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.
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.
The Methodist Harmonist contained the music for many of the hymns of the Methodist Church. The Methodist Harmonist shows how important music was within the church. The book not only includes the melody for each hymn, but provides harmony parts for every song. Hymnals, although important to the worship service, did not provide musical notation.
Music has always been an important part of the Methodist church service. During the mid-nineteenth century, people brought their own hymnals to church with them. Hymnals were often small enough to fit inside a pocket but were very expensive books. Because of their expense and important place in the church service, people often gave and received hymnals as gifts. The modern Methodist Church service still includes the singing of hymns. Most people now use hymnals provided by the church rather than bringing their own.
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.