Friday, September 12, 2008

The Village School

Top: "Auf der Eselbank" (the donkey bench for fools), woodcut from around 1880
Bottom: A music lesson

As teachers return to their classrooms for the school season, it seems a good time to step back into history and look at the typical classroom in small villages in the Saarburg area. There is a wealth of material about education in the villages of Irsch, Zerf, and Serrig (Kreis Saarburg), taken from three village history books written by Ewald Meyer, Edward Christoffel, and Klaus Hammächer as well as from the Roscheiderhof on-line museum tour.

Ewald Meyer and Edward Christoffel were teachers in Saarburg before their retirement, and it isn't surprising that they looked at schooling from the perspective of both the school teacher and of the students whom they taught. Because their books overwhelm me with information, I'm going to cherry pick the facts that appeal to me and that I may want to find again later. What a nice feature of Blogspot that anyone can "word search" the entire blog with words like "school" or "teacher" or "1849" or"eselbank" (the donkey bench was the equivalent of wearing a dunce cap)

Education in early times

Ewald Meyer describes the beginnings of the occupation of schoolmaster in the very early days of the village of Irsch. He says that in the beginning, there were no schoolhouses. The schoolteacher went from house to house to teach, probably receiving payment in kind at each place that took him in. The first reference to a salary for a teacher is found in the 1302 when Irsch was governed by the Electors in Trier (Archbishops who were princes of the church and who participanted with the secular princes in governing the German states). The mention of salaries for teachers does not occur in any further documents until the end of the 17th century.

By 1780, Irsch and Serrig, which were sister parishes, had school houses that were rated as "good" upon an inspection by Pastor Canaris from Konz, who had been designated as school visitor by the Trier Archbishop. The school in Beurich, about a mile from Irsch, was not completely finished. The children of Ockfen and Krutweiler received their education in the main room of various houses in those villages. There were 31 boys and 25 girls enrolled in the Irsch school; approximately the same number in Serrig. The emphasis was on reading. None of the children in Serrig could write or do arithmetic; in Irsch there were five boys who could write as well as read.

The teacher/sacristen of Irsch was paid in money (the alb) and grain for his church duties such as grave digging. He received more for digging an adult parish member's grave than for that of a child. He had a small piece of meadow land, enough to give him about a wagonload of hay and three very small pieces of garden. He shared in the drudgery and duties of any ordinary citizen of the village except that he did not have to take a turn as village watchman. When a storm was approaching, he would be the one to ring the church bells. Each child taught to read and write brought him 14 alb; reading only brought him 12 alb.

Teaching School in the "French Time"

Irsch and Zerf became a part of France when Napolean redrew the map of Europe. Under the new regime, the children were to be educated with the ideals of the French revolution, says Edgar Christofel. Every community was to have a primary school. In Zerf, the municipal administrator, who had the reponsibility for hiring a teacher, chose Nikolaus Goetten, the son of the retired Caspar Goetten, who had been the village teacher in the time of the Electors.

The curriculum was ambitious in the early years of the French government. In addition to reading and writing in both German and French, the students were to be taught arithmetic, natural history, health and how to be a "moral" citizen of this new French Republican government. Religious instruction was not to be given.

This ambitious educational curriculum was hindered greatly by the lack of education of the teachers (a common problem in most villages) as well as the meager pay. There were courses designed to improve instruction offered by the Catholic Church, and Herr Goetten of Zerf had taken the short training course offered by the seminary at St. Mathias in Trier. That first curriculum initiated by the French government fell by the wayside by 1802. The revised curriculum consisted of reading, writing, arithmetic, and French (if the teacher was knowledgeable in that language). By 1809, the curriculum had been reduced to reading, writing, and "a basic understanding of arithmetic." Religious instruction was again allowed, since almost all the schools were still connected to the village churches.

Most of the Zerf teachers at this time had to supplement the pittance they received from the villages for their work as teachers. They lived in the schoolhouse or taught out of their own homes. The Zerf teacher, Nikolaus Goetten, lived in a cold damp schoolhouse which was badly built and covered with a straw roof.

Schools in the Early Days of Prussian Rule

According to the Irsch parish history, there was a school inspection in November of 1816. The report on school conditions identifies Matthias Romey as the only teacher for the school. It says that this teacher "earned very little in the way of money or produce" and lived, with his wife, in the school building. Since he taught only from mid-November until Easter each year, he supplemented his income by spinning wool. The report then noted that he did his job happily and was "loved and treasured" by the community.

Most teachers in village schools had to have additional work, especially in the months when school was not in session, a period from Easter until the feast of St. Martin on November 11. Such jobs as pig herder or broom binder provided supplementary income so that the village teachers could support their families. One school report noted that the teacher carried out his trade as a broom binder whenever his class became too clamorous, leaving the classroom to get away from the noise.

