By Norris Chambers

             Like everything else, schools have changed since the old timers had knowledge pounded through their thick skulls! My father attended a country school in northern Alabama in the middle 1870s and absorbed some reading, writing and arithmetic. He told some exciting tales about the teachers and some of the students.

            When the family moved to Texas a few years later he applied for entrance in the medical college in Chattanooga. He said they asked him what grade he finished in school He had to tell them that they didn’t have grades where he went to school – the student attended until he thought he knew enough and then quit going. They gave him an entrance exam and apparently he knew enough to qualify. He enrolled and studied at the college two years and received a diploma proclaiming him to be a doctor. He then came to Texas and joined the rest of the family. After working with another country doctor for a year he took another exam and received his license to practice medicine in Texas.

            My mother also told some wild tales about the little country school she attended. She described good teachers and bad teachers but received a good education. She told about a boy who rode a mule into the school building while classes were in session. Apparently that created quite a commotion. Some of the students were scared, some thought it was funny and the teacher was infuriated. The boy was expelled for the rest of the year!

            When I started my schooling in 1925 things were considerably different. We had grades and received report cards! The year before I started to school my father bought a reading book for me that the first grade was using. It was entitled Will and Mae and told about those kids’ exploits in simple language. My mother taught me how to read it and I was ready for the coming school term. I suffered a severe shock. That year they changed the first grade reader to one called Baby Ray.  I looked at the strange book and told the teacher, “I don’t know how to read this book!”

            Her reply was very simple: “You’ll learn.” I did learn and I soon knew about Baby Ray and his adventures. There was also spelling, penmanship, language and arithmetic. There was a grade listed on the report card called “deportment” – Clifton and I didn’t always make an “A” on that.

            The next year I went to a much smaller school where the little one room school had grades one through eight. Obviously one grade could not receive too much attention but the year I spent there in the second grade I learned enough to make the rest of my schooling very easy. I returned to the larger school the next year and I already knew the third grade work and much of that in the fourth and fifth grade. All country schools had more than one grade in a room. I was fortunate enough to always have a higher grade in my room and I stayed at least a year ahead by listening to the next grade.

            One of the things I learned in the second grade was the multiplication tables. We had to memorize them through the 12’s. One of the third grade boys asked the teacher why he had to learn the tables. He didn’t know how he would ever use them. She answered, “Suppose you wanted to buy eleven pigs at four dollars each, how much would it cost. You already know from your tables – four times eleven is forty-four. You will also find many problems in higher grades that require the tables to solve.” 

            Another thing we had to memorize was the table of plusses. Nine plus six is fifteen, twelve plus eight is twenty and so on. This has proven to be invaluable for many, many years. Adding columns of figures becomes very easy when you know without using your fingers how to add a nine or a seven.

            There are practical uses for algebra, geometry and even trigonometry as we grow older and find needs for more mathematical answers. The old schools taught us what we needed to know for the periods in which they were taught. The same teaching continues today with additions to contribute to the understanding of nuclear science and advanced computer technology.

            First graders of the future will be issued shirt pocket computers instead of books like Will and Mae and Baby Ray.  The pocket calculator has replaced tedious work with a pencil. What do you think will replace the calculator?

            Maybe it’s best not to worry about these things and have fun by turning a fresh caught mouse loose in a fancy dining establishment at the height of the dinner hour! That can lead to real fun!