Monday, August 3, 2009

Rural schools served many purposes in Ozarks

Generations of Missourians who were educated in one-room county schools tend to have fond memories of that earlier era and forget the stark conditions that often prevailed in rural schools.
"Despite their limitations and lack of amenities, rural schools fulfilled their mission. They brought education within walking (or riding) distance of nearly every Missourian," said David Burton, civic communication specialist, University of Missouri Extension.
According to Burton, the earliest Missouri schools may have provided only the barest rudiments of education but they were also the social center for fledgling communities.
"The schoolhouse was a gathering place for everything from pie suppers and church meetings to holiday and political events. Such gatherings were a vital source of communication in rural communities, and they helped knit together the scattered population," said Burton.
Today, the one-room schoolhouse with its smoky stove, water bucket and outhouse is a fading memory. The emergence of a statewide road system made it possible for schools to consolidate and transport pupils to larger, more centralized schools.
"Whatever its shortcomings may have been, the one-room school served a vital function in the evolution of Missouri’s public education system and in the overall social and economic development of the state. The rural one-room school is the foundation of public education and a reflection of Missouri's rural spirit and character," said Burton.
Burton is author of the book, "A History of Rural Schools in Greene County, Mo." and a frequently quoted expert on rural school buildings in southwest Missouri. Copies of Burton's book are available for $18 (plus $2 shipping and handling) from the University of Missouri Extension Center in Greene County, 833 Boonville, Springfield, Mo. 65802.
Additional information about the book, as well as a self-guided driving tour booklet, can be found online at

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