Heritage, Volume 7, Number 4, Fall 1989 Page: 18
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THE SHAPE OF
By Dan K. Utley
T he old schoolhouse was surrounded
by at least ten miles of
drifting snow or mud so deep it
could stick a buggy up to a mule's blinders-according
to some of the stories told
by our parents and grandparents. Sometimes
truth is stretched, but not all stories
told of early schoolhouses are tall tales.
Architecturally, early education in
Texas is characterized by the one-room
schoolhouse built to serve a widespread
rural community. It was frequently built of
wood with board and batten siding. A
simple design allowed the structure to be
moved as the area's population changed or,
in drought years, relocated to regions of
greater snowfall and larger mudholes.
The "faculty" of the one-room school
was often a woman who, regardless of her
actual age and marital status, was thought
to be sixty years old and unmarried. Students
addressed her by her given name,
preceded by the reverent title of "Miss."
The teacher was dignified, respected,
authoritarian, serious, dedicated and human,
though it was a shock for students to
see her engaged in normal activities-attending
church or buying groceries. She
was a courageous lion, a wise owl, and a
cunning fox. When necessary she was a
glaring eagle who could strike fear in the
hearts of delinquents, and make the righteous
tremble, unscathed but respectful.
The interior design of the one-room
schoolhouse was what educators would
now call the "open concept." Regardless of
grade, level of achievement, or degree of
interest, all students were taught in one
room by one teacher who relied on her
diversity of talents and firsthand knowledge
of a student's genealogy to impart
enough learning to cope with the demands
of the times. Amazingly, she did this without
the aid of administrators, curriculum
coordinators, nutritionists, planners,
counselors, business managers, child psychologists,
The curriculum was based on a few basic
books such as McGuffey's Reader and the
Blue Back Speller, plus a healthy dose of rote
memorization. As a result of the latter,
especially, millions of older Texans can
still recall their "guzzentas" (4 guzzenta 24,
6 times), the first few lines of "Crossing the
Bar," and that something important happened
in England in 1066.
As rural settlements quickly evolved
into municipalities, schools changed to
meet new demands. The one-room schoolhouse
grew to two rooms, four rooms, or
more. A central hallway became a key
element of the new configuration, which
resembled the shape of an elongated "I."
As a result, a summons to the principal's
office took on the drama of the last mile in
a prison movie.
With increased enrollments and an emphasis
on grade-level instruction, more
rooms and floors were added. Multi-storied
schools were often characterized by separate
entrances for girls and boys, massive
steel fire escapes used as slides during recess,
and even up-and-down staircases.
18 HERITAGE * FALL 1989
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Texas Historical Foundation. Heritage, Volume 7, Number 4, Fall 1989, periodical, Autumn 1989; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth45433/m1/18/: accessed September 25, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas Historical Foundation.