Tuesday, March 08, 2005


The handful of state senators and cronies who want to kill Nebraska’s Class I country schools like to portray them as antiquated relics of pioneer days. They imply that they aren’t as effective in educating the children of the Information Age as those gleaming educational edifices in the teeming metropolises..

They suggest that one-room schoolhouse teachers are missing some teeth and quite a few brain cells, that they heat the classrooms by stoking a pot-bellied stove with corncobs, and the only ed tech is a chalk and slate, plus last year’s Sears catalog. Only an idiot and a rube could be for maintaining that model of schooling in this day and age, the pols are trying to say.

Yeah. Right. I’d like to hear them ‘xplain the glowing article in the March/April issue of the national magazine, Mothering, called “Ode to a One-Room Schoolhouse.”

The writer included a bibliography of 37 studies and articles backing up the contention that the way teaching is done in a classroom of mixed ages can be very, very excellent and exciting indeed. (The article doesn’t appear to be online yet. For the bibliography, though, see

Obviously, those Class I schools are better in principle and often in reality than their urban counterparts. The Class I schools not only have the right to life, but they actually are more likely to be where the action is in the future, which is entrepreneurial education – anything BUT the rigid, chronological-age based “factory model,” which, ironically, is what all of those urban schools these senators are protecting still are using. THAT’S what’s antiquated – and instead of corncobs, THAT’S what ought to be stoked in a pot-bellied stove somewhere.

Here’s an article on this topic that I wrote for my upcoming CD-ROM, “Show ‘n’ Tell for Parents.”

Q. Our state is rural, and there are still some very small schools that follow the model of the old-fashioned one-room schoolhouse of the prairie. Does that mode of education still have a place in today’s education scene?

And how! In fact, “multiage grouping” – also called “nongraded education” or “looping” -- in small, entrepreneurial private schools is on the cutting edge today.

Combining grade levels in one classroom doesn’t work too well in a larger, public-school setting. That’s because educators believe grouping children by ability is not Politically Correct. Therefore, the curriculum can’t be differentiated to challenge the older kids without being absolutely pointless for the younger kids. Nobody wins.

But in the small public-school setting, or in private schools where ability grouping is allowed, multiaging brings forth positive interaction between the ages, rather than an uneasy competitiveness or cliques. Individuality can be a threat to kids who are in a conformist setting, such as graded public schools. But in a multiage setting where there aren’t as many kids, and maybe only a couple your age, the pressure to conform falls away, and individuality flourishes.

Benefits include stretching the younger students by observing what their older peers are studying, and reinforcing lessons for the older ones when they are called upon to read to their younger classmates, or show them how things are done.

On the down side, many parents don’t like it that their child has the same teacher for two or more years; teacher weaknesses are magnified. Multiaging also can be a nightmare for substitute teachers, and can make holiday parties, field trips and sex ed very difficult.

For the shy child, or one who needs direction and structure, these more free-wheeling classrooms can be intimidating. Naturally, because the teacher is dealing with such diversity in age and learning levels, there’s a lot of time spent in independent study. Some kids can’t handle that.

But overall, you can’t beat the one-room schoolhouse for being natural – multiage, just like our families and our communities.

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