What School Days Used to Look Like

Source: John T. Bledsoe / Library of Congress

16. Schools were segregated

School segregation was a fact of life in much of the United States, especially the South. In 1940, 30% of Americans, just 2% in the South, believed schools should be integrated. That began to change with the monumental Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka Supreme Court decision in 1954 that threw out the separate but equal doctrine. By 1963, 62% of Americans, 31% in the South, believed African Americans and whites should attend the same schools. More legislation to desegregate schools followed, such as the Supreme Court decision Green v. County School Board of New Kent County in 1968 that ordered states to desegregate schools.

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17. Classroom sizes were bigger

Classroom size, or the teacher-to-student ratio, was bigger. The New England Historical Society said classrooms 100 years ago had about 30 students. Today, the ratio is about 14.5 students for every teacher in public schools, and in private schools, it is one teacher for every 12.2 students.

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18. Girls learned domestic skills/boys took shop

In the past, schools taught girls to mend and sew, skills that educators believed would prepare young women for the work world. They also learned to cook for their future husbands in home economics classes. Boys took shop and learned to use drills and punch holes in metal. The space for shop classes today is largely used to repair computers. Many states such as California have virtually done away with shop classes altogether.

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19. Fewer cars

Not all juniors and seniors had cars. And those who did drive to school drove mostly in used cars that required work. Today, the problem at many schools is not enough parking. Such is the case at John L. Miller-Great Neck North High School on Long Island, where the town weighed turning an athletic field into a parking lot to accommodate the students’ cars.

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20. School supplies were simpler

Forget organizers, Bluetooth portable keyboards, gel pens, calculators, notebooks with reusable paper, and scented markers. Back in the day, you had just books, notepads, pens, and pencils.