EARLY SCHOOLS
IN MACON COUNTY







Extracted from HISTORY OF MACON COUNTY, IL 1880 - pp. 73-78
By John Trainer, County Superintendent




Like her sister counties, Macon has no well-written history of her common school, and, like all comparatively new counties, her educatioal history did not show much system until the present revised law went into effect, in 1855-60. The schools of our fathers were like the schools of to-day, just what the teacher made them. There were many good teachers in the early school days of this county, and many poor ones; the same can be said of to-day. But then the facilities of "ye olden tyme" were much in arrears of to-day--and may we not safely say that the poorest teacher of to-day has facilities about him to make himself far superior to "ye pedagogue" of the long ago? Like all frontier settlements, the standard of teaching was very low, and the man who could make a good pen from the quill of the "buzzard or mother goose," or "whale the boys like blazes" was the best ideal of the available school master in some of the first settlements, but to make such assertions of the later settlements of Macon county, is sheer nonsense. Less was required, and less expected of the teacher then, than of those of to-day. The qualification of the early teachers of Macon county were such as they brought with them from the states of their nativity. They were not such ignorant fellows as many would have us believe. The first teacher was just what the teacher of the east or the south was, the best that could be procured from the number that emigrated to this county, and may we not safely say that some good teachers came to Macon at an early day? The teachers, like those of all new settlements, were poorly paid in the older townships; the people had enough to do to raise their "Injun corn" and prepare for the dreaded "blows" of winter, without giving much attention to the schools.

The school-houses and their furniture were then of the most primitive kind. The houses were constructed of unhewn logs, and covered with boards, which were held in their proper places by weight poles.

In some cases mother earth supplied them with a floor, in others the rough hewn puncheon, matched with the ave, offered a level base on which "ye school-master" mustered his forces. For windows, a log was cut out for the admission of light, and in the absence of glass, greased paper was pasted over these apertures in winter. It is said that a school-master on Stevens' creek early discovered that the wild turkey's oil gave the best light, and highly recommended it to his fellow-sufferers. The furniture was of the rudest character. The seats were usually made of split logs, slightly hewn, having wooden pins driven into them for legs. Of course, they had no back rests, but then the "deestrict" directors wisely placed the soft side of the seat upward.

The writing desks were simply low shelves placed on pins driven into the wall at an angle of fifty-two degrees. (Who knows but that we may have derived our standard slant for the script letters from this fact?) The branches taught in these schools were orthography, reading, writing and arithmetic. But these grand old school days did not last long. The Yankee, Kentuckian and Tennesseean could not long endure this backward state of affairs, and as the little settlements grew and expanded it was only a question of time when the little log-house and sacred slab desk should disappear. About 1847-8 a few houses were built, having the improved board desks, usually fastened together in pairs, but sometimes they were so arranged in sixes or eights. Samples of these desks may be seen in some of our schools today.

appear. About 1847-8 a few houses were built, having the improved board desks, usually fastened together in pairs, but sometimes they were so arranged in sixes or eights. Samples of these desks may be seen in some of our schools to day. But from and after the year 1855 many of the first scbool-houses were properly seated with the very best of school furniture; and now the only drawback in this direction is the prevalent want of school apparatus. There has been but little attention given in this direction, and the result is that scarcely any house is supplied with the absolutely necessary globe, wall-map or dictionary. May we soon see the time when these and other much needed articles may find their way into our country schools? In 1872, the law was so amended that it required teachers to pass a satisfactory examination in orthography, reading, penmanship, arithmetic, English grammar, modern geography, the history of the United States, the elements of the natural sciences, physiology and the laws of health. The addition of the elements of the sciences gave a new impulse to education throughout the State, and no one doubts the good results from it in Macon county. The County Superintendents had held occasional Teachers' Institutes till 1876, when the few teachers in attendance resolved to hold an Annual Institute in 1877. Since that time an institute has been regularly held, and the interest has increased till the institute of 1880 numbered one hundred and tbirty-five in attendance. These institutes have done much to build up the best idterests of the schools by introducing new and improved methods of instruction and by putting the teachers on a common working level. A Teachers' Library Association was organized in 1877, and has steadily grown from a few volumes in number to over fifty volumes of the better class of books pertaining to the teacber's association. The institutes are not supported at the public expense, but by those who attend them. The public, recognizing their importance to the teachers, give them favorable consideration, and prefer those teachers who attend them. Our teachers complain of the limited salary paid them for their labors in the public schools. The highest price paid outside of Decatur or the village for 1879 was $60.00 per mouth, and this was only in a single isolated case. The average wages for females, $30.52, and for males $43.55 for the same year. The lowest salary being $23 per modth. DuriDg the year 1879, there was paid to the teachers in the county $54,576.55, and for other necessary expenses, $19,719.70. DuriDg the same year there were employed two hundred and twenty-nine teachers in the public schools Of the county. This excessive number is due to the fact that many teachers obtain employment for a single term, and then give way to some one else. There are a hundred and twenty-nine school-houses in the county used exclusively for school purposes. The estimated value of school property in the county, including libraries and apparatus, is $166,095. The total amount of special tax levied for school purposes was $51,100.88. These revenues our people cheerfully pay, and feel that they are amply remunerated by the work done in the schools. Efficient county supervision had much to do with the success of the schools of the county from 1863 to 1872 inclusive. At the latter date the Board of Supervisors voted to discontinue school supervision, and no effort has been made to restore it. It is to be hoped that they will allow this inuch needed special help at no district future. The office of County Commissioner was first filled in 1832, by appointment of the court. In 1865, the title of the office was changed to that of County Superintendent of Schools, and the term of office extended from two to four years. Below is given a list ofthe names of persons who served as school commissioner and superintendent with dates: James Johnson, 1832 to 1834; James Renshaw, 1834 to 1835; Charles Emmerson, 1835 to 1838; H. M. Gorin, 1838 to 1840; P. D. Williams, 1840 to 1847; W. S. Crissey, 1847 to 1860; C. C. Burroughs, 1860 to 1864; Edwin Park, 1864 to 1869; 0. F. McKim, 1869 to 1873; S. P. Mickey, 1873 to 1877 John Trainer, 1877, and is the present incumbent





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