Anoka County History: No fond memories of school days

Former Cedar resident, Helen Delger, entertained no fond memories of the “‘good old golden rule days.”

Her lessons were “taught to the tune of a hickory stick” in a crowded one-room school.

I think a number of us old-timers can identify with her experience.

Helen originally wrote this account of her not-so-pleasant school days for the Coon Rapids Creative Writers Group newsletter, “Say it in Writing,” back in 1996.

Here’s her story: “I first met Mrs. Payne when I was five years old. She was to be the school teacher at the country school where I would be starting first grade.

“My grandfather was on the school board and Mrs. Payne had driven over to discuss something with him.

“She was pleasant enough towards me, yet I felt I did not want to go to school. I was playing with a broom that had a broken handle.

“I tucked the broom head into my arm pit and jumped as I used it for a crutch.

“I was hoping she would say, ‘Why that little girl is crippled! She can’t go to school!’

“But no such luck. The fateful day arrived and off I went to school.

“The planned capacity of the one-room schoolhouse was 35 pupils, but the fall of 1932 had 43 attending school.

“There weren’t enough desks so some students sat on chairs using wooden orange crates for desks.

“Eight grades were crowded into that room. The ages ranged from five years to 15.

“Farm boys only went in the fall after harvest and in the spring before plowing, so it took a while to complete the eighth grade.

“Most of the boys were bigger than the teacher, but regardless of their size, Mrs. Payne ran a tight ship.

“She was a strict disciplinarian and I was scared to death of her. I used to hope she would just ignore me.

“I would see her walk up and down the aisles, watching for an unfortunate pupil who was doing something not approved of, and using the blackboard pointer she would rap the unsuspecting person on the head.

“If she happened to be carrying a book, that became her weapon of choice.

“One of the cruelest things I witnessed her do was to take the crutch from my crippled cousin and use it to hit him. Back in the 1930s no one had heard of child abuse.

Teachers did pretty much as they pleased.

“Mrs. Payne taught there for my first four grades. From her I learned the three R’s, but I probably didn’t get a strong background in some of the essentials.

“Mrs. Payne spent most of her time with the seventh and eighth graders. They had to pass the state board exams in the spring as it would be a black mark on a teacher to have a pupil fail state boards.

“I lived in fear of Mrs. Payne. What an environment for a child. Mrs. Payne is gone now along with a brutal method of teaching. Those were not the good old days.

Editor’s note: June Anderson is a member volunteer of the Anoka County Historical Society. Join her and other docents for more history in a spine-tingling Ghosts of Anoka Tour by calling ACHS at 421-0600.

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