Most schools in central New York did not issue report cards to students in the mid-nineteenth century. If students performed well in school, learned and recited their lessons properly, and exhibited good behavior, they received merit slips, or Rewards of Merit. The teacher wrote the student’s name on the pre-printed slip and signed it as the student’s reward.
Families expected their children to receive a practical education in school during the mid-nineteenth century. School lessons focused on what students would need to know to successfully practice a trade or run a farm.
This arithmetic book teaches students basic math, including addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. It also includes lessons on how to count money, make change, and barter, as well as how to keep account books and ledgers.
During school, pupils practiced reading from books called readers. Readers often contained short stories to read and recite. Spelling and vocabulary words, as well as questions to answer about the story, often followed a reading.
Many of the stories in readers reflected the lives that students led. One of the lessons in Cobb’s New Juvenile Reader No. III is about a farmer’s son and the son of a widow. The story also reflects the fact that families had to pay to send their children to school. If a family could not afford school, a child did not attend.
Instead of writing in notebooks, students used a slate and slate pencil to do their school lessons in the mid-nineteenth century. After copying a lesson, they would study and memorize it in preparation for reciting the lesson to the teacher. The slates and slate pencils were usually purchased at the local general store.
Although school children most often used slates to complete their lessons, older students sometimes used quill pens and ink. The quill pen was dipped into the inkwell, then dabbed on a blotter to remove excess ink. Quills were used to practice penmanship and spelling, which was known as orthography. The teacher also used a quill pen and ink to write merit slips and other official school papers.