They seem to have written and ciphered as much or as little as they chose, at what time they chose, and in what manner.
In some schools there were classes in arithmetic and regular instruction in writing, and one class in grammar; but such schools, forty years ago, were rare.
The exercises of the morning were concluded with a general spell
, the teacher giving out the words from a spelling-book, and the pupils spelling them at the top of their voices.
At noon the school was dismissed; at one it was summoned again, to go through, for the next three hours, precisely the same routine as that of the morning.
In this rude way the last generation of children learned to read, write, and cipher.
But they learned something more in those rude school-houses.
They learned obedience.
They were tamed and disciplined.
The means employed were extremely unscientific, but the thing was done
! The means, in fact, were merely a ruler, and what was called, in contradistinction to that milder weapon, ‘the heavy gad;’ by which expression was designated five feet of elastic sapling of one year's growth.
These two implements were plied vigorously and often.
Girls got their full share of them.
Girls old enough to be wives were no more exempt than the young men old enough to marry them, who sat on the other side of the schoolroom.
It was thought, that if a youth of either sex was not too old to do wrong, neither he nor she was too old to suffer the consequences.
In some districts, a teacher was valued in proportion to his severity; and if he were backward in applying the ferule and the ‘gad,’ the parents soon began to be uneasy.
They thought he had no energy, and inferred that the children could not be learning much.
In the district schools, then, of forty years ago, all the pupils learned to read and to obey; most of them learned to write; many acquired a competent knowledge of figures; a few learned the rudiments of grammar; and if any learned more than these, it was generally due to their unassisted and unencouraged exertions.
There were no school-libraries at that time.
The teachers usually possessed little general information, and the little they did possess was not often made to contribute to the mental nourishment of their pupils.
On one of the first benches of the Londonderry school
house, near the fire, we may imagine the little white-headed fellow, whom everybody liked, to be seated during the winter of 1814-15.