The Fact of the Matter Is. . .
From the Files of Gustavus Historical Archives & Antiquities (GHAA)
Q What sort of curriculum was taught to our settler’s school age children?
A Someone once remarked that it would really be fun to compare our present day Gustavus textbooks with the educational material available to our handful of early Strawberry Point students. Well, the answer to that is—we can! And is it ever an eye opener! In the Abraham Lincoln Parker family a few schoolbooks were brought with them from Oregon during the gold rush, and others acquired along the way in Skaguay and Douglas—some dating to the 1800’s. These textbooks were prized as a precious resource and pressed into service with or without the presence of a school. This simple educational process was loosely defined and often driven by parents who wanted their children to have an education in spite of being in remote and inaccessible places. Updating teaching materials every few years was unheard of. New scientific discoveries didn’t happen every day and would have been slow to change conventional wisdom even if it had. In one of the textbooks, studies and conclusions are cited from the 1700’s—over 120 years before the text was written and that was good enough.
Want a fascinating read? GHAA has a library of old textbooks brought to Strawberry Point almost a century ago—long before Gustavus’ first official one room schoolhouse was built in 1927. For review, we have randomly selected “The Body and Its Defenses” from The Gulick Hygiene Series, copyright 1910. The price was 70 cents, and it belonged to Albert (Bert) Parker, 7th grade level, and is complete with Bert’s doodling of a stick figure skiing downhill. In this 342 page text, the author attempts to show the students that they “were personally responsible for the kind of service we receive from the organs of the body; and that we are equally responsible for the habits of bones and muscle which determines the physical representation of ourselves to others”.
So, what were some of these “habits” (with consequences) the students were held responsible for? For example, the student is asked to stand before a mirror (at home—presumably) in underwear and critically note the angles, the flat, curved, or hollowed areas, and the straight or bent lines. Next they are instructed to rub their hand across their back “to see whether or not a corner of a shoulder blade reaches out like a young wing starting from the wrong place”. If one likes what he/she sees (meaning all is properly aligned) the author counsels to “simply keep on growing as you have begun, and when your bones are hard you will have the shape you wish”. But, he warns—and this is a whole chapter, BEWARE of danger from the school desk! By sitting slouched at your desk, you reduce the supply of oxygen to the brain by doubling up your lungs. Worse yet, “gradually the relation of the bones to each other will be so altered as to give the body an undesirable shape”. Sitting with a sidewise twist was found to be responsible for curvature of the spine by a German scientist who found the condition more prevalent in older children who had, of course, spent more years in the classroom sitting twisted at their desks. And since the study revealed more girls than boys suffered from curvature, it was obvious that “the girls had been more careless than the boys in the way they sat at their desks”.
Because “muscles stay in the position in which they do their heaviest work” the bicycle rider suffers a similar fate with a strong, but permanently bent (leaning forward) back. The “law of the body is that doing a thing makes the body shape itself to that act”. “Let the oarsman who objects to hands that curve like stiffened claws spend several minutes each day in first extending his fingers forcibly, then in relaxing them, and he will be sure to see results.” Whew! At least there are proactive measures that (in some instances, if done correctly and early) may reverse the problems.
Ignorance, the author warns, is NOT bliss. That much we get.
Lesson continued next month….