School in session: An afternoon at The Landmark offers more than history lessons for today’s student
Tucked along 174th Street in Tinley Park is a one-room schoolhouse at The Landmark Chapel.
The building played host to a Tinley Park Historical Society annual program called An Afternoon in the Old Schoolhouse.
On Sept. 17, 20 first-through eighth-graders piled into the one-room schoolhouse and saw firsthand what life was like in Tinley circa 1800s.
Upon arrival, students were greeted by the sound of school bells. Under the guidance of the historical society’s teachers, they began with a history lesson that focused on the early settlement of Native Americans in Tinley Park. The children were then given a piece of fur, a birch bark journal and a twig pencil to take notes.
History shows that the Germans were also Tinley’s original settlers, and they took to the area after departing from a port called Bremen, a name that may seem more familiar to those in the south suburbs of Chicago.
Enter a local farmer Ed Siemsen, who told the children about his farm in Tinley Park and where he found arrowheads as a boy.
“My great grandfather came here in 1867,” he said. “A lot of families were here in the 1830s and 1840s, so [my family] is one of the earlier ones [to settle in town.]”
Around that time, Potawatomi Indians had encampments around town. They hunted, grew crops and built homes.
Students went on to learn from John Rauhoff, an inventor of the past portrayed by Tinley Park Historical Society volunteer John Szaton.
He introduced himself and his many inventions, including a wooden washing machine. He also took time to explain the process of ironite, which played a crucial role in constructing the Hoover Dam.
The rest of the school day included a lesson on geology, which helped the young students understand the Earth’s physical makeup, as well as learn more about what natural elements and rock formations could have been found in Tinley Park during its early years.
Children were given a map to find the Mississippi River and circle the place where the geodes – or gas bubble rocks – are formed. Under the supervision of teachers, students took the activity outside to select a geode and crack it open.
Shortly thereafter, recess began for the students where they played games like kick-the-can and hop-scotch. They also took time for lunch and enjoyed biscuits and jam, dried cranberries and juice.
The remainder of the afternoon comprised of lessons on literature and arithmetic, a surprise visit from Mr. Tinley and penmanship practice.
The demands placed on teachers long ago is quite a contrast compared to those working in the profession today, according to Connie Pavur, a Tinley Park Historical Society volunteer and one of the teachers.
“First of all, it’s quite different because I am a retired teacher,” she said. “It’s quite different because you want to reach every child, but because of the ages in the classroom, it’s very difficult. You might have first grade with eighth grade. So, of, course, they’re at very different skill levels and interest levels.”
History shows that many children during that time period did not advance beyond eighth-grade.
“It must’ve been very hard for the teacher to try to teach,” Pavur said. “That would be quite a challenge to reach every child.”
Children were given a homework assignment by the end of the school day, requiring them to go home and interview the oldest member of their family about what he or she remembers most about their life as a child and the way they used their free time.
At that point, they were asked to stand, recite the Golden Rule and pick up their belongings before being dismissed.
Williams Wilkins, 12, said he learned a lot during his afternoon spent in the one-room schoolhouse.
“[The scientist] said he created a substance that made cement water proof,” he said. “He built the Hoover Dam.”
Still, there are a number of misconceptions people have for what it was like for children going to school in the 1800s.
“I think they might have thought it was easier, and in a way, it is, but that’s because our technology has gained so much,” Pavur said.
Pavur went on to raise a point about whether human brains have expanded over the years or if greater access to information primes children to be more ready for challenges.
On the other hand, there are teaching methods from the past that continue to succeed even today.
“We learn through the years this is the better way to teach,” Pavur said, noting that the children are “going to get that lesson.”