CM . . . . Volume XVIII Number 20 . . . . January 27, 2012
Part of the four volume “Pioneers of Canada” series, authored by Jordan McGill, The Schoolhouse attempts to give young readers an idea of what their schooling might have been like had they lived back in the “pioneer days” of the nineteenth century. The book’s brief information is supported by almost full-page photos, most of them period photos. Today’s children get a peek inside some one-room schools containing rows of fixed desks that each sat two students. Central, sometimes literally, to each school was the big wood-burning stove which supplied the school’s heat during the cool days of fall and spring and the much colder days of winter. Essentially, The Schoolhouse follows a child’s school day from the moment s/he arose at home until s/he returned home at the end of the day. On the book’s penultimate page, Foran provides a ”Then and Now [Venn] Diagram” and invites readers to: “Copy the diagram in your notebook. Try to think of similarities and differences to add to your diagram.” A seven word glossary and a nine item index conclude the book.
Given its short length, The Schoolhouse does an adequate job of introducing its topic, but author Foran missed a number of information opportunities. On page 12, which is labelled “Journey to School,” readers are told that “After lunch was packed [at home], children began the long walk to school. Most students arrived at the schoolhouse by 8:00 a.m.” Given that most of today’s schools begin classes at 9 a.m., was Foran’s inclusion of the time an indication that, in “olden days,” the school day started earlier? On p. 20, “End of Day,” she says: “At 4:00, school was over for the day...[and] children began their long walk home.” Again, young readers are left to draw their own conclusions about the school day’s length. And, while it is true that shank’s mare [walking] was the principal mode of transportation for most students, the “End of Day” photo shows three children on a horse, an image which really doesn’t correspond to the text. Certainly on the prairies, many children did come to school either on horseback or in a horse-drawn wagon or sleigh, and the school yard often contained some sort of structure where the horses could be stabled for the day. Another historical fact that could have easily been incorporated was the reality of a shorter school year to accommodate the children’s involvement in seeding and harvesting plus the schools’ closing for extended periods dues harsh winter temperatures and snow storms. The Schoolhouse also doesn’t speak to how many grades were normally found in the typical one-room school house.
The copyright page includes the photograph credits which acknowledge that most came from Getty Images and the Glenbow Museum. While the majority meld well with the text, the two illustrations on pages 13 & 14 do not appear to be representative of a one-room school, and the photo on p. 15, which is to illustrate “Recess”, looks more like a family out on a picnic.
Recommended with reservations.
Dave Jenkinson, CM’s editor, actually attended a one-room school in the late 1940's in rural Manitoba.
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