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Education in Arizona has always been a top priority, even before it became a state in 1912! Throughout the decades, schools, rules, transportation, dress codes and teachers have changed. One thing that has remained constant is the eagerness of Arizona students and their ZEST for learning!

Students today have so many choices. They can attend public, private, charter or online schools. Gone are the days of students using slate and chalk to complete assignments—now they use tablets and computers. Gone are teachers writing lessons on a blackboard— they now have dry erase boards and

laptop-driven “smart” boards. 

Students today are very tech SAVVY when it comes to computers, scientific calculators and looking up information on their cell phones to complete assignments. The question is, could today’s students survive a school day in the 1800s?




The second oldest schoolhouse in Arizona is located in the Tubac Presidio State Historic Park. This one-room schoolhouse was in use from 1885 until 1965. The building was made of adobe and had dirt floors. There was no electricity or indoor plumbing! The students used an outhouse as their restroom, where they ran the risk of being stung by a scorpion or being bitten by a spider.

Gwen Griffin, a long-time teacher, has been a volunteer docent at the historic park for five years. Her family has lived in Tubac for over 60 years, and her parents donated the land that the park sits on. She explained that the teachers in the 1800s were young and some had just completed high school. “The kids used slates and chalk. They would bring their own lunch pails. The older kids helped with the younger kids,” Griffin says. 

Griffin explains the classrooms were multi-ages from kindergarten to eighth grade. “There was a lot of discipline in classes. If a kid acted up, they had to sit in the corner and wear the dunce cap,” Griffin says. Corporal punishment was allowed, and students could receive lashes (spanking) for disobeying rules or not showing respect. Boys and girls were not allowed to play together and could receive four lashes for playing together! Children learned the three R’s—reading, writing and arithmetic—recited poems, practiced penmanship and had spelling bees. Most of the teachers were male, and if a female teacher got married, she had to give up teaching.

Griffin feels a field trip to the Tubac schoolhouse and park is an important experience for today’s children partly for the history of the park, the presidio and the Juan Bautista de Anza National Historic Trail. “To me it’s important for kids to see what they take for granted. Kids wanted to go to school (in the 1800s). I think they realized what a privilege it was to be able to go to school. The test they took back then, it was a very difficult test. I’m not sure kids today could pass it,” Griffin says.

Griffin mentioned how kids today will complain about school conditions, but she feels they don’t realize how lucky they are to sit in an air conditioned, modern classroom with all the modern equipment. “Students in the 1800s were happy if they could even go to school. You were lucky if you had a family that didn’t need you at home to work so that you could go to school, or in the case where you had to stay at home to take care of younger siblings,” Griffin says.



Wow, the music, the fashion and the dancing—no wonder Hollywood has been INFATUATED with the 1950s! But what was it like going to school nearly 70 years ago?

“I loved it!” recalls Gary Naylor, who drives a school bus in the Valley for his semi-retirement years. “I love people. So I loved my school teachers, my fellow students and my athletic programs.”

Naylor grew up in a family of six on a couple of acres that had cows, sheep and horses in an area that’s now part of downtown Phoenix! He remembers riding a bike to school—one that he had pieced together from spare parts. Some neighborhood kids would walk the half mile or so. Families didn’t worry about street safety as much as they need to today.

But he points out that the parents seemed much more involved with their kids’ school, often through regular PTA meetings, in the 1950s.

This time of year, schools and homes around here would be hot and sweaty. “We didn’t have air conditioning—all we had were evaporative coolers,” Naylor points out.

And the humidity of the monsoons made it so they hardly worked at all.

For third and fourth grades, much of the classroom learning still focused on the three R’s (reading, writing and arithmetic). And just as in the late 1890s, chalkboards still covered classroom walls.

“I remember that we took tests all the time, year round, testing our knowledge and understanding,” Naylor recalls. He found P.E. (physical education) to be much more fun. “It gave you a chance to go out and explore on the playground in an organized way. We did exercises like climb a rope, sit-ups or push-ups,” he explains. It helped him develop his love of team sports.

Learning to communicate and get along with others was also an important part of going to school in the ’50s. Professionally, Naylor earned an accounting degree and worked for a California city and then as a church administrator before switching to real estate. “Being friendly and being hospitable and enjoying other people—that’s what business is all about,” Naylor says.

After the use of atomic bombs and the end of World War II, the United States and its allies fell into the Cold War with the USSR (Russia, Belorussia and the Ukraine) and its Eastern bloc satellite states. Both sides developed their nuclear weapons programs including missiles that could hit targets oceans away. So schoolchildren in the 1950s learned what to do in case of a nuclear attack!

“They had drills. You’d go underneath your desk and you’d hold there until your teacher told you to come out. It didn’t scare us,” Naylor says.

A more immediate risk was if you got into trouble—maybe for bullying, smart-mouthing in class or getting into fights. Schools in the ’50s still had corporal punishment! Naylor remembers that the assistant principal would come down and take the offender to the principal’s office. “I remember one time being sent down to the principal’s office, and he had a belt he would use on us! Mr. DeWitt was mighty nice, but we feared him. He would get his belt out sometimes to straighten things out!”

Naylor prizes our education system. “The best thing that we’ve got is our education program! To have the discipline and organization that education provides, to understand law and order and to learn what to do and what’s the best thing to do is invaluable!” he says.

Old Tubac Schoolhouse Field Trip

Have you ever wished you could travel back in time? It is possible, and you do not need a time machine. You can visit the Tubac Presidio State Historic Park and see what it was like to go to school in the 1880s.

Third- through fifth-grade students and their teachers can experience a school day in the second oldest schoolhouse in Arizona. Students will learn the culture and history of Tubac when it was still part of the Arizona Territory.

Teachers and students decide if they want to participate in a traditional day in the 1880s or just do some basic lessons in the schoolhouse, have a spelling bee and then take a tour of the museum. If they decide on a traditional 1880s day, the teacher will be given a curriculum, which includes copying lessons from school textbooks from the 1800s, and guidelines to follow.

Teacher and students dress up in the clothing of the time period, which means that girls would wear long dresses or skirts with blouses and boys would wear jeans and a button-down shirt with suspenders. They will make individual slates to complete their schoolwork on, make their own lunch pail and fill it with food of the time period. Tortillas, fruit, beef jerky and vegetables were some of the common lunch items in the 1880s.

A typical day consisted of the students walking to school carrying their lunch pails and books in a leather strap. Some schools will have the children dropped off about a block from the schoolhouse so that kids can experience what it is like to walk to school. Before class began the students would salute the flag (the Pledge of Allegiance had not been written yet in 1880), there would be a prayer followed by lessons in math, geography and discipline.

The students have lunch and recess with games of the time period. Marbles, jump ropes and tops were popular at the time. Boys and girls cannot play together at recess. Reading and a spelling bee will complete the day. 

The cost for the field trip is $2 per student and $5 per chaperone. The teacher is always free. Most groups are around 25 students and it is asked that there be one chaperone per 10 students. There are other trips available for students in grades 4–12. This includes homeschool groups and Girl and Boy Scout troops. 

Reservations can be made by calling (520) 398-2252 or you can visit to read the program guide and for more information.

Boomer Bear’s fabulous Field Trip and Teachers Resource Guides is now available online and begins on page 12 in the August issue.