Sundial: A day learning in a one-room schoolhouse
If you’re ever caught behind an Amish buggy clip-clopping slowly down Plymouth Street, try not to be impatient.
The buggy symbolizes separation from worldliness. The gentle passengers remember St. Paul’s command to the Romans, “Be not conformed to this world ... “
Foregoing modern conveniences like cars and electricity makes them rely more on each other, promoting the small, close-knit community they desire.
You’ve probably seen one-room Amish schools scattered around the countryside.
A few years ago, as a newspaper reporter, I was invited to visit one of these schools and speak with the scholars about the importance of reading and writing.
I’ll never forget my first visit.
The bicycle rack outside was filled with dusty two-wheelers, but there were also a few buggies in the yard, and a small barn where horses were stabled during the school day.
Inside the school, pegs and shelves on the back wall held each student’s hat or bonnet and lunchbox.
Scholars in grades one through eight sat at rows of desks facing the blackboard.
Instead of electric light, windows faced east and west to catch as much sunshine as possible, and gas lamps hung from the ceiling for use on cloudy days.
A gas heater in one wall provided heat in winter.
I took a seat in the back, listening as the teacher gave a rapid-fire verbal quiz.
“How many days in a year?” she asked crisply. “Cups in a pint? Pounds in a ton? Quarts in a peck? Pecks in a bushel?”
Students answered instantly and in unison.
Then they carefully completed age-appropriate work sheets, while
rotating to the teacher’s table every few minutes for small group instruction.
There was no idle chatter or background noise. When it was time for recess, everyone hurried outside, and despite varying ages, each pupil joined one of two baseball teams for a game on the nearby diamond. If a sixth grader pitched to a first grader, he tossed it very slowly so the batter could hit it.
Winning was nice, but teamwork and fun mattered most.
I spoke with the teacher during recess. She told me today was “hot lunch day.”
Usually each student brings a cold meal in a lunchbox, but once each week someone’s mother brings a hot meal for everyone.
Often it’s homemade pizza, washed down with a favorite blue-colored punch.
I was invited to share lunch with the children, and when I asked about the blue beverage, one student confided jokingly, “we call it Windex.”
Since English folks rarely visit their school, everyone paid close attention while I explained how reading and writing helped my work a newspaper reporter.
Then it was time to go home and start chores.
Boys and girls grabbed their hats and bonnets and hurried outside to waiting bikes and buggies.
I wondered about their futures.
Would they have enough education to be successful in life? Maybe that depends on how we define success.
As the last child waved goodbye and stepped outside, I noticed a small sign hanging on the wall above the door.
It said, “One person can make a difference. Jesus did.”
Dave Horn’s column appears monthly in The Bremen Enquirer. It’s called Sundial, because, as Dave puts it, “I record only the sunny hours.” He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org