As Charlotte became established, it made sense to divide the town into several school districts, each with its own school building, at a time when transportation around town most often was on foot. They were called “common schools” to differentiate them from an “academy,” which in those days described what we might identify as “high schools.”
From our perspective we are not able to judge comparisons of today’s schools to those of two centuries ago. We would be comparing apples to oranges. But these small schools were sustainable, affordable and usually provided quality education that prepared their young charges to enter society.
Census records of the early 20th century show that a majority of people rarely attended school beyond the 8th grade; however, in many cases their knowledge could be commensurate with high school level today.
My grandfather graduated from Newbury Academy and entered adulthood with an education that would rival many of today’s college bachelor’s degree programs. The teachers and scholars of these one-room district schools and small academies laid the groundwork for all that has been achieved since.
In an essay in “Around the Mountains,” dated Oct. 15, 1897 (“The Population of Towns and in Praise of Common Schools”), William Wallace Higbee writes that so-called “educators” “tell us our schools are ‘deteriorating,’ and probably they do not come up to the standard of 40 or 50 ago (1840-1850). But the cause is clear enough. The children of the state are taken out of the common schools at a far different age now than they were then. It is not ‘the thing’ to be educated there, no matter how good the advantages.”
In this issue, we visit School #2, also known as the Spear School, located on the north side of Ferry Road, about halfway between Lake and Whalley Roads. The foundation stones are still in place, although the location is now heavily overgrown with honeysuckle.
For more about the history of Charlotte’s schoolhouses, check out our town library’s website.
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