This illustration depicts an early Illinois schoolroom. In most frontier
schools a single teacher taught children of many, or even all grade levels
in a single room. Teachers were often recent graduates themselves and
offered only rote recitation in what many termed "blab schools." The state
of American schools occasioned a great reform movement in the antebellum
period. In the late 1830s no state had built a statewide educational system.
Local arrangements varied widely. Wealthy families sent their children
to private schools or tutors, but other parents counted themselves lucky
if they had access to a blab school. Many children simply did not go to
school at all. School reformers argued that state and local governments
should supervise the organization of free schools, supported by tax monies
and staffed by trained teachers. Led by the Massachusetts reformer Horace
Mann, this national movement reorganized American education. Teachers
received training at a new generation of "normal schools" and taught with
standard textbooks like the McGuffey Readers.