Commentary by Robert Bowling
Many of us have grown up hearing the tall tales of how our grandparents used to walk 5 miles to school in the snow, barefoot. Although many students did walk to school, especially before the invention of the automobile, the distance was usually not that far. There were many one-room “district” schoolhouses spread across the county. These schools covered a smaller geographic area, which allowed students to walk short distances. Although some students opted to walk, there were those that had to take the school bus. It just doesn’t resemble the long, yellow buses we know today. Instead, they were horse-drawn school buses (like the one pictured from Fall Creek Township).
Schools also had to keep up with technological advances in education. The introduction of iPads has almost replaced traditional textbooks that many of us were accustomed to using when we were in school. But prior to 1870, there was no county or state adoption of textbooks. The teacher would recommend which books the students would purchase. During the late 1800s, the most popular textbooks in Fishers were “McGuffey’s First Eclectic Reader,” “Harvey’s Grammar,” “Ray’s Arithmetic” and the Holy Bible. Today, textbooks are decided on by the teacher’s union and the superintendent’s office.
In what other ways have our schools changed? Every schoolhouse had a writing school, and everyone knew “Chirography, the Art of Writing.” Crayons have become a required school item, but they did not exist in our schools until 1868. Blackboards have been replaced with dry-erase boards, and chalk has been replaced with markers. Who doesn’t remember cleaning the chalkboard erasers and getting covered in a cloud of dust? Erasers were just felt strips glued together, but during the late 1800s, it was a piece of sheepskin wrapped around a block of wood.
More on the evolution of our schools next week.