In the 4th book in the Little House series, readers get a glimpse into the early school habits of both Laura and her future husband, Almanzo, in the books On the Banks of Plum Creek and Farmer Boy. Several years ago I was surprised to learn that Laura didn’t learn to read until she was 8 years old! And then it dawned on me that Almanzo didn’t begin attending school until he was almost 9.
Laura was in a whole class by herself because she was the only pupil who could not read. Whenever Teacher had time, she called Laura to her desk and helped her read letters. Just before dinner-time that first day, Laura was able to read C A T, cat. Suddenly she remembered and said, “P A T, Pat!”
Teacher was surprised.
“R A T, rat!” said Teacher. “M A T, mat!” And Laura was reading! She could read the whole first row in the speller.
Taken from On the Banks of Plum Creek in the chapter entitled School.
Seven years later . . .
“What!” said Pa. “Caroline, what is this?”
“Read it.” Laura gave him the certificate and sat down. “And he didn’t ask me how old I am.”
When Pa had read the certificate and Ma had told him about the school, he said, “I’ll be jiggered.” He sat down and slowly read the certificate again.
“That’s fine,” he said. “That’s pretty fine for a fifteen-year-old.”
Taken from Little Town on the Prairie in the chapter entitled Unexpected in December.
Did you read the part where she went from reading to teaching in just 7 short years? And lest you think that Laura was a barely-educated backwoods pioneer teacher, google her writings. She wrote for newspapers, magazines, and only late in her life did she write the Little House on the Prairie books.
Education does not take 12 years
In short, schools waste a lot of time. Our kids must go to school for 9 months out of the year for 6-7 hours a day. But what they do in that time can be easily accomplished in half the time if it weren’t for several things: managing large groups of children, standing in line, disciplinary issues, and wasting time teaching about social issues that are best left to the parents.
How did Laura gain an education sufficient for teaching school in just 7 years? How do homeschool families accomplish the same amount of schoolwork or more and finish their day by lunchtime? And more importantly, when did it become necessary to have children spend the majority of their childhood in a classroom?
There are many issues that could be discussed at length in that one paragraph, but the basic issue here is that learning does not have to take place only in a classroom with state certified teachers. Learning does not take place only with textbooks and chalkboards and tests. Learning can always happen, with a few good books and parents who care.
On the prairie, kids went to school in the winter when their help was not needed at home. Some only went for a few years. In Little Town on the Prairie, Laura shows her determination to learn and succeed as she spends all of her free time studying. Notice she is not doing homework. She is studying. She works complicated math problems in her head, she can recite history, she diagrams sentences, and still has a very full social life for a girl on the wild prairie.