Little Red Schoolhouse PART TWO


Why the Little Red Schoolhouse Matters


By Terry Bailey



Beloit’s Little Red Schoolhouse has made its home in the rest area on the north edge of Beloit since 1975. As a building it has little significance. It is simply four walls, a roof and stuff inside. The same thing can be said for a church. Just a building with walls and a roof and stuff inside.


What is important is what they stand for. The Little Red Schoolhouse represents education in America. The building is just a building but education is a foundational value of the American way of life.




When the Europeans rushed to the New World, the Spanish focused on violating the land and shipped gold and silver back to Spain. The French established trading posts, attempting to get rich by taking advantage of the Native Americans. The English, on the other hand, as they settled in the New World established schools for the children. Beginning in Massachusetts and Virginia this pattern repeated itself over and over. As the pioneers moved to the frontier the first thing they did after building their homes was to build a school. Settlers collaborated and shared the cost of the school and the cost of books and the cost of a teacher. This was a universal collective effort. A school board of local citizens was formed to oversee the effort. When children enrolled in school, there was no charge. The community effort had covered the costs. The idea of a free and appropriate public education is as old as the Mayflower. From the very beginning, the immigrants realized that an educated citizen was a living, breathing asset to the community.




The trend continued through the post-Mississippi west from Texas to the Canadian border. Organize a community, build a home and then build a school. All the way to the Pacific Ocean.


The pioneers, many of them foreigners, wanted a better life for their children. They understood the best way, maybe the only way, for their children to move up in the world, was for them to become educated. In the beginning, being proficient in readin’, writin’, and arithmetic was enough to move up. It is much more complicated in the 21st century...


Many of the folks who defeated the Axis powers in WWII had their educational roots in a one-room school house. The people who designed and built the interstate highway system came from one room schoolhouse beginnings. Many of the scientists and engineers who accepted President Kennedy’s challenge to send a man to the moon and have him safely return started out as students in one room school houses.


Maurice McDonald, Harold Hill and Harold Boettcher knew the story, knew the importance of the one room schoolhouse. That is why they took the time, the effort and the money to locate the Honey Creek schoolhouse and dedicate it as a living history museum. They understood the value of the one room schoolhouse and what it stood for. They envisioned the Little Red Schoolhouse lasting not 25 or 50 years. They intended for it to last forever, educating young people into the far distant future.


Helen Babb, Mary Kulp, and Louise Matheis and the members of the Kappa Delta sorority understood the value of the one room schoolhouse when they accepted the challenge of keeping the door to the school open so kids and families could step inside and listen to lectures to the from those who had taught in a one room schoolhouse.


In the early 1970s Mitchell County was filled with folks who knew the value of a one room schoolhouse. Now, forty-plus years later, most of those people are gone along with their memories of the one room schoolhouse.


In the early 1900s, over 9,000 school districts were listed in Kansas, most of them rural, one room schoolhouses. Today there are 292 school districts, most of them large urban districts. Before World War II you couldn’t drive through the Kansas countryside without seeing schoolhouse after school house. Today you would be hard pressed to find one. In 1910, about 50% of the children in Kansas were attending school in a one room schoolhouse. By 1950, only 9% of Kansas children attended a one room schoolhouse.


To today’s children and their parents, the one room schoolhouse is simply a distant memory, fading faster and faster. Children no longer play fox and geese on a snowy morning. To suggest to a third grader that he or she walk a mile or two miles to school each morning would bring forth cries of “Child Abuse!” as would punishment with a hickory stick. Most likely, asking the use of an ink well or a slate board would result in a blank stare.


Those who established our Little Red Schoolhouse were visionaries. They did not wait for someone to create a living history museum. They took charge and made it happen. Now these folks are gone. Who in our current generation will take charge and keep their dream alive?




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