In early Bulloch County, there were no public schools, school buses and county school boards. There were, very simply, the parents, the church and the community.
Therefore, what “book learnin” the children got covered the three R’s: “reading” (literature), “ritin” (penmanship), and “rithmetic” (mathematics).
At first, the children were taught in the homes, but eventually the value of teaching the neighborhood children together was realized, and the “Old Field Schools” became a fixture in each and every little settlement throughout Bulloch.
Depending on the proximity of one’s neighbors, and how many children were being taught, either the parents took turns teaching, or they hired as a teacher someone who had earned their “letters” (a degree from an institute of higher learning, be it a “Normal School” or a college).
These “old field schools” were called such because they were most often located in the worn out, least usable part of a farmer’s field, and quite often sat on a hill or in a hollow. Made from hand-hewn logs, which had the holes patched with mortar made from sand, these buildings had “puncheon” (or split log) floors, and had roof shingles made from chestnut or cypress wood, cheap in the early days.
The classes were held during the farmer’s slow times, when the children were not needed to work in the fields. The basic texts were McGuffey’s reader, Webster’s Spelling Book, and Ray's Arithmetic Book. The books were purchased by the parents, if they could afford them.
In 1817, the Bulloch County commissioners were informed by the Georgia State Legislature that a “Poor School Fund” (or PSF) of $250,000 had been established, in order that each county could assist in the education of its youth. In 1821, the Georgia Legislature further added to these monies by adding an endowment of $500,000 to the PSF. There was enough money, they estimated, to instruct each child between the ages of 8 and 18 years old for three years.
It wasn’t until the mid-1850s that the Georgia Legislature actually created a fund to establish regular public schools throughout the state, and that only happened when they committed the revenues earned by the state-owned Western and Atlantic Railroad to be used for educational purposes.
Even back then, teaching was a low-paid profession in, but it was considered to be a most honorable one, too.
Roger Allen is a local lover of history. Allen provides a brief look each week at the area's past. E-mail Roger at firstname.lastname@example.org.