“Since my last report, your child has reached rock bottom and has started to dig”*…
Between 1830 and 1860, historian Carl F. Kaestle has written, American schools, influenced by theories stemming from European educators Joseph Lancaster and Johann Pestalozzi, began to favor the inculcation of “internalized discipline through proper motivation.” In practice, this kind of discipline might include positive reinforcement, like these certificates, as well as corporal punishment.
Schools that wanted to teach children to be “obedient, punctual, deferential, and task-oriented,” Kaestle writes, were responding to the exigencies of a classroom environment that could easily descend into chaos. (Nineteenth-century schoolrooms might be crowded with large numbers of students or be required to serve a wide variety of ages and abilities; teachers were sometimes young and inexperienced.)
This range of merit certificates shows what kinds of behaviors were valued in 19th-century students: selflessness, “correct deportment,” and diligence…
The digital archive of The Henry Ford has a group of 60 examples of rewards of merit given to 19th-century schoolchildren; more at “School Certificates of Merit For Good Little 19th-Century Boys and Girls.”
* actual comment made by a New York Public School teacher on a report card; see others– equally amusing– here
As we polish the apple, we might spare a thought for Ron Toomer; he died on this date in 2011. Toomer began his career as an aeronautical engineer who contributed to the heat shields on NASA’s Apollo spacecraft. But in 1965, he joined Arrow Development, an amusement park ride design company, where he became a legendary creator of steel roller coasters. His first assignment was “The Run-Away Mine Train” (at Six Flags Over Texas), the first “mine train” ride, and the second steel roller coaster (after Arrow’s Matterhorn Ride at Disneyland). Toomer went on to design 93 coasters worldwide, and was especially known for his creation of the first “inversion” coasters (he built the first coasters with 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7, loops). In 2000, he was inducted in the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA) Hall of Fame as a “Living Legend.”