Not long ago while discussing the state of education with a friend, she put forth the idea that her mother, who graduated from Cooperstown High School in 1903, received a better education than students do today. We have often heard the claim that students who graduated in the 1980s and 1990s received a better education than students do today. But this was the first time we had heard the claim made for the Class of 1903.
And while we have a general idea of what education was in the ‘80s and ‘90s, we willingly admit that we had not a clue what the Class of 1903 might have undertaken. Fortunately, in our collection of such things, we found the Catalogue of the Cooperstown High School 1903–1904. And, although it is in a rather fragile state, we did manage to read through it, making note of items that we found to be of interest.
Under the heading of “Announcement” we read: “The school believes that the end of school discipline is ‘to train pupils in habits of self-control and self-direction’ — to train pupils to be self-governing. Right conduct is to be obtained by forming right character. A school system that does not grow character is a failure, whatever else may be its excellence.”
This was followed, under “Duties of Pupils,” with: “Pupils shall be required to be regular and punctual in attendance, to conform to all the rules and regulations of the school and to obey promptly all the directions of the teachers. They shall be required to observe good order and propriety of deportment, to be diligent in study, respectful of teachers, and kind and courteous toward one another. Good behavior and movements shall always be observed.”
It would seem that the expectations for the pupils were rather straight forward, as was the explanation of the value of reading, which was found under “Course of Reading in the Grades.” It states: “The ability to read is the key that unlocks much knowledge, and a taste for the proper kind of reading will, in a large degree, shape the education that comes through reading after school life has ended.”