Early School Official Had Some Clever Insight Into Education

By Peggy A. Ford.
Originally printed August 1998, Weld County Past Times, Greeley Tribune

Before Luna Smith, there was Oliver Howard.

An earlier perspective on Weld County schools is found in a scrapbook containing articles written by Howard, superintendent of Weld County schools, about the schools he visited between 1876 and 1881.

He inspected each school as to its size, physical condition and instructional materials available, and made candid comments about teachers, teaching methods employed, and the educational impact these methods had on the children.

For example, on Feb. 7, 1876, he reported on a school in the Platteville District that was receiving money for 57 school-aged students:

“The school house has everything to recommend it and there seems to be no good reason why the school should not be first class.

“There are two methods of teaching: the ‘drawing out’ and the ‘pouring in.’

“The greatest teachers instinctively resort to the former. They awaken a child’s curiosity, and induce him to think and ask questions. They always contrive to make him mentally hungry. Unfortunately, the teacher adopted the ‘pouring in’ process too often. There was not a proper uniformity of text books, the classes were too numerous, and the best results therefore impossible.”

Keeping in mind that Howard’s comments are void of today’s concerns for political correctness, he lauded the ability of women to excel as educators:

“I am compelled to admit, that in Weld Co. at least, lady teachers are more successful as teachers than gentlemen. If they have not more talent, they have more tact; and tact is the real ruler, although talent may sit on the throne. A woman will, from the habit of doing trifling things well, keep herself happy and busy with a half-dozen school children, while a man would be dreaming or sighing for an opportunity to move the world.”

Six children in a classroom? Since when?!

Whether in Oliver Howard’s day or Luna Smith’s, and even today, teachers seek the best methods and technology available to “pour in” basic knowledge while “drawing out” the imagination and creativity of every child, within the comfort of a safe, effective and, hopefully, not too cramped, learning environment.

I am reminded of a quote from the great critic and social theorist, John Ruskin, who said, “Education does not mean teaching people what they do not know. It means teaching them to behave as they do not behave. It is not teaching the youth the shapes of letters and the tricks of numbers and then leaving them to turn their arithmetic to roguery and their literature to lust.

“It means, on the contrary, training them into the perfect exercise and kingly continence of their bodies and souls. It is a painful, continual and difficult work done by kindness, by watching, by warning, by precept, and by praise, but above all, by example.”

Perhaps an inscription chiseled over the east door of Kepner Hall (the old training or laboratory school at the University of Northern Colorado) sums up the challenges and rewards of this noble profession:

“Who so teaches a child, labors with God in his workshop.”