MANLIUS — For some people, their days at a one-room rural schoolhouse were the best days of their lives.
But retired schoolteacher Fran Larson can’t look back at her days at the tiny Littlefield School southwest of Manlius without shaking her head.
“I was the only student in my class all eight years, so therefore I had no competition, which I think is a negative,” she said.
And the issue was bigger than no competition. Larson said she has all kinds of admiration for the teachers, but she doesn’t agree with people who think the education was the best.
“I don’t feel that way at all,” she said. “I’m just amazed that we learned as much as we did because the teachers were so stretched, from the first grade to the eighth grade.”
Larson doesn’t fault her teachers, especially Ortha Jorgeson, who taught her eighth-grade class.
“I think the education we had was the best we could have,” she said. “That was the only education we could have, and it was OK; but it doesn’t compare with the education we have today.”
Larson said the students missed out on things such as science and art classes.
Larson said it was nice for the younger children to be able to listen to their older classmates’ lessons.
“But by the time you got to be in seventh or eighth grade, at least in my experience, I spent most of the time teaching the first-graders how to read,” she said. “I think that’s why I decided to become a teacher.”
Larson said when she was a student, Bureau County had tests the students needed to pass.
“We had tests from the county — I think every month — and that always made me a little nervous,” she said. “Then when you got to seventh grade, you had to go into Manlius and take tests before you could go on.”
Despite Larson’s concerns, she passed her tests and moved on to Manlius High School before getting her teaching degree from Western Illinois University.
Outside the classroom, Larson had nothing but fun with her classmates.
“The poor teachers, they had all these classes, and they were busy at recess,” she said. “We just went out, and when I think back on it, played some dangerous games.”
Games like Skin the Cat on the swingset and bicycle wars.
“We’d get on our bikes at recess time, and there would be some of us in this group, and across the road, that was the other hideout,” she said with a laugh. “We’d go back and forth and we’d yell, ‘Stop in the name of the law!’ and we’d ram into them.”
Larson said it’s a wonder no one ever got hurt, but she doesn’t remember a single broken bone during her years at Littlefield.
“We had a lot of fun, but when I think of it now, it was pretty wild,” she said. “But, you know, if we got hurt, our parents weren’t going to be suing, either.”
Other good times were the play days held every year.
“The different country schools in the spring would have a day, and we’d all go to one of the schools and play baseball and stuff, and that was a big deal,” she said. “That was a lot of fun.”
There was generally never more than two girls in the entire school, so Larson whooped and hollered with the boys.
“My mom went to the teacher and asked if it would be OK if I wore jeans to school,” she said.
Larson also remembered the entertainments held for the PTA meetings.
“I remember a lot of play practice,” she said. “Three or four times a year we had quite a little production, which I guess is good, but I don’t know anybody who went into theater.”
Larson has many fond memories of the children she went to school with, although many have since passed away.
“It was, in some respects, such a nice time,” she said.
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