Amid a pandemic, I find myself daydreaming of simpler times — and even longing for the spirit of togetherness of one-room schoolhouses. In 1919, 190,000 one-room schools dotted the countryside, according to a 2005 NPR story. Now they’re few and far between.

I almost never advocate for going back to the way “things used to be,” especially in areas of rural life, agriculture, science, technology and medicine. I prefer modern advancements. As a parent of two school-aged daughters and a son finding his way through his final year of earning his bachelor’s degree, I’m especially thankful for modern advancements in education. Google classroom, Microsoft Teams, Chromebooks — if it weren’t for technology, it would be hard for our children to continue their educations during a pandemic.

Katie Pinke, Agweek Publisher
Katie Pinke, Agweek Publisher

While my parents still farm “the schoolhouse quarter,” the schoolhouse no longer stands. Maybe my husband and father-in-law could build a new one-room schoolhouse. I started counting school-aged kids in the township where our family farm is located and figured our enrollment would be in the single digits. I don’t think my mom has any interest in putting her education degree to use in my imaginary schoolhouse, but maybe we could find a young teacher in the area interested in the challenge.

Kids could ride horses to school like my mother-in-law and her brother used to do in south-central North Dakota. Sleighs pulled kids to school in the winter months. Think of the savings on rural busing.

Newsletter signup for email alerts

We might not even have to build a new schoolhouse. There are school buildings sitting empty after districts have consolidated. In a global health pandemic, it seems like the ideal year to come together as a community, fire up the furnace, give the classrooms a good cleaning and bring back a simpler form of education. While I am creating an idyllic wish list for rural education, let’s add broadband to these school buildings with Chromebooks for each student.

While I never experienced a one-room schoolhouse, the idea of togetherness with only a few other families and a small environment appeals to me in this time of education disruption. Students in a one-room school had the opportunity to move up a grade or two based on their learning pace. Students of all ages helped each other learn.

Looking back, it feels simpler — but then I remember many didn’t get an education past the eighth grade. College wasn’t an option for most rural students either.

We’re better off today with modern advancements in education, whether it’s face-to-face, virtual or a hybrid school model. Education, and even nutrition access, improves with modern advancements.

Whatever education route is best for your kids, keep going this year. While the one-room schools no longer dot the rural landscape, the rural spirit of togetherness in education lives on, stronger today than I’ve seen in my lifetime. We support all kids, all types of students, no matter the size of class or school. As I often remind my kids, no teacher took a class on best practices for teaching in a pandemic. We’re all navigating this journey together. Keep the rural spirit alive, support education and build up our next generation for the future.

Pinke is the publisher and general manager of Agweek. She can be reached at kpinke@agweek.com, or connect with her on Twitter @katpinke.