Book Review: A South Dakota Country School Experience by William E. Lass
By happy coincidence, shortly after finishing my review of a school book used in South Dakota country schools, I have found a book about being a student in one of those schools.
Mr. Lass is a historian who attended eight grades at Emmett School in Union County, in the southeastern portion of South Dakota, during the 1930s. (He wound up teaching history in Mankato, Minnesota for many years.) While much of the book talks about his personal experiences, he also consulted historical records for the school and county to provide context.
The book is divided thematically, rather than chronologically, starting with a physical description of the school, then students, teachers and what they did there. While some of Mr. Lass’ experiences are unique, Emmett School was fairly typical of a rural school of the time, and those who shared that education will no doubt be able to relate. (He doesn’t seem to have had trouble with rattlesnakes, which were a problem in my mother’s area of South Dakota.)
It appears to have been plenty tough for teachers at these schools, teaching eight grades in the same room and trying to keep all the children busy! For $585 a year, no less.
The book is handsomely bound and has some color illustrations, as well as black and white photos. The language in most of the chapters isn’t too difficult, and could easily be read by a bright fourth-grader on up; the epilogue has more difficult vocabulary and is rather bittersweet. There are reference notes and a list of suggested further reading for the serious scholar.
This would make a good gift for an older relative who went to a country school themselves, or has an interest in South Dakota, but also should be shared with younger readers to show them how school was done in their great-grandparents’ day. Consider purchasing it directly from the publisher, Minnesota Heritage Publishing. Highly recommended.