Stopped at a traffic light in the upscale bedroom community of Bedford, New York, I looked out the car window at what seemed to be a stone storage shed at the edge of a Catholic church’s parking lot. A sign indicated that it was a historic, one-room schoolhouse, and I immediately pulled over.
As a high school English teacher at a Connecticut high school with over 2,000 students and a ridiculous number of teachers, aides, and administrators, the lonely little cottage, smaller than my entire classroom, appealed to me with its coziness and implied quietness. A sign indicated that it operated between 1829 and 1912, so it can’t have been the first schoolhouse in Bedford, as Massachusetts and Connecticut Puritans insisted on mandatory schooling as soon as there were 100 families in a town. Those darn Puritans didn’t want a bunch of kids sitting around getting into mischief, so they established the Old Deluder Satan Act of 1647, making sure that all kids went to school and not to hell.
According to the Bedford Historical Society and Westchester County government archives, the village of Bedford was founded in 1680 by a group of Connecticut Puritans who bought the land from local natives for some beads, cloth, and blankets. Of course, the poor natives got the short end of the stick since Bedford, New York, is now filled with wealthy fashion designers like Ralph Lauren and movie stars like Michael Douglas. I, of course, do not live there. I just use the town as a cut-through to a highway, but I digress.
I peeped through the schoolhouse windows and saw three rows of shared wooden desks and benches. Each desk had two to three slates with chalk. I wondered whether a teacher in 1829 felt like Jane Eyre in her isolation as a lowly educator in a barren countryside. Did her responsibilities include keeping the fire going and sweeping the stone floor? Did she keep stacks and stacks of books in her little bedroom at some farmer’s home nearby to keep her company at night?
After my days of noisy teenagers, bells ringing, and preparing my students for yet another standardized test, teaching in a one-room schoolhouse away from modern schools sounds good to me.