By Jerry Apps
On a hazy August morning in 1939, five-year-old Jerry Apps donned a denim shirt with new bib overalls and then combed his hair at the insistence of his mother. Carrying a lard pail as a lunch bucket, two yellow pencils, and a five-cent pad of paper, he took his place in the procession of children on the dusty road headed to Chain O’Lake School in Waushara County. At the sound of the bell that signaled the start of the school year, the students hurried into the modest white building, where one teacher taught children spanning eight grades in a single classroom.
It’s a memory that might sound familiar to anyone who attended a one-room rural school in the early twentieth century. From 1791, when the first school was established in what is now Wisconsin, to the consolidation of rural school districts in the 1960s, the one-room school’s history has been one of growth and change. In One-Room Country Schools, Jerry Apps relays this history through his own vivid recollections, along with the stories told to him by some of the countless students and teachers who populated small country schoolhouses across the state over the years. From the organized chaos of teaching disparate age groups in one room, to tales of recess, holiday programs, and classroom mischief, these stories provide a lively and detailed portrait of what it was like to be educated in the same room as one’s siblings. More than just memories, this book provides insight into the value of the highly localized and more personalized educational practices of the past.