against this type of individualized education have centered around the lack of resources, specifically teachers, that are available to individualize education. However, in this post you have proposed some easy ways to make changes, such as integrating multiple grades occasionally to foster a sense of community. While this may not be realistic every day, it is certainly feasible to have activities where grades interact. Another possibility for this idea would be to have students in higher grades teach younger students occasionally. I would love your thoughts on that!
    Thank you for your perspective!


    • kayleighp14 says:

      Hi! Thanks for your comment! I agree, I think the logistics of integrating different grades into everyday classes is difficult, if not possible in traditional public schools. However, I think reading programs could involve multiple grades. I think it would take some creative classroom and curriculum design to incorporate this type of program in other subjects. I am not going to claim to have the answer to that, but I think it would be awesome to see more of it happen in classrooms!


  3. Pingback: Students, Welcome Home(school)! | The Politics of Reading

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