Ozark one-room schools reveal valuable lessons

Posted August 13, 2013 at 10:23 am


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Historic one-room schools still dot the landscape in the Ozarks and several fine examples have been restored with others moving toward restoration. The old schools are an icon of America and are historically tied to agriculture in Missouri.

According to David Burton, civic communication specialist with University of Missouri Extension and director of the Ozarks Country School Program, one-room schools are still revealing valuable historical, educational and cultural lessons.

“I’d say there are basically five important lessons we can take away from the one-room school experience,” said Burton.

First, community is important. Many families in the Ozarks worked together to build because they valued education. “These school buildings then served as a center of education for children and, since parents and neighbors were so deeply involved, the school also became a center of community life,” said Burton.

Second, helping others is essential and expected. Children in a one-room school spent their days surrounded by children of all ages. At various times students could find themselves being challenged by a lesson with an older student or mentoring a younger schoolmate.

“With just one teacher, cooperation was essential,” said Burton. “It also served to engrain learning in the students, because in order to mentor another child, you must know that material well.”

Third, hard work is required. In addition to having to walk to school, students had to help haul in the water, take care of the coal stove, clean the blackboards and perform a range of other chores essential to the operation and upkeep of the school.

“These responsibilities, I think, helped instill pride in their school and offered chances for responsibility,” said Burton.

Fourth, ability, not age, is key. Lessons could be given according to ability and students were permitted to learn ahead or listen in on lessons they needed to catch up on.

“I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard a former student say they learned ahead by listening to other lessons,” said Burton.

And finally, stable and caring families are key. Financial support came from the families who sent children but they also instilled in their children respect for the teacher. A national study done a few years ago on one-room schools concluded that stable and supportive families were the number one reason for the success of one-room schools.

To expand the restoration and research of one-room schools in the Ozarks, consider becoming a member of the Ozarks Country School Association. Contact the Greene County Extension Center (or go online to http://extension.missouri.edu/greene) to learn more about the organization.