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The Schoolroom

Discarded History

Jewish boys and girls attended school in Fustat (Old Cairo) in order to learn the Hebrew Bible. Through the Genizah we learn how children studied with writing boards balanced on their knees, clustered around the textbook. Schoolbooks were valuable and had to be shared, so the parents of children encouraged them to learn to read a book upside down or sideways. This way children could read it wherever they sat.

Manuscripts in juvenile handwriting show children practising their alphabet and copying biblical verses. Doodles in the margins of once-cherished books seem immediately familiar. Notes sent home from exasperated teachers reveal the punishments given to naughty children, and the crimes of schoolroom bullies.