Going old school at Pipestone Civil War DaysPIPESTONE — Sandy Ness is a teacher by profession, and one would think directing a Minneapolis classroom in 2010 would be markedly different than doing so in an 1860s one-room schoolhouse. But Ness, who led the “School in Session” program Saturday morning at Pipestone’s Civil War Days event, said there are some similarities.
By: Ryan McGaughey, Worthington Daily Globe
PIPESTONE — Sandy Ness is a teacher by profession, and one would think directing a Minneapolis classroom in 2010 would be markedly different than doing so in an 1860s one-room schoolhouse.
But Ness, who led the “School in Session” program Saturday morning at Pipestone’s Civil War Days event, said there are some similarities.
For starters, she explained, teachers of long ago heavily emphasized rote learning, “and what people are doing now is preparing for a standardized test.” Budgets are also a significant challenge, Ness added — while 21st-century school districts cope with lean budgets and passing voter referendums, communities during the Civil War era were often fortunate just to have schools at all.
“Because a community doesn’t have a lot of funds, room and board from each (student’s) family will be most of my salary,” Ness said.
During an hour-long presentation Saturday, Ness assumed the role of Miss Ethel Alice Hearn, the new schoolteacher in a North community relatively close to the rebel South.
“Today is my first day in this community,” Ness said in character. “I was asked to leave my last community because they believed I was unfaithful … People believed that I was conspiring. I assure you this isn’t true.”
Later in the program, Ness (as Miss Hearn) talked more about a teacher’s proper conduct.
“I will not gossip, I will not spread rumor, I will not partake in anything that is seen as evil,” she said. Additionally, she recited a host of “regulations for a lady teacher” that she learned during her Iowa education, which included “a trim dress … teeth, pearly white … and fingernails, immaculate as ivory.”
The 19th-century teacher also told her fictional community members, “The reason why so many teachers fail in their work is the absence of the teacher spirit.” She promised to “make sure the classroom is not dead, but alive” while vowing that “a firm hand will be held if there’s any wrongdoing by any of the children.”
Ness gave children viewing the program a slate board to follow along with a sample lesson that was also provided. Youths from ages 4-20 were usually students in the same one-room schoolhouse, she said.
The atmosphere created Saturday differed sharply from Ness’ place of employment, Seward Montessori School in Minneapolis, where she teaches reading. One aspect of Civil War-era education, though, stands out to her as particularly valuable.
“There was the gift of silence,” she said. “Parents were able to come in and talk about their child’s progress at any time, but they had no right to talk about any of the other students or the other teachers. And … teachers had to observe the code, too.”
This was the first year the bi-annual Civil War Days event offered a “School in Session” program. Among the other new additions to the two-day event were “Music of the Civil War,” “Jane Austen Tea,” and appearances/performances by a visiting Civil War author, magician and historical comedy duo.
Among the returning programs was “A Weekend with the Lincolns,” which again featured the Saturday night “An Evening with the Lincolns at the White House” at the Pipestone Performing Arts Center. In addition to several other historical happenings, battle recreations took place on both Saturday and Sunday.