The weirdest things formerly taught in schools
In another day and age, girls in public school might be separated to learn sewing and cooking in home economics class, while boys went to shop class to learn carpentry and mechanics skills. Dead languages were taught to understand live ones. Learning how to take proper notes, develop neat handwriting, read sweep-hand clocks and how to actually spell words are among the other weird things formerly taught in schools.
Schools for the most part no longer veni, vidi, vici the classical languages, Latin and Ancient Greek. True, you can’t use them in your day-to-day conversation but their loss is also our loss. Studying Latin helps us better understand the grammar and vocabulary of other languages, such as English. And many professions have vocabulary steeped in Latin, including law and medicine.
In the era of keyboard, cursive writing classes are on the way out or gone at many schools. But not all educators are happy about this.
There’s a myth that in the era of computers we don’t need handwriting. That’s not what our research is showing,” says a University of Washington professor who has co-authored studies on the topic and followed the same children every year for five years to track their development. “What we found was that children until about grade six were writing more words, writing faster and expressing more ideas if they could use handwriting—printing or cursive—than if they used the keyboard.”
In times past, it was common for boys to take shop classes and for girls to do home economics, where they would learn to cook, fold sheets and so on, so they could become proficient homemakers. Well, presumptions about gender roles have changed and home economics is fast becoming a creaky relic of the past. That said, teaching both girls and boys practical life skills, like how to boil an egg or do their own laundry, might be a good thing.
No, shop class wasn’t learning how to become a more proficient shopper. It taught, boys mostly, basic carpentry and mechanics skills. Liability issues, using machines that can lop off digits or ruin eyes, may be one reason that shop and the industrial arts are increasingly falling off the school map.
But a school in North Carolina makes the case: “Shop classes offer students with their hands. They let students test their inclinations toward possible careers in engineering, carpentry, or architecture.”
As with handwriting, typing is being whited out in schools, with the belief that kids today are born with keyboards in their hands and screens before their eyes. So, gone are the days where students have their fingers poised over typewriter keyboards, with the teacher intoning, “D-d-d, space.” However, even though self-taught youngsters may be reasonably proficient, they would have a great work advantage if they learned to keyboard at full speed.
Dewey Decimal System
The Dewey Decimal System, first introduced in the 1800s, is a numerical system used by libraries to classify their book holdings into subjects and subcategories. Kids needed to get lessons from librarians to learn how to use it, thumbing their way through card catalogues, so they could research school papers and other projects. With the internet, Dewey Decimal is now skipping class. Even librarians are questioning the need to teach it.
Dodgeball used to be a standard gym class activity, with two teams lining up facing each other and then hurling balls at each other in a contest of elimination. Because some kids have better throwing arms—and accuracy—than others, injuries happened and now schools are increasingly banning the game.
Using slide rules
Before using calculators in math class, we had slide rules to make basic calculations, especially multiplication and division. The rulers, with a central sliding slip marked with logarithmic scales date back to the 17th century. They fell out of use in the 1970s when mass-produced pocket calculators became widely available. The last slide rule was manufactured on July 11, 1976.
Reading Analog Clocks
Elementary school students used to be taught that when the small hand was at three and the big hand at six that it was 3:30 and perhaps time to go home. A new generation raised on digital readouts, have trouble dealing with analog time-telling. So much so that some schools have actually removed analog clocks because mystified kids were turning up late for classes and exams.
Etiquette hasn’t been part of school curricula for a long time. However, some experts believe it would do kids good to get lessons in class to supplement what they are learning, or not learning, at home. How to do a proper handshake, tie a tie, and address your elders, are good things to know.
We’ll have some more nostalgia later.