Pioneer Sholes School

Discipline of the School 

The Traditional School

"Reading, 'Riting and 'Rithmetic, Taught to the Tune of the Hickory Stick."

    The old test of good discipline was, if you can hear a pin drop, then the order in the school is perfect.  The implication was that the "wheels in the head" make no noise when in action.  The teacher was advised never to smile until Christmas.  The youngsters were generally marched into the classroom, marched to classes, and then marched out of the building.  The old time teacher, by virtue of his position, was a dictator.

    The teacher enforced order and quiet among students except for recitation periods.  Pupils spoke when called upon by the teacher or requested periods.  Pupils spoke when called upon by the teacher or requested permission before speaking by raising their right arm.  They were usually required to stand when speaking to the teacher or to the class.  Titles of respect (Miss, Mister, Ma'am, Sir) were always used in addressing the teacher.  Students were required to speak correctly.

    Punishment took numerous forms.  Corporal punishment was not unheard of nor were other extreme penalties such as detention, suspension and even expulsion.  Lesser punishments, more common at that time than now, included such things as a rap on the hands or knuckles with a steel edged ruler; standing in a corner with face to the wall; wearing a dunce cap, facing the room, and sitting upon a high stool beside the teacher's desk; standing for long periods with arms held straight out in front; standing with an arm outstretched, palm up, while holding a heavy book on that hand for a long period; or being banished to the girls' cloakroom (if the culprit were a boy).

"Modern Standards" Appearing in the Later 1800s

    In the period between the Civil War and the middle of the twentieth century, there was increased attention to the individual development of school children.  The earlier conceptions of strict discipline and even brutal punishment gave way to more sympathetic views of the child as an individual.  Authoritarian discipline and corporal punishment were softened, and greater attention was given to the development of habits of self-discipline.

    According to V. H. Culp, author of How to Manage a Rural School, "The discipline of the rural school should be more like that of a well ordered family with the teacher as its head.  The children should be able to get a drink or a book or even leave the room, without permission except in occasional cases where such privileges are abused.  If the older children are encouraged to help the younger ones upon many occasions a feeling of cooperation will always be in evidence."  When a child could not conduct himself in routine affairs without disturbing the school, or wasted his own time, his liberties must be restricted until the rules were learned.  Punishment should always be in proportion to the transgression.  The certainty of punishment rather than the severity would deter evil doers.  Corporal punishment and suspension should be used only as a last resort.  It was taken for granted that the Golden Rule, courtesy, fairness, and good manners were the standard of conduct.

For more information, please write to us:

Pioneer Sholes School
PO Box 1275
St. Charles, IL 60175

or e-mail us at

Return to the Index.