In 1816 there were about 100 children in the Irsch schoolhouse which, as just mentioned, was also living quarters for Herr Romey and his wife. It was much too small to be a satisfactory place of learning. The priest who oversaw the school villages tried to help the community develop a plan for a larger building in 1819. However, there was so much poverty that the villagers could not come up with enough money for such a project and no help was forthcoming from the Prussian government. Finally, in 1828 a new "double schoolhouse" was built. The village added another teacher's house in 1833 when a second teacher was hired. The principal subjects taught were reading, writing, arithmetic, and Bible instruction.

Zerf too needed another teacher. The school population was as high as 100 students in 1826. As in Irsch, school subjects were reading, writing and arithmetic along with religious instruction. The children were divided, boys in one section, girls in another. But by 1837 the students were separated in a new way, into a lower school and an upper school. It seems, from Herr Christofel's account, that both sections were instructed by the one teacher, Nicholas Goetten until 1833 when another teacher (unnamed) was hired. Herr Goetten was 60 years old at that time. In addition, he performed the duties of a sacristan for the church. Nikolaus Trapp began a teaching career in Zerf when he was engaged to teach the older children in 1837. At this time he also took over the duties of sacristan. Herr Goetten continued teaching because he had no pension and no other means of support. This was the situation for most teachers well past the mid-point of the century.

Klaus Hammächer, in his history of the village of Serrig, the sister parish of Irsch, says that the schoolrooms of the early 19th century were usually also the home of the teacher, since most villages could not afford a separate residence for him. The teacher's workroom was also the living quarters for him and his family and inadequate for either one. Often the classroom was narrow and humble, cold and damp, not a good place for instruction or for hygiene. Its furnishings were paltry; there was no regulation of what equipment a schoolroom should have. Long planks served as school benches, and the students were crowded on to them. Their writing table served double duty as the eating table of the teacher's family or a worktable for whatever occupation the teacher had to supplement his income. The teacher's desk might be a small wall table, if such a thing was available at all.

School in the Second Half of the 19th Century

"Wooden benches arranged in even rows, blackboard rags tied to the slates, and a slightly raised desk in front of the class - this is how a classroom looked during the Empire." Roscheiderhof Museum describes its recreation of a village classroom that dates from sometime around 1890.

The guide to the Roscheiderhof Museum says that by the midpoint of the 19th century, the concept of universal education and teacher training was common in all areas of Prussian Empire. Usually schools in the country had only one class, where the village children were taught by one teacher only, from the first year of schooling to the eighth. This meant the schoolroom was often bursting at the seams. The guiding figure for class size was 60 pupils, but often there were up to 100 children sitting on the benches. It is therefore understandable if lessons seemed to be taught by rote: the teacher presented the material, the pupils learned it by repeating it or copying it.

Apart from reading, writing and arithmetic, music and religion were very important subjects in the schools of the Empire. Not only were hymns practiced in music lessons, but also patriotic songs which were sung on high holidays such as the Emperor's birthday. Physical exercise was considered part of the school's contribution to pre-military training, and this is why only boys had it. They had to line up in pairs and practice marching on the teacher's orders. Girls had handiwork lessons at the same time. They usually crocheted, knitted and darned, but also cooking, baking and preserving were taught.

Religious instruction was usually given by the pastors. A distinction was made between Bible history and "Catechism". In addition to this religious instruction the church had a great influence on school life. Educating the children to be good Christians was the goal. In order to achieve this, the village youth were subjected to the authority of the pastor and teacher beyond the school room. Anyone who was caught stealing apples in the afternoon or seen out on the streets at a late hour, or who did not attend mass before school was punished with a caning. School was supposed to instill discipline, and a good upbringing was considered more important than education.

By the 1890's, schools were improving as the economy all over the Prussian empire got better. There were schools with the proper furniture and with lists of materials that every single-class school must have, such as a globe, wall maps, pictures for the study of natural science, violin, abacus, and two large blackboards. Especially in the cities, a child beginning school was given a Schultüten, a large, cone-shaped parcel filled with pencils, rulers, crayons, candy and other small items to mark the special occasion.

Christoffel, Edgar. Der Hochwald Zerf am Fuße des Hunsrücks. Verlag W. Rasier, Saarburg 1981.
Meyer, Ewald. Irsch/Saar: Geschichte eines Dorfes. Ewald Meyer, 54451 Irsch, 2002
Hammächer, Klaus. Serrig: Landschaft, Geschichte & Geschichten. 2002
"The Schooling of German Youth," Der Blumenbaum. Sacramento German Genealogy Society, Nov.,Dec. 2005

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