School Time Machine

by Katie H.

web design by Mallory S.

 photo by Janeen F.

I have now invited a child from the early twentieth century (1900s) here to talk with us. Let’s see what he says. Hmmmmm...he is not saying anything, because in the Victorian era, children were taught to “not speak until spoken to," and that “children should be seen and not heard.”

How would you like it if you had to go to school during this age? First let me tell you something about it to help you make up your mind. If your family was very rich, then you might go to a private academy. From the outside, it would look very much like a house. The reason - it was a house! The headmistress or headmaster usually lived in the part of the house that wasn’t a classroom, as there were only about three or four classrooms. Most private academies were designated either "girls only" or "boys only." You would study geography, reading, arithmetic (which is math), spelling, and history. Penmanship was another very important skill. You would learn to make very complicated and fancy letters. You could never hand in any work that was messy or sloppy. This was really hard, because ink would spill and splatter all over the place. Lunch could also be turned into a lesson of table manners. Sometimes I almost think that we should do that here! After lunch time, you would learn dancing, French, drawing, and sometimes even how to walk, talk, sit and bend! What a school day!

But unfortunately, most of us would have been considered in the lower classes, as you had to be very, very rich to go to a private academy. Although there were laws saying that children could not work, many children still would. The reason, well, what would you do if you and your family were starving, freezing and suffering all kinds of diseases that might seem minor today (for instance a fever, in those days you would most likely die from), but medicine was terrible and if it did happen to work, it was very expensive. Back then, if you were poor, you were poor! (The poor house was a fate considered worse than death.) A child of as young as two would go to work in a factory. Factories were terrible for your health, because the air was full of dust and no windows were ever opened to let in fresh air, yet there were plenty of cracks in the walls to make it sweltering hot in the summer and freezing in the winter. There are plenty of books on how terrible factories were, so if you would really like to get in on how absolutely revolting they were, do your history homework! It’s quite interesting! If you were really determined to learn, but worked in a factory during the day, you might go to night school during the night. Many children did this, but most of them fell asleep during class!

We’re all very lucky that punishments are not as harsh as they were in 1900. In an academy you could get away with a note home, but in public and night schools, you would get your ears boxed, or be hit with a ruler or leather strap. And for those of you who are wondering, another punishment was a dunce cap. A dunce cap was a tall pointed hat that you wore along with a sign that said dunce while sitting in a corner. Dunce means that you’re “not too smart.” Teachers thought that being punished helped to improve your mind just as well as any other classroom lesson!

Reading stories about what was right and what was wrong was considered very important to teachers of the past. So was writing essays and memorizing speeches. Exercise class would have been quite different from our physical education of today. You would be taught archery, tennis, baseball and basketball, have yawning and stretching exercises, and, perhaps strangest of all, swimming lessons without any water! (You would hang in a rope.)

Right now you are probably thinking yourself very lucky to be living in 2001. Well, you are. But did I ever tell you how cheap candy and ice cream were? Or that they got three straight months of summer vacation? Oh well! Maybe one day we’ll invent time machines and be able to get the best of both worlds!

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