Local history: news and education

By LINDA DROLLINGER
Posted 9/25/19

COCHECTON, NY — Did you know that there were once 17 newspapers in Sullivan County? Did you know that the Sullivan West Central School District was once comprised of more than 10 one-room …

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Local history: news and education

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COCHECTON, NY — Did you know that there were once 17 newspapers in Sullivan County? Did you know that the Sullivan West Central School District was once comprised of more than 10 one-room schoolhouses?

Those were just a few of the curious facts revealed on September 22 at the Cochecton Preservation Society’s [cochectonpreservationsociety.com] annual Coffee, Tea & History event in the restored Cochecton Train Station. Keynote speakers Fred Stabbert III, publisher of the Sullivan County Democrat, and Dr. Nancy Hackett, former superintendent of Sullivan West Central School District, supplied these tidbits, among many others, at an event that always draws a crowd of seniors. This year’s crowd was multigenerational, with a good sprinkling of teens and tweens.

Although Stabbert and Hackett spoke on unrelated topics, tracing the evolution of their respective disciplines throughout the 20th and 21st centuries made for a common theme. Stabbert’s family has published the Democrat for 92 of its 128 years, after his grandfather purchased it in 1927.

Before social media, there was the local newspaper. Stabbert recalled how hospital admissions were once front-page news, with everyone’s ailments trumpeted to the community. “Mrs. So-And-So was admitted to have a baby. Mr. John Doe was admitted to have his gallbladder removed,” he said. Changing times (the advent of medical record confidentiality laws) and revolutionary technology (computers/internet) saw hyper-local journalism begin conforming to journalistic conventions practiced by the national dailies, with a few notable exceptions.

Hackett retired from Sullivan West in 2018, but she couldn’t walk away from her life’s work in education, first as a physical education/health teacher, then as an administrator, and finally as district superintendent. Now a part-time professor at SUNY New Paltz, Hackett is teaching a history of education course, even as she herself learns more about the history of education in what is now the Sullivan West District.

What started as a personal interest has mushroomed into an ambitious oral history project that will ultimately become a series of podcasts. Hackett’s interest in one-room schoolhouses was piqued by first-person accounts of K-12 education conducted in one room with woodstove heat and hand-pumped water, some still in existence as late as the 1950s. (The 1957 launch of the Russian satellite “Sputnik” reportedly convinced one student to transfer to the nearest central school, where science courses supplemented the three ‘R’s).

“In education, everything old is new again, sooner or later,” Hackett said. “The ‘school-without-walls’ movement of the 1970s was really just another one-room schoolhouse until the math department decided to enclose itself, and other departments followed suit until even the English department had put up walls.”

Hackett is studying 10 one-room schoolhouses, and hopes to show what they looked like in operation and how they look today. Anyone with firsthand information about and/or photos of one-room schoolhouses in the Sullivan West District is asked to contact her at Hackett.Nancy@gmail.com.

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