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"Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world." - Nelson Mandela

The Come Back of the One-Room Schoolhouse

By Carole Hornsby Haynes, Ph.D.   December 3, 2015  National Center for Policy Analysis      Education Views

The range of exciting school options continues to expand…oddly enough, in Texas where school choice legislation has been thwarted by those who oppose competition to government run schools. 

There was a time when almost every American child learned in one-room schools.  John Adams taught in a one-room school and Abraham Lincoln attended one, as did Henry Ford who loved his school so much that he moved it to a Michigan

museum.  Each of these schools had multiple grades and students of varying ages. Students were promoted as they mastered a progression of skills. 

However, with the Industrial Revolution came the government run assembly line model of students learning in lockstep, with the tedium of classes relieved by bells ringing at specified intervals.  Rather than being promoted upon mastery of knowledge of a subject, students are promoted year by year with other children of the same age.

In the early 1900s there were 200,000 one-room schoolhouses, nearly half of which were in the Great Plains and the Midwest.  Support for these rural schools began with the federal Land Ordinance of 1785 which surveyed the land for townships and sections across an expanding nation. Each township was comprised of 36 sections with 640 acres in each. Initially section 36 was dedicated to the support of education.  

Today only about 200 one-room schoolhouses remain in rural America.  However, as the public becomes increasingly disenchanted with public education and is seeking options, the historical “older than America” one-room schoolhouse is making a come-back.

In Austin, Texas the Acton Academy was first established as a primary school and has expanded to include all grades.  Just seven years later, there are five campuses in Austin with others open or being opened in Houston, San Antonio, Chicago, Southern California, Wisconsin, Washington, D.C. and Central America.  Each Acton school places students into “studios” with one each for elementary, middle, and high schools.  Each one-room studio covers four grade levels with 10-35 children.

At Acton children learn to take individual responsibility, a concept which is being actively discouraged in favor of collective thought in public education.  Older students, in addition to their other studies, work at apprenticeships.  They take responsibility for their success by doing their own research in fields of work that interest them.  They identify the companies and schedule interviews.

This is in stark contrast to public schools where all coordination with vocational, career, and technical education programs for students is arranged by the administration.

One-room schoolhouses encourage student teamwork and use older students to help younger students with their lessons. Younger students benefit from hearing what is taught to older students.  Because they teach students all day over multiple years, teachers say they gain a deeper understanding of the children.

Acton Academy reported they are receiving five applications each day to open more schools and is confident that an ESA program will make that possible more quickly.  The current education monopoly of one-size-fits-all centralized education does not work for all children. Americans want other options for educating their children.  Maybe the one-room schoolhouse might just be that option for some.

Copyright 2015, Dr. Carole Hornsby Haynes. All rights reserved. 



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