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Teaching's "Good Old Days"
By David W. Kirkpatrick (March 27, 2008)
Senior Education Fellow
U.S. Freedom Foundation www.freedomfoundation.us

 
The Reading (PA) Eagle of Oct. 12, 2007, contained a list of rules for teachers in 1872 which are currently posted in an historic one-room schoolhouse on the Kutztown (PA) University campus.  The list is as follows:
 
         "Teachers each day will fill lamps, clean chimneys.
 
         "Each teacher will bring a bucket of water and a scuttle of coal for the day's session.
 
         "Make your pens carefully.  You may whittle nibs to the individual taste of the pupils.
 
         "Men teachers may take one evening each week for courting purposes, or two evenings a week if they go to church regularly.
 
         "After 10 hours in school, the teacher may spend the remaining time reading the Bible or other good books.
 
         "Women teachers who marry or engage in unseemly conduct will be dismissed
 
         "Every teacher should lay aside from each pay a goodly sum of his earnings for his benefit during his declining years so that he will not become a burden on society.
 
         "Any teacher who smokes, uses liquor in any form, frequents pool or public halls or gets shaved in a barber shop will give good reason to suspect his worth, intension, integrity and honesty.
 
         "The teacher who performs his labor faithfully and without fault for five years will be given an increase of 25 cents per week in his pay, providing the Board of Education approves."
 
Ah, you say, that was then.  Yes, but conditions both before and long after were not that much better.

In 1776 a ship arrived in Baltimore from Ireland and it was reported to contain "beef, pork, potatoes, and schoolmasters." The first schoolmasters often doubled as town criers or church bellringers.  In 1824 it was said in Massachusetts that "if a young man be moral enough to keep out of state prison, he will find no difficulty in getting approbation as a schoolmaster."  By the mid 1800s teaching had become mostly the work of women.  As a result it became both a position with low pay and one regarded as something "anyone can do."
 
In 1913, a survey of 500 children working in factories found 412, or 82%, preferred remaining there to going to school.  Even at the end of the 20th century, in 1997, an educational editorial reported that "65 percent of teenagers work at part-time jobs.  They have little use for school."
 
A low point came during the 1930s, the years of the Great Depression, when conditions deteriorated to the degree that some teachers lived in "teacherages," where they received room and board but no salary.   Such conditions might lead to drink but that, as well as smoking, dancing and courting, was often prohibited as well.  Also still to be found here and there was the 1872 rule of being allowed to court one night a week, or two if the teacher was a regular churchgoer.  Laws banning married teachers actually increased during this decade.
 
In 1939 Pennsylvania courts upheld the firing of one teacher who worked in her husband's tavern on her own time, and of another teacher who had legally obtained a liquor license for her father's use.  Even in the 1950s, the last decade before teachers finally began to form unions, 8% of school boards still prohibited married teachers and almost half had no tenure laws prohibiting firing teachers arbitrarily.  In Philadelphia potential teachers had to go to a local political ward leader, pay him and even work for him on election day in order to get a job.
 
Less than ten years ago, in 1999, it was reported that teachers in remote parts of Alaska still lived in teacherages. which conditions perhaps justified, but both the school and the teacherage might also be used as centers for village activity for both children and adults.
 
In the 1990s, John Murphy, a sympathetic school superintendent wrote, "a teacher's world is governed by someone else's rules," and "if conditions stay as they are, we might as well forget about a revitalized teaching force."
 
It has been said unions are the result of bad management, which has never been lacking in public schools.  However, explaining why teacher unions exist is one thing; justifying how they use their power is another.
 
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"The working lives of teachers...are drab, difficult, often demeaning...Imagine asking lawyers, doctors, or even college professors to put up with such conditions for one week, let alone a lifetime...the absurdity of the situation in education is difficult to ignore."  --John Murphy (Charlotte-Mecklenburg, North Carolina Superintendent of Schools at the time), "What's In? What's Out? American Education in the Nineties," PHI DELTA KAPPAN, April 1993

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Copyright 2008 David W. Kirkpatrick
108 Highland Court,
Douglassville, Pennsylvania 19518-9240
Phone: (610) 689-0633

E-mail (tchrwrtr@aol.com)

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