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Learning on-line by Howard Taylor

Learning Like Abe:  Read'n, Writ'n and Cipher'n


Mentor Graham's Schoolhouse at New Salem


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. . . A typical schoolroom would be a fairly small, one-room log structure. Towns generally did have a school, and in some rural areas, there might be a small country school serving children of a broad range of ages and learning levels. A subscription school was one where parents paid the teacher to enroll their child.

. . . Children of all ages would attend the pioneer country school.  Parents would have to pay the teacher, or wizard, as he was sometimes called.

. . . Children were especially needed at home during planting and harvest time, so many attended school during the winter. The majority of children had a limited formal education if any. Few attended school for more than a few years.

. . . The only book to read in Abraham's first school would be the Bible.

. . . The chief way of learning was to memorize and repeat.

. . . Arithmetic would be done on slate boards with chalk

. . . The students would take turns reading out-loud so that the school-master could listen.  Everyone would continue to read out-loud, all-at-once.  The volume of the voices could be heard for some distance from the log building.

. . . When recess would come, the students could decide whether they go outside or stay inside. 

. . . Writing would be taught-- then called penmanship. 

. . . Not many of the teachers, or wizards, would be much more than beyond basic literacy. 

. . . Abraham attended school dressed in a raccoon cap, buckskin clothes, and pants so short that several inches of his calves were exposed.

. . . Abraham's sister, Sarah, was two years older than him, and had dark hair and gray eyes.  She went to school also.

. . . Abraham Lincoln's schooling -- a few months when he was ten and another month or two when he was fourteen -- was no better and no worse than the schooling of most backwoods boys in Indiana in that period. 

. . . The schools he attended -- Andrew Crawford's, then Azel Dorsey's and William Sweeney's -- were 'blab schools,' where the children studied aloud. 

. . . Abe learned 'manners,' simple arithmetic, and how to read and write, from Pike's Arithmetic   and Dilworth's Spelling Book, and by studying and memorizing the speeches of famous men he mastered a kind of oratory. 

. . . Abraham Lincoln, after the age of twelve,  used "Pike's Arithmetic," which was the short name for Nicholas Pike's New and Complete System of Arithmetic. While studying the book, Abraham learned simple addition, compound subtraction, multiplication, division, fractions, coins, weights and measures.

. . . One of the things Pike taught in his book was the "Rule of Three," which stated that if three numbers were known, the fourth could be computed by looking at the proportion between the first and second. According to the rule, the proportion between the third and fourth numbers would be the same. (3)

. . . Dilworth's Schoolmaster's Assistant had a small section at the back of the book called "A Short Collection of Pleasant and Diverting Questions". Here we find nine "brain teasers" such as the classic problem of the farmer who has to get a fox, a goose and some corn across the river in a small boat. You may want to consider challenging your visitors with the same "brain teasers" that perplexed students six generations ago.   Here's the story:

Before proceeding to another subject we shall examine briefly the "
Short Collection of Pleasant and Diverting Questions" in Dilworth.
We shall meet there with a company of familiar friends. Who has not
heard of the farmer, who, having a fox, a goose, and a peck of corn,
and wishing to cross a river, but being able to carry but one at a time,
was confounded as to how he should carry them across so that the fox
should not devour the goose, nor the goose the corn? Who has not heard
of the perplexing problem of how three jealous husbands with their
wives may cross a river in a boat holding only two, so that none of the
three wives shall be found in company of one or two men, unless her husband
be present f Many of us, no doubt, have also been asked to place
the nine digits in a quadrangular form in such a way that any three figures
in a line may make just 15? When these pleasing problems were
first proposed to us, they came like the morning breeze, with exhilarating
freshness. Wo little suspected that these apparently new-born
creatures of fancy were in reality of considerable antiquity; that they
were found in an arithmetic used in this country one hundred years ago.
Still greater is our surprise when we learn that at the time they were
published in Dilworth's School-master's Assistant some of these questions
for amusement had already seen as many as one thousand birthdays.

. . . Ciphering Book for class:  Often there was no textbook at all, either for the teacher or for the students, and much of the instruction relied on the "ciphering book" approach. The master would dictate a "rule" which would be written down by the student in his ciphering book, (i.e. a set of folded papers sewed together into a "book"). A "sum" (i.e. math problem) would then be written into the ciphering book by the master and the student would solve the sum using the rule. A number of writers reported using birch bark instead of paper for their preliminary work. The learning was mostly rote memorization with little effort made to understand the logic and reasoning behind the process. A lot of class time was spent just waiting for the master to "set the sum" or to check the work, and this time was often used by the student to elaborately decorate his ciphering book. Many of these have come down to us as treasured family heirlooms. A teacher who did not possess an arithmetic book of his own (and there were many who didn't) would use as a teaching text the ciphering book that he had created as a student.   See the picture from a ciphering book below

. . . Here are a couple of problems from Pike's Arithmetic

Some examples from "Useful and Diverting Exercises" in Pike's Arithmetick are:

A man dying left his wife in expectation that a child would be afterwards added to the surviving family; and making his will, ordered, that, if the child were a son 2% of his estate should belong to him, and the remainder to his mother; but if it were a daughter, he appointed the mother 2%, and the child the remainder. But it happened, that the addition was both a son and a daughter, by which the widow lost in equity, $2400 more than if there had been only a girl. What would have been  her dowry had she had only a son?

  Answer: $2100.

When first the marriage knot was tied
Between my wife and me,
My age with hers did so agree,
As nineteen does with eight and three;
But after ten and half ten years,
We man and wife had been,
Her age came up so near to mine,
As two times three to nine.
What was our ages at marriage?    

Answer: 57 and 33.

. . . Most of Abraham's later learning would be done by reading and private study.



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