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Corrigan Times - Local News

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The treasury trove


Teach For Tomorrow… But Don't Forget Yesterday "If we teach today's students as we taught yesterday's, we rob them of tomorrow". This quotation by John Dewey, noted educational reformer of the late 1800's, is especially true for today's educator given the giant leap modern technology had produced in education. However, in cataloging old textbooks generously donated to the Corrigan Area Heritage Center I have noticed the large number of old school books that placed an emphasis on Language Arts (reading, writing, spelling, grammar, etc.). Some are quite old as in the late 1800's and some are from the 1970's and later. These books, both old and newer, all promoted proper penmanship for cursive writing, vocabulary definitions, grammar rules and spelling lists that are all still the basis of a good education today. Several copies of a particular book, "The Elementary Spelling Book" by Noah Webster (more commonly referred to as "The Blue Back Speller"), indicated the importance placed on a good grasp of correct language rules but also correct rules of appropriate conduct. The Blue Back Speller was first copyrighted in the mid 1850's. The small, thin blue book was handed down from generation to generation as its rules and guidelines still hold true today in Language Arts. This book also included short fables or stories with a moral that used words from the spelling and vocabulary lists that the teacher had taught. These fables and the morals they represented were, in fact, lessons already taught at home by parents. Some examples of morals taken from the fables included advice such as choose your friends wisely, respect your elders, honor your parents and other bits of wisdom to help build strong character. Religion was also incorporated in the lessons as Webster was devoutly religious. Good manners and deportment were taught at home and reinforced at school. Respect for authority figures, peers, and self played an important role in success in the classroom as well as in society. In early days, a proper education was a privilege, as not all areas had access to a school or the money necessary to fund one. Parents who were able to send their children to school expected them to work diligently and conduct themselves properly as unruly behavior was looked upon as a failure by the parents to instill this trait in their children. Discipline in the school was strict and sometimes even harsher at home. The Blue Back Speller reflected the "no nonsense" approach to education by using strong words in their spelling and vocabulary lists and applying them to sentences such as "A wicked boy shall have no friends and be shunned". The Blue Back Speller was looked upon as the gold standard in educational material. As the years passed, newer books for Language Arts were written with the same rules for grammar, spelling and vocabulary minus much of the rigid structure found in the Blue Back Speller. Stern fables gave way to stories that still had a moral but not one that preached hell-fire and brimstone. While the books may have changed, educators continued to instill proper grammar usage, writing and spelling in their students. With the coming of technology to the classroom education and educators also changed to some degree Books on-line replaced school textbooks issued to the student. Religious beliefs or wording that included "God"were taken out of the classroom. Keyboarding classes replaced typing class. Other changes appeared but not all were welcomed, especially by those in the Language Arts department of some schools. Teachers seemed divided into two groups of thought. Those that embraced technology encouraged students to think outside the box (regardless if he/she could correctly spell "box"). More emphasis was placed upon the content of a written paper than proper grammar, punctuation and spelling. With the use of cut and paste, spellcheck and other technological wonders writing an essay is no longer an assignment to be dreaded. On the other side of the technological spectrum are the "oldschool" teachers. Not old in age necessarily but comfortable with structure and rules. In seeking to instill proper grammar, spelling and expanding vocabulary, technology can sometimes not be their friend. I am an "old-school" teacher. I retired from teaching over two years ago. In my 30+ years in the classroom I saw the effects of the wave of new technology. I was open to change but still managed to keep some of my "old-school" methodology. I noticed toward the end of my teaching career the number of poorly hand-written, printed answers with atrocious spelling and grammatical errors. Since I didn't teach Language Arts, per se, I could only grade for content and add a minor deduction for grammar, spelling and punctuation. Some students had low reading levels and confessed that during practice tests for state mandated exams they often skipped a reading passage if it was long and filled with unfamiliar words and just bubbled in an answer choice. Enforcement of discipline and conduct are delicate areas for schools to handle due to potential backlash from some parents. Now that I have retired I have not changed my perspective completely. While I think the advances in technology-based education are wonderful, I still hold on to my appreciation of the old Blue Back Speller. I believe skills such as proper grammar, cursive writing, a good vocabulary and good social skills are as important in the business world and society as a sound technological background. Our teachers as C-CISD work hard to instill all these qualities (and more) in their teaching methods. Their one-on-one time with individual students, a scheduled tutorial class and good rapport with both students and parents ensure they are preparing our students for the future.


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