Ringing the Children In
Texas Country Schools
Texas History - Education
6 x 9, 256 pp.
Pub Date: 01/01/1987
Price:        $24.95


Published by Texas A&M University Press

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1988 Publication Award, presented by the San Antonio Conservation Society
1987 T.R. Fehrenbach Book Award, presented by the Texas Historical Commission

Ringing the Children In

Texas Country Schools

By Thad Sitton and Milam C. Rowold

Milam C. Rowold, of Pflugerville, Texas, is co-author of a new book entitled Ringing the Children In: Texas Country Schools. Here are the voices from those schoolhouses, as the authors sought out and interviewed dozens of country school teachers and students.

The authors re-create the lost world of Texas rural education, when teachers taught and students learned the basics that everybody talks about returning to. The order of the day was strict discipline, steadfast parental support, eagerness to learn, practical jokes and pranks, physical hardships, and rigid moral codes.

Teachers had to be paradigms of wisdom, fairness, and virtue and were expected to punish incompetence and disobedience with rulers, switches, and ridicule; they had to be the school nurse and janitor as well as teacher for all grades and subjects.

Ringing the Children In concludes with the argument that the rural schools worked far better than their critics believed.

Milam C. Rowold is assistant professor of education at Southwestern University. Co-author Thad Sitton is a writer and oral historian

What Readers Are Saying:

"For those struggling with the problems of educating the young today, it turns out that knowledge of our rural heritage may suggest some solutions. Thad Sitton, an oral historian, and Milam C. Rowold, a university education professor, share here the stories they have recorded as they listened to retired country schoolteachers and former rural school students tell of their experiences. The writers' conclusions, some surprising, about the positive aspects of learning the three R's in a one-room school, where as many as seven grades worked and recited, give their transcriptions of these oral histories purpose. . . . informative, concise history of rural education in Texas and its candid conclusions that in that history lie hints for public school reformers who seem to have accepted quantitative test scores as adequate measurement of quality in contemporary classroom life." --Lou Rodenberger

"This book's charm comes from the way it is composed of reminiscences by former teachers, students, and trustees of Texas country schools between 1885 and 1945. Their stories cover every aspect of school life–teachers, school buildings, discipline, programs, and entertainment, as well as games and pranks, and finally, the long fight over consolidation during the 1930s and 1940s. . . . Instead, with their clear writing and solid research, this engaging and entertaining study provides any number of ideas about public education and what it might become despite the vastly different conditions of our times." --Elizabeth York Enstam

"A trip backward in time to the rural era in Texas lets the reader peer through dusty windows into the old schoolrooms and see what went on inside. --Judyth Rigler
"First-person narratives from both teachers and students are awash in nostalgia for a time when school seemed both more satisfying and less subject to criticism than today. --Judyth Rigler
"Historical photographs provide priceless reminders of another era, and descriptions of daily activities, discipline methods, and the sense of community centered around the school are engrossing." --Judyth Rigler

"Ringing the Children In travels backward in time to the rural era of Texas, peering through dusty windows into the school rooms and revealing what went on inside. The role of public education in rural Texas from about 1870 to about 1950, when consolidations signaled the beginning of the end for Texas country schools, is studied in this charming volume. --Judyth Rigler
"First-person narratives from both teachers and students let the reader know what school was like back then, and the best one-word description seems to be 'better.' . . . Provocative stuff in this era of frustration with our schools and the recurring cry for a return to basics. --Judyth Rigler
"Sitton and Rowold's text is well-organized and well-written, and the excerpts from interviews add depth and a personal touch . . ." --Judyth Rigler

"The somewhat startling message of this book by oral historian Thad Sitton and educator Milam Rowold is that the reform wave that eliminated these schools after World War II did not produce better-educated children. "Progress" in the form of consolidated, larger and more bureaucratic schools meant a loss of individualized and thus, despite the primitive conditions, more effective teaching. The writers summon statistics to show that the barefoot and overalled youngsters, whose school year lasted fewer than six months, actually learned more and performed better than their grandchildren who attend glass-walled schools filled with computer rooms and guidance counselors. --Donald Dale Jackson
"What the oldfangled schools had was the personal touch, a one-on-one teacher-pupil relationship that was inevitably lost in expansion and consolidation. Classes were smaller. A teacher who taught the same youngsters year after year became practically one of the family and felt responsible for a child's progress. The older kids in a one-room school helped teach the younger ones and assisted the teacher in disciplining them. Conversely, the brighter children in lower grades benefited by listening to the lessons aimed at their big brothers and sisters, learning from the spillover. --Donald Dale Jackson
"Equally important, the authors argue, was the fact that rural schools enjoyed the unquestioned support of the families in their district. The school was often the only institution that united a 20-mile-square patch of range or blackland farms, and when the school closed, the community disintegrated. --Donald Dale Jackson
"Hardscrabble Texas farm families did much more than just send their kids off to school with a lunch pail. They often built the schools themselves; they ferried the children on wagons and trucks in foul weather, welcomed the teacher into their homes and steadfastly backed the teacher on discipline issues. Rural Texans believed in public education with the poignant ardor of people who still regarded it as a privilege. --Donald Dale Jackson
"Though the authors . . . have a point to make, the real meat of their book is the oral history. Reminiscences drawn from hundreds of interviews are raw material for historians, an evocation of grass-roots life in Texas between about 1890 and 1945. The book has the plain, straightforward manner of the people who fill it and something of their dry, squint-eyed humor. A favorite story about a hypothetical former student sums up the feelings of many for those schools of short sessions and dedicated teachers. 'When I was promoted from the third to the fourth grade it made me so nervous I could hardly shave,' he's reported to have said. --Donald Dale Jackson
"Teachers in Texas common schools made do with what they had. . . . Most schoolmarms and their male counterparts come off as dedicated, dogged and imaginative in the face of deprivation and adversity. The children of two and three generations ago were, of course, innocent by today's standards, but they were also independent, determined and nature-savvy. Students at one Texas school found a hornets' nest on the way to school one winter day, plugged its entrance with a piece of ice and hid it in the classrooom. When the teacher fired up the wood stove, the ice melted, the hornets escaped and school was over for the day." --Donald Dale Jackson

" . . . a valuable, much-needed book, for this important segment of Texas culture has received scant treatment from scholars. . . . the authors provide many interesting glimpses of their impact on students and teachers Alike." --Southwest Review

"This wonderfully readable account draws on experiences of teachers from all over Texas, in white, black, and mixed rural schools which served as the center of community social life. The authors persuasively argue that these schools gave a better grounding in the basics than large schools and fostered valuable attitudes. Every parent and educator should read this Book." --Books of the Southwest

"Sitton and Rowold would earn an A from any of the dedicated school teachers described in their oral history of rural schoolhouses from the late 1800's to the 1940's. This defense of the much maligned, bare-bones education provided in the one-room country school is entertainingly documented, chiefly from tapes and records of the Texas Common Schools Project of the School of Education, UT-Austin. . . . the book is well-organized and offers excellent photos, notes, bibliography, and index. Adults and high school students would find this book informative and Enjoyable." --Review of Texas Books

"Filled with personal recollections and anecdotes, this is a nostalgic record of an era long past, when children learned to read and write in spite of every kind of obstacle." --Marie Beth Jones

."The generation of students that grew up in the bigger-is-better school of education would do well to read this timely and insightful social history which not only gives a glimpse of early-day Texas school life, but suggests new schools of thought on the advantages of smallness in Schooling." --The North San Antonio Times


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