In early Connecticut, towns with 70 families had to have a school for six months a year. Students did not have to attend school for all six months, but the schools had to be there in case they wanted to attend. The churches ran the schools, and religion was an important part of education. The West Division had several schoolhouses in the 1770s, so most students walked less than a mile or two to school.
One-room schoolhouses were plain and often located in the middle of roads because no one wanted to use good farmland for schools. As they worked, students heard the noises of people walking and farm carts rumbling by on dirt roads. The only heat came from fireplaces. Candles were costly, so most light came from small windows.
Teachers did not have very many tools: no globes, no blackboards, no bulletin boards. Most students owned their own primers, but sometimes books were shared in class. Students wrote with quill pens in copybooks that they made at home. They also used slates to practice their lessons. New England schoolhouses did not have desks or chairs. Students sat straight on hard, backless benches.
Because teachers were not well trained, students spent most of their time reciting and memorizing lessons. Most lessons did not teach students to think, just imitate. All grades were taught in one room at one time by one teacher. Sometimes there were up to 70 students in one class. Younger students sat in the front, while older students sat in the back.
Boys usually went to school in the winter, when there were fewer farm chores for them to do, while girls and younger children went to school in the summer. Students ranged in age from 4 to 20 years old. When their parents needed them to work at home, they did not go to school. Many students did chores before school, went to school from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., did more chores, and then played afterwards.
The teachers were sometimes not much older than their students. Many were not trained, were poorly paid, and relied on students’ parents for room and board.
Noah Webster spent much of his life trying to improve American education through his writings. Thanks to his reforms, schools have changed for the better.