Written by Laura Lottes
Recently while visiting my family cemetery, nestled on a country hillside, I stood before my great grandfather August (Gus) H. Quade’s grave. He was born 100 years and three days before me, in the family home approximately 300 feet from the cemetery. I imagined what life was like on that autumn day in 1862 and what it was like for him growing up, living his life, and dying on the same land my entire family calls home. At that time President Abraham Lincoln was in office, the Commander in Chief during the Civil War. While soldiers bitterly battled one another, determined to preserve their way of life without surrendering to another’s beliefs, a young boy had his entire life ahead of him.
Gus would attend elementary school in a one room schoolhouse that was erected on our family’s land. Parcel 17 of Table Mound Township to be exact. It had all of the modern conveniences of a mid 1800s classroom. There were desks with ink wells, small slate boards, and a coat hook for every student. A large slate chalkboard graced the front of the classroom; there were a handful of textbooks, and a large map of the United States Territories. Gus received a solid education at the one room schoolhouse and would continue his education at Dubuque Senior High School, at that time located in Turner Hall. His education served him well as he grew into a successful businessman and farmer. The one room schoolhouse seems to have existed so long ago. We imagine only our great grandparents had such a rustic educational experience. When in fact, Gus’s children, grandchildren, and two of his great grandchildren received part or all of their elementary education at the same one room schoolhouse, the two great grandchildren being my two oldest siblings!!!
Leap forward to 1968 when I began kindergarten at a school that hosted approximately 500 kids. Still located in Table Mound Township, replacing the one room schoolhouse, we still had a large slate chalkboard at the front of the room! Ahhh, how slate stands the test of time. But now our learning tools progressed to overhead projectors, slide strips, movie projectors, books covering every subject for each student, and lockers! Education was mostly traditional during that time. Fortunately for my classmates and me, there were a few teachers who explored different methods of teaching and learning. We experienced hands-on science projects, and math was related to everyday life, incorporating language arts and financial literacy. For example, in fourth grade every child was taught how to write a check, balance a checkbook, and develop a personal budget. My school was actually considered a "test" school in the 1960s and 70s. The focus was on learning math and science in a real world context, and incorporating this method of learning into the curriculum. I applaud the innovative leaders and educators who had the foresight to challenge the traditional way of teaching and learning.
And now we find ourselves in 2013. Wow, education has progressed over the course of 50 years and not to mention the last 100 years. We’ve replaced our trusted slate boards with interactive white boards with which all students can actively partake in the learning. While content should be first and foremost in all curriculum, the platform for delivery has evolved at a rapid pace. Hands-on, experience-based, and real world learning will no longer just be an option, it will be a requirement in order for states to meet the criteria outlined in the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). Students will have opportunities to engage with their learning experiences that we never imagined possible in 1862. The turmoil of the Civil War has long passed, but unfortunately confusion and chaos is present in many forms in today’s society, especially in education. There are impoverished school districts in which the main focus is not necessarily on learning, but on living… students are concerned with basic survival, and hopefully how to become self sufficient and contribute to society. This is the reality for several school districts across our great country. Think about it, what format of education would be engaging and benefit students in these classrooms? Could that format be similar to the education I received in the mid 60s and 70s, which was a practical approach connecting learning to real life experiences? How about using this format in all classrooms, not just those located in low social economic areas? It’s visibly a logical method. That format also appears to support the kind of learning called for in the CCSS. Once again, I applaud the group of people who were innovative and courageous in challenging the traditional way of teaching and learning, and forging ahead developing and promoting the CCSS. Now our goal should be for all states to transform their schools to a learning environment that will cultivate innovative, self-sufficient learners. By embracing and implementing the CCSS, states will not only be giving a gift to our current generation, they will establish a solid foundation for our future generations to thrive in the ever changing world.
Looking to the near future… 2062. I can only imagine what our society, lives, and education will be like fifty years from now. History lays the foundation for our future. Today is tomorrow’s history. It’s imperative that we are all committed to developing our own advancements in life and in education for our future generations to expand upon. I challenge you to answer one question. What will your commitment and contribution be to the present and to the future?