19th Century School Life
School Days at Massie
Each school day was opened and closed with roll call, the reading of the Scriptures and the Lord’s Prayer.
Through 1890, following the British custom of designating the graduating class as the first form, the highest grade at Massie was the 1st grade. In the grammar school, the six-year olds were in the 7th or 8th grade depending upon the number of grades in the school. In 1890, the seventh grade at Massie (six-year-olds) contained 71 children for one teacher, and the average enrollment per teacher in the nineteenth century was always well above 50.
Teachers used “moral suasion” to control their unruly pupils. Obedience to God, parent, and teacher was the foundation rock of learning. Contrary to current belief, corporal punishment in the early years at Massie was rare. The paddling was administered by the principal in the afternoon but only after all teachers and pupils had left the building.
Teaching Styles of Massie School
Primary classes were taught to read by the “word method.” By the close of the school year, the pupils were expected to read with fluency the lessons contained in the First Reader. The Superintendent’s Report for the year ending July 15, 1884, states: “Perhaps in no respect has the modern system of education developed more progress than in the methods of dealing with beginners. In place of the alphabet, they were compelled to learn as a preliminary to the acquisition of all scholastic knowledge, they are now put to learning words, which are the embodiment of ideas.”
Drills or repetition, memorization, and spelling bees were important teaching methods. Much stress was placed on writing and mental arithmetic. In penmanship, teachers “set copy” for the pupils to imitate.
Textbooks were used for many years, handed down from the older children in a family. It was considered a foolish waste of money for a school to change textbooks frequently. Teachers adjusted to having several different editions or even authors among the textbooks the children could procure in any given subject.
There were weekly reviews of lessons each Friday and at the end of every term the student body was examined on all studies. Cards were sent home weekly to show a child’s standing in scholarship, deportment, and attendance. Four perfect cards entitled a pupil to a monthly certificate and six monthly certificates earned a commendation of good standing for the year.
Examinations at Massie were public events; in fact, they were even advertised in the papers with parents and interested citizens invited to attend. The observers sat on benches around the room while the teachers grilled the students on all subjects.
A Tradition Continued Today
May Day was a favorite holiday, celebrated with considerable enthusiasm. An 1866 newspaper account reports: “Among the pleasantest incidents of the day were the exercises at the Massie School at five o’clock in the evening.” May Day continues to be a day of celebration at Massie! Pictured here is the May Day Queen from 1948. Read more about May Day Today