Paul Theobald chronicles the history of the one-room country schools that were spread throughout the rural Midwest during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
Focusing on the region’s educational history in light of the religious, economic, and political atmosphere, Theobald explores the tight connection between educational preferences and religious views, between the economics of the countryside and the educational experiences of children, and between the politics of local power and the educational prospects of the powerless.
Basing his study on extensive archival research, including findings from eight midwestern states, Theobald neither condemns nor lauds the one-room school experience. Providing an objective evaluation, he examines rural school records, correspondence of early school officers, contemporary texts, and diaries and letters of rural students and teachers.
As he weaves together a contextualized account of the circumstances surrounding and within the one-room country schools of the Midwest, Theobald stresses that religion was of primary importance in nineteenth-century American life. Yet he also looks carefully at the shifting economic environment at work in the countryside, particularly in regard to the development of widespread farm tenancy and the consolidation of agricultural and related industries. He challenges readers to analyze how a national move from an agrarian to an industrial view caused conflict and confusion, thereby introducing irrevocable change into rural American life.
Theobald’s study illuminates the history of education on the plains and sheds light on the social foundations of the period.