Updates and New Books from Author Larry Scheckel
Today I welcome nonfiction author Larry Scheckel. Larry is an award-winning science teacher who turned his love for science into six books that teach us how things work. He also has a love for history as we know from his other books, Seneca Seasons: A Farm Boy Remembers, Murder in Wisconsin: The Clara Olson Case, and Country School Days: True Tales of a Wisconsin One-Room School. I previously interviewed Larry in this space back in 2018. You can access that interview here—it covers a bit about Larry being part of the Teacher in Space program in the 1980s among other career highlights.
Q. Larry, thank you so much for visiting today. I’ve enjoyed your books so much, both your science books and your historical / memoir style stories. I think that these are an intriguing mix and wonder if your approach to writing differs depending on which topic you are covering?
A. Thanks for the compliment. Writing and publishing has been a joy. The approach is somewhat different. Checking various sources is a key component for writing a science book. Few people are proficient in all areas of science, such as physics, chemistry, biology, geology, astronomy, genetics, space science, ecology, etc. I was trained in the physical sciences and consider myself rather weak in the biological sciences. Fortunately, I have a cadre of people I call upon to review what I have written, and I request they edit for corrections and omissions. Those include several doctors, several engineers, a dentist, a nutritionist, and even a minister.
The memoir book, Seneca Seasons: A Farm Boy Remembers is about my growing up on a farm in Crawford County with Dad, Mom, and eight siblings. I wrote what I remembered but relied on recollections of the brothers and sisters and other farm families in the Seneca, Wisconsin area.
The Murder in Wisconsin: The Clara Olson Case book required three years of extensive research of newspaper accounts and historical records as this event occurred in 1926. I interviewed many “old timers” who has recollections or stories told to them. I had microfilms of newspapers from our area and also from Chicago and Milwaukee. The microfilms were sent to the La Crosse Public Library. I spent many hours reading those microfilms and downloading to a thumb drive to take home and review.
Q. I must admit that I preferred history class to science class in school, so I tend to gravitate more to your historical books. Your most recent book about your one-room school experiences makes these stories accessible for future generations in a wonderful way. Was preserving history your main goal for writing this book?
A. I wanted to share my experience in the one-room country school with our son and his children and particularly with those now senior citizens who had those shared experiences. Ben Logan, in his landmark book, The Land Remembers, wrote, “We didn’t know it at the time, but we just may have been participants in the best educational system ever devised.”
ABOUT COUNTRY SCHOOL DAYS:
In Country School Days, Larry Scheckel takes us back to his boyhood days, growing up with eight siblings on the family farm in the hill country of southwestern Wisconsin and attending the one-room country school out on Oak Grove Ridge. Oak Grove School was the social heart of the community, from the basket social in the fall, to the Christmas program, to the end-of-the-year school picnic. Learn of the joys and challenges faced by students in the country school. Join Scheckel on his nostalgic and evocative journey as he shares his memories of friendships forged and lessons learned during his eight years in a one-room country school with 28 kids and one teacher in a building the size of a garage.
Q. When you have speaking engagements for Country School Days, do you have in attendance people who went to one-room schools or mainly people interested in learning more who never attended a one-room school, or perhaps both?
A. The majority attending our presentations are those that attended one-room schools or taught in one-room schools. Many of our presentations are at senior centers, libraries, retired teacher groups, Sons of Norway, and museums.
Q. How long did it take you to research and write Country School Days? Did you already have a lot of the materials, or did you have to find them in archives? Did you talk with former classmates?
A. It required two years of research and writing. I took my laptop and scanner and traveled to the Southwest Wisconsin Archives at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville. The teachers of the one-room schools were required to fill out a 5-page report at the end of the school year. Copies were sent to the School Board Director of each school and to the County Superintendent of Schools. Those records ended up at UW-Platteville and turned out to be a treasure trove of information. I put over 170 photos in the book, so I asked former students what they had in the way of pictures, also their own stories of attending Oak Grove School where I was a student from 1948-1956. I did most of my writing during the COVID shutdown.
Q. You speak fondly of your one-room school days. Can you tell us the positives of this style of classroom or learning? Do you feel there were any negatives?
A. The positives outweighed the negatives. The location was isolated, and the teacher and students ran the school. Students learned to work independently. Kids could listen in on classes, could learn ahead, and catch up on missed lessons. The lessons were appropriate to ability. There was time to get lessons done in class and students learned to budget their time.
The teacher sometimes played with students at recess. Disagreements and arguments were settled amongst the students. It was a give-and-take, learn how to negotiate type arrangement.
Children accepted one another. There was no division between rich and poor. We were all farm kids, some better off than others, but it made no difference. It was a family-like atmosphere. The Teacher and students took care of the school. Each kid was assigned duties for the last ten minutes of the school day. The school was the social center of the farm community, as everyone attended the Fall Basket Social, the Christmas Program, and the end-of-the-year picnic.
Proponents of consolidation promised that students would have more competition and would be exposed to a wider range of life experiences, along with better lighting, indoor plumbing, central heating, and a hot lunch program.
There were 115 rural one-room schools in Crawford County. There was a difference is how the one-room country school kids and the city kids viewed each other. Farm kids thought that city kids were lazy, had too many things, and did not work as a family. The city kids viewed the country kids as hicks and bumpkins.
Q. Our recent experience with the pandemic during the past two years has changed the way students have been educated with online or virtual learning occurring for long stretches of time or intermittently depending on covid outbreaks in schools. While technology has made these adaptations possible, I’m wondering if as an experienced teacher you have views you’d like to share about the impact of the pandemic on our students?
A. I believe there is general agreement that the COVID pandemic has had a detrimental effect on education. Students have lost ground in their learning. The virtual classroom is no substitute for a teacher in front of the students. Fellow teachers tell me they struggled to get meaningful lessons up and running on virtual platforms. We have quite a number of home schoolers in our area, and they do an excellent job of educating their children. They have many resources and tons of experience.
Q. Do you have other projects in the works that you’d like share with us?
A. I have started a new project, Murders of Monroe County, but that title is not finalized. My hometown of Tomah is located in Monroe County. I believe this will be a three-year project. The principal of the Tomah Middle School was murdered by a 14-year-old student in 1979. One of my former students was murdered in 1986 at age 19. Two Amish boys walking home from school found the body of a murdered woman alongside the road. These and other cases have perked my interest. No book or manuscript has been done on these murders.
Q. Who is your favorite author, and what do you like most about their work?
A. Michael Perry. He has a farming background as do I. He is a keen observer of people, life, and situations. His writing is very descriptive. He is a dedicated reader, which I believe is important for a writer. Perry is a good speaker and is part of a music group.
Q. What book(s) are you reading now?
A. Just finished Famous Trials of History and now reading The Other Side of History: Daily Life in the Ancient World. Both are Great Courses books.
Q. Is there anything I’ve missed asking that you’d like readers to know about you and your books?
A. We give book talks on Seneca Seasons: A Farm Boy Remembers, Murder in Wisconsin: The Clara Olson Case, and Country School Days: True Tales of a Wisconsin One-Room School. Each program is a 45-minute PowerPoint followed by a discussion or Q and A. We have programs concerning New Zealand and Israel. We also do science programs for elementary and middle school students.
Thank you very much for taking the time out of your busy schedule to take part in this interview!
Readers can learn more about Larry. Don't hesitate to reach out if you'd like to book him as a speaker.
Larry Scheckel, 1113 Parkview Drive, Tomah, WI 54660
phone: (608) 372-3362