Willoughby: Rules, regulations and getting back to basics | AspenTimes.com

Willoughby: Rules, regulations and getting back to basics

Tim Willoughby
Legends & Legacies
The Aspen School District built its choice property, the Washington School, during the late 1880s for $430,000 in today’s dollars.
Willoughby collection

Aspen’s school district compiled a book that covered just about anything you would want to know on the first day of school, 1892. The Aspen Times printed the 100-page guide which paints an entertaining picture of how school has changed, and remained the same.

The first section highlights the Board of Education. At the time, one of the five members was elected each May. As with modern organizations, committees took care of the gritty details. For instance, the furniture committee “was to see that all the schools are properly furnished with seats, fuel, and all incidental needs, including janitor’s supplies.”

The “General Rules” section prescribed the ideals of Aspen’s schools through the years, “They shall be non-sectarian and non-partisan in character, moral and patriotic in sentiment, public in capacity, and thoroughly devoted to the education of the youth.” Although the directory listed most of the library’s 1,000 volumes, including a dozen different titles by Charles Dickens, students had to bring their own “books, slates and other necessary equipments.”

The district spent $982,000 in today’s dollars, about half for teacher’s salaries. Teachers earned $80 a month, about the same as janitors. When absent, a teacher paid the substitute a minimum of $2.50. In those days, the district did not include areas outside town, but a student from out of the district could be admitted if space existed. But they paid $0.50 tuition per week, $11.90 in today’s dollars.

Schools valued attendance back then as much as they do today. Rules to track attendance spanned several sections and specified, “the register must be kept in ink. It must be neat, accurate and complete in every particular.”

My favorite of many rules for teachers requires that “transoms may be opened for the purpose of ventilation, but windows must not be raised except at recess, or when pupils are in active exercise.” Further rules exhorted teachers to read educational journals and attend institutes and association meetings. The book reminded teachers to “make such social sacrifice as is necessary to the preservation of health.”

A shorter list of rules for students included “Pupils shall walk quietly up and down stairs and through the halls, make no unnecessary noise at any time in any part of the building.” They were “forbidden to throw snowballs” not just at school, but also on the way to and from school. Rules strictly forbade the use of “all stimulants or narcotics, including cigars, cigarettes,” and the “use of profane or vulgar language upon the school grounds.” And students must arrive “neatly attired, clean of person, and free from all contagious diseases including the following: Diphtheria, scarlet fever, measles, mumps, whooping cough and smallpox.”

The high school course of study differed substantially from that of today. Ninth graders endured a heavy dose of the classics, with Latin and Greek history. Tenth graders studied Caesar, and juniors delved into Virgil. Seniors tackled Cicero, German and Latin composition. As today, the school year extended 182 days.

The book listed each teacher who had worked for the district since 1881. All but two of 147 names indicated unmarried women. In 1892, 23 teachers taught 1,165 students enrolled in 12 grades. Although the large enrollment had more than doubled since 1888, the number of high school graduates did not keep pace. The class of 1889 graduated six seniors, including one young man. The class of 1891 graduated nine seniors, including three young men.

Finances, rules and statistics provide insight into a school district. But perhaps holidays most closely reflect the values of a school community. The Aspen school district held no classes on Arbor Day and election day. Perhaps it’s time, as they say in education, to get back to basics: trees and votes.

Tim Willoughby’s family story parallels Aspen’s. He began sharing folklore while teaching Aspen Country Day School and Colorado Mountain College. Now a tourist in his native town, he views it with historical perspective. Reach him at redmtn2@comcast.net.


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