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Saturday, July 09, 2005

Public school hours & college curricula

As chair of the Library Committee of the Dorchester Historical Society, I spend a few hours each month working with some other volunteers to catalog our collection of historic documents. Today I catalogued an immense 5-volume history of the local area, which was a true labor of love written from 1894 to 1897 by several members of the Dorchester Woman’s Club. (And I do mean “written”! All but four of the 75 chapters were handwritten in pen and ink; the other four were produced on a “new fangled writing machine,” as Mark Twain described the typewriter.)

Anyway, one of these chapters was an account of early Dorchester schoolmasters, who were, of course, overworked and underpaid. One thing that caught my eye was the description of the hours of elementary and high schools: six days a week, from 7 AM to 5 PM eight months a year, from 8 to 4 the other four months. Let’s see — that’s twelve months of school, isn’t it? Surely there was the occasional holiday or vacation — let’s guess six holidays plus four weeks of vacation — which seems to make an amazing 2632 hours per year! But wait...there was a two-hour lunch break each day, so it’s actually only 2068 hours. Let’s not hear any more complaining about the current 990-hour law, OK?

And surely the top students wanted to continue their education at the newly founded Harvard College. The Dorchester women of the end of the 19th Century described the required Harvard undergraduate curriculum of the 17th as consisting of “Latin, Greek, Syriac, more theology than is taught at Divinity School, a large amount of Hebrew, and a mere bit of mathematics, science, philosophy, and history.”

To conclude with a minor matter of linguistic interest: a Google search for “Women’s Club” yields four times as many hits as “Woman’s Club”.

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