Heritage, Volume 7, Number 4, Fall 1989 Page: 20
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In 1902, Ernestine Edmonds and her 22 students,
grades 1 through 6, posed outside their one-room
Morrill Chapel School, Harlandale, San Antonio.
Photo courtesy of the Ernestine Edmunds Collection,
San Antonio Conservation Society.
dramatic. During the 1949-50 term there
were almost 3,000 school districts in Texas.
By 1971 the number had decreased to just
In reality, the Gilmer-Aiken Law was
only a reflection of similar societal changes
brought about by the turmoils of the Great
Depression, World War II, and The Bomb.
Because of the legislation's impact, however,
1949 is generally considered a pivotal
point between one-room schoolhouse philosophies
and modem education in Texas.
With consolidation came the need to
expand educational institutions. School
plants added new buildings, often to meet
specific curriculum programs such as
homemaking, art, agriculture, automotive
repair or science. The schools again became
one-story buildings because of the
needs to cut construction costs and to
better control the students.
It is not unusual in the public school
system for economic demands to precede
educational philosophy. The open concept,
for example, allowed schools to be
built without the impediments of interior
walls and pre-defined space limitations.
From the 1960s to the present, schools
have become even more modular in design.
In contrast to the historical motifs of the
1930s and 1940s reflecting an ordered and
structured past, the schoolhouses of the
post-Sputnik era celebrated the seemingly
limitless future. The transition, however,
has not been without problems.
Especially in the more rapidly developing
areas of the state, newly constructed
schools are soon filled to capacity. They are
then surrounded by small portable classrooms,
cheap tin and plywood imitations of
the original one-room schoolhouse. In that
sense, education has come full circle, coinciding
with the back to basics movement.
New schools often resemble fortresses,
with fenced yards, stockaded playground
equipment, small gunslit-like windows for
energy efficiency, and vast walls of brick
decorated with neo-nationalistic slogans
such as "Bobcat Fight Never Dies," "Eagles
Soar Forever" or "Warning: You Are Entering
What began as a simple concept-one
teacher instructing a small group of students
in one room-has evolved over the
years into a multi-million dollar operation.
Changes in societal priorities coupled with
legislation such as the National Defense
Act of 1957, the Child Nutrition Program
of 1966, the 1964 Civil Rights Act and
House Bill 72 have influenced changes in
the programs of our schools. Each session of
the legislature adds even more.
Changes in the design and concept of
education will continue but the intent will
remain the same-provide maximum
educational opportunities with minimum
taxation on the public.
One-room schools or educational
buildings of high architectural style belong
to our past. Without preservation, documentation,
historical designations, and
adaptive use, our educational history will
fade. If we allow that to happen, I don't
want to be the one to tell Miss Jessie.
An Austin historian, Dan K. Utley's current work
includes cultural and historical research for the
Texas Archeological Research Laboratory of the
University of Texas at Austin.
20 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/m1/20/: accessed November 18, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas Historical Foundation.