Looking Back – Again

The weirdest things formerly taught in schools

Part Two:

Pluto is a planet

Kids used to be taught that our solar system has nine planets, and that Pluto was the ninth.

They were taught wrong. On August 24, 2006, the icy ball 7.5 billion kilometers away had its status downgraded to “dwarf planet,” courtesy of the International Astronomical Union.

It didn’t have enough gravity to clear its orbit of debris, which is one of the characteristics required to be considered a planet,” says Mary Colson, an eighth-grade teacher.

Darkroom skills

While some schools may for retro reasons offer photography darkroom courses, digital technology has largely killed the need to go into dark rooms and develop film in baths of toxic chemicals. Besides the dangerous chemicals, equipment and supplies for the outdated developing processes are hard to find.

Diagramming sentences

In the days of old, elementary students were taught to diagram sentences, to understand their underlying structure. These parts might include a subject, a verb, an object, adjectives, adverbs and so on. But the system developed by Reed and Kellogg fell out of favor as educators moved away from such regimented methods of analysis to freer forms of expression.

Using blackboards

The old blackboards and chalk first got downgraded by the introduction of computers and now are increasingly replaced by more versatile whiteboards, which can accommodate eye-catching marker colors and even serve as projection screens. Kids no longer have to clap together two chalk erasers to clean them, sending up clouds of particulate.

“Chalk really isn’t good for anything. It gets all over your hands and your clothes,” agrees a fifth-grade teacher in New Haven.


Before there were smartphones to photograph teacher presentations or record their lectures, students had to take notes—that is, on paper with pen. While technology may be more convenient, research shows that students have to pay more attention to what is being said or shown when they take notes, so they learn better.


Up to the 1960s, it was common to have separate high school civics courses, designed to teach students about community service and the government. But these courses have been slashed with school budgets, leaving the majority of schools civics-free. Some education experts believe that civics courses develop young people’s critical-thinking skills, making them more engaged in public debates and more likely to participate in elections.


Apparently some students might have trouble spelling ABC as schools move away from explicit instruction in spelling, perhaps driven by computers and their easy spell-checks.

Writes a literary expert J. Richard Gentry in Psychology Today: “America has moved to a toxic system for delivering spelling instruction in spite of an extensive and evolving body of research showing that direct and explicit spelling instruction is required for students to master the Mechanics of reading and writing.”


Teaching sewing skills to girls has become passé, as gender roles have become less strictly defined.  Still, with six in 10 adults unable to sew well or at all, there might be a rationae for both sexes learning to mend tears, and sew on buttons.

“We have shifted away from the anachronistic view that girls should sew as an acquired life skill. Now we would say that boys or girls who want to go into textiles [need to learn certain skills] and we would try not to be gender specific,” says Julie Nugent, chief executive of the Design and Technology Association.

Math drills

Again, calculators, smartphones and personal computers are making serious math drills less common in schools. But many educators push against the idea of always letting machines do the thinking for us, and losing the chance to exercise our mental chops. The benefits of math drills just add up.

Tough gym classes

Chances are, kids’ memories of gym class today are much different than their parents’. In the 1960s there was a push towards high-intensity fitness regimens. Today kids are more likely to be given choices that let them avoid team sports and sweaty workouts. However, with childhood obesity and sedentary lifestyles at an early age becoming an issue, a return to gym-class tough love might be in order.


5 thoughts on “Looking Back – Again

  1. Rivergirl says:

    If clearing it’s own debris is required for planetary rating, we should probably be downgraded.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Daniel Digby says:

    Again, you’ve hit on a lot of memories, not all of them fond. I had a professor who always wore a dark blue suit and never had a hint of chalk on it after an hour of writing. All I had to do was pick up a piece of chalk…

    Maybe not diagramming a sentence (which is a lost art), but simple English seems to be headed the same direction. My niece learned that you’ve completed a paragraph when you’ve finished exactly five sentences. Include with that, the complete ignorance of how to decline pronouns. Or does anyone remember what declension is?

    Spelling is another art that’s fading fast. Back in the dark ages, our school had a national spelling champion. Now, all I hear is complaints that they’re letting American citizen furners compete (their skin is too dark), and they keep winning because the superior white students don’t seem to study enough.

    “Math” is another sore point. All the way through eighth grade, schools never admitted that there was anything past endless arithmetic. When I was in seventh grade, I found out that our foreign exchange student from Columbia didn’t think his trigonometry teacher did a very good job of getting some basic ideas across. Then I learned that in Belgium, high school, students were taking topology. There were no math (maths, if you’re English) books in any school or public library in our city. The only saving grace was that I got access to the library at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Bitch, bitch, bitch…

    I was really fortunate with note taking, since I’ve always been a slow writer. I compensated by being able to remember everything that I understood, making notes irrelevant (except for exact quotes or poetry). It’s a nice gift for anyone who isn’t terribly swift.

    Anyone remember Ektachrome. (My spell-checker doesn’t.) Our dark room was limited to Verichrome Pan. Not many phones use those anymore.

    Thanks for the trip down memory lane.


    • Archon's Den says:

      We can walk down memory lane, hand in hand. My immigrant from Chile had to assist the native-born Canadian with his production reports. I had to research topography/topology, and knot theory on my own. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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