This question triggered so many interesting memories. The first item that came to mind was cooking –which was called Home Economics. Aside from the basics, there was very little cooking in my home and the class taught me a range of skills that served me well throughout my life. The same holds for sewing. Mastery of the sewing machine proved to be a bit of a challenge, but I finally conquered it and went on to sew my graduation dress—which was one of the goals of the program.
Of course, given the period, boys had a different curriculum. Theirs was “shop” which meant learning to use machines and learn carpentry. It would have been ideal had both genders been exposed to both curricula but that was unthinkable in those times.
In addition, my schooling had a real commitment to exposing us to “culture.” Considerable time was spent on teaching music and art. I particularly loved the art classes and began hobbies that I have continued till now. Many schools still teach these subjects, but unfortunately in the quest to improve test scores in reading and math, these “other subjects” are mistakenly seen as luxuries that can be dispensed with. Sadly, they have increasingly been dropped from the curriculum.
Regular visits from staff members of the city library were also part of the literature curriculum. One of the instructors who visited us for several years was a fabulous story teller. She was amazingly adept at drawing us into stories from books we were expected to read–and then stopping at critical points. Her strategy led many of us to race to the library and get the books so we could find out “what happened.” Story telling is a phenomenal skill and one which continues to be appealing today, even with children raised on high tech devices. Sadly, it is rarely fostered so that many children are unfamiliar with the power that stories have.
Another area that received considerable attention was social studies. That still appears in schools today but in my experience, it rarely is offered in the depth and breadth that we experienced. The coverage of both national and international affairs—past and present– was extensive and it led us to develop a knowledge base that is critical to an informed public. Students today often feel that there is no need to “waste time” putting knowledge into one’s head. They feel that google is always available to fill this role.
I do not want to paint a totally rosy picture since there were many components in the school day that were at best pointless and at worst counterproductive. For example, memory demands were high in every area. I recall a considerable amount of time being spent on memorizing all the state capitals in the nation, all the presidents who had served the country and all the rivers in Spain (if you were studying Spanish)—information that even in the pre-google age could be easily accessed via reference books. There was also the imposition of dreary “punishments” that worked to get kids to dislike, if not hate, schooling and learning. For instance, when a class was rowdy, it was common for teachers to have children write, like Bart Simpson, a sentence like “We must remain quiet at all times” anywhere from 20 to 100 times.
In general, I am not one to revere “the good old days.” However, as the comments above indicate, there were many aspects of the curriculum that we would do well to bring back to modern day schools. In some ways, this is happening—but taking on a different direction. For instance, in an expanded version of the old cooking class, a number of schools around the nation are introducing gardens. The goal is to have children learn how food is produced, how to plan the crops suitable for your climate, how to prepare foods, etc. This is a fabulous development that integrates a host of curriculum areas (science, health, math), keeps children active and offers content that they love.
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