School Life in the 1950’s
School Life in the 1950’s was harder than today because the facilities were few and inadequate. Teachers were stricter and corporal punishment was still in use. They had fewer subjects and wealth, discrimination, sexism and racism meant they could only do certain subjects. After World War 2 there was a baby boom and as a result in the 1950’s schools were quickly filling up as the children enrolled. The enrolments increased as much as 30% over the ‘baby-boomers’ decade. In the year 1950 there were 166 437 existing elementary and secondary schools in the USA to educate over 29 million students.
As the amount of students increased, the schools and resources declined. It was reported by the Office of Education in 1953 that there was a shortage of 345 000 classrooms, meaning overcrowding in 60% of America’s classrooms and up to 20% of schools failed to meet basic safety standards (statistics- www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3468301830.html 6/08/2013) School facilities were even more unpleasant for the coloured people of America. Their schools were separate from the white people and they were poorly funded by the government. “By 1950, the inequality in educational achievement between white students and minority students had increased since 1900, when very few Americans or and race or gender attended high schools, and formal education was only marginally a factor in national economic and social life”- historians Mondale and Patton. (www.illinoishistory.gov/Illinois%20History/Jan05-21Vargas.pdf 14/08/2013).
This all changed in 1954; when a father named Mr Brown took his case to the United States Supreme Court declaring his daughter should be allowed to go to school with white children. “Mr Brown was upset that his daughter had to walk over a mile through railroad yards to get to a black school when a white one was only seven blocks away” (www.livinghistoryfarm.org/farminginthe50’s/life_12.html 14/08/2013). The United States Supreme Court declared a “Separate but equal” system (desegregation) in schools and made a start on ending discrimination in other institutions. The country school buildings were usually “made of wood with weatherboards outside and tongue-and-groove timber for the interior walls. Most schools were elevated on stumps to provide a rudimentary play area underneath, which was usually concreted.
The rough-hewn stumps would be painted with tar to deter white ants, and constant checking of stumps, walls, toilets and even toilet seats for termites was part of the head teacher’s job”. Up the front of the classroom there were “two large blackboards, almost square in shape, fixed to the wall. Sometimes an extra blackboard would stand on an easel as well. A wooden cupboard with doors, known as a ‘press’, held all the class books and teaching materials. There was usually no other shelving” (www.starfieldobservatory.com/Nambour/Schooling.html 14/08/2013). The school facilities in 1950 were basic and inadequate and the students and teachers had to make do with what they had.
The schools of 1950 were lacking equipment but one piece of equipment was most certainly not lacking in most schools and that was the cane or ruler. Teachers used the cane to spank the disobedient and troublesome students and it was usually very effective – “I really can’t remember kids sort of stepping out of line very much because they knew that they would be getting disciplined severely. There was very little leeway, but then again, there were very little problems” – Student in 1950 (www.angelfire.com/falcon/hist232/interviews%20l.html 14/08/2013). The main reason students got spanked were: “talking or being disruptive in class, not lining up properly or being rambunctious either inside or outside the school” (www.angelfire.com/falcon/hist232/interviews%20l.html 14/08/2013).
Teachers could cane across the hand or across the buttocks or often slap around the head without fear of punishment, as the offence was “caused” by the child. If the offence was viewed serious enough the student went to the headmaster for ‘6 of the best’ with a heavy cane. “They used the cane a lot, usually first resort not last. She said it was normal for girls to get the cane in front of all the class with skirt, or as it was for her, gymslip raised up. They could get 2, 3, 4 strokes in front of class, occasionally some got 6 strokes. But if it was thought serious they were sent to the headmaster. Always bare off headmaster, skirt up knickers down. Six minimum, could be up to 12. She said it was normal to see someone being caned” (http://www.experienceproject.com/stories/Used-To-Get-The-Cane-At-School/2211915 16/08/2013).
There was no appeal against that system of punishment and many parents believed the teacher was acting in the child’s best interests. Other methods of punishment were intimidation, strapping, removal from class, loss of privilege, writing lines and verbal put-downs were all regularly used. As stated before, the class numbers were increasing so teachers had to teach more students, meaning discipline was becoming more stringent as the teacher tried to keep the class in control. The 1950’s was the time of the cold war and there was a great tear of nuclear war. In certain areas of America the ‘fallout’ tests were being brought in where the students were required to go through a fake atomic bomb attack and they would find refuge under their desks (little did they know this wouldn’t protect them from radiation!). It was more for the teacher and parent’s piece of mind. Teachers of 1950 were sterner and more stringent than today, corporal punishment was in use making sure students did all their work and behaved in the right manner.
The main subjects taught to high school students in the 1950’s were reading, writing, arithmetic, history, biology, domestic science or home economics and woodwork, “Social sciences, history, geography, sociology, economics, political science, and psychology” (http://www.viu.ca/homeroom/content/topics/programs/Curriclm/ss1950.htm 16/08/2013). Some more advanced subjects like music, trigonometry, Latin or Spanish and algebra, were added to the richer schools as it was rare to find a decent and qualified teachers. In nearly all schools it was “necessary” for girls to do domestic science and learn the skills of cooking and needlework. For the boys it was “necessary” for them to do woodwork or woodshop and learn the skills of craftsmanship. Girls couldn’t do the ‘boy’ subjects and vice versa. Science was taught theoretically and there was rarely a chance for them to do experiments.
Subjects were taught in a ‘chalk and talk’ system where the teacher would stand up at the front of the classroom and talk to the class and write the topic information on the chalkboard. The students would listen and copy the work into their books. It wasn’t very common for students to do practical work and field trips were very basic. In the out of the way country schools teachers had to teach many subjects and most didn’t just have their certain subject they specialised in, meaning the teachers most of the time weren’t fully trained to be teaching some subjects and were giving out false information.
(http://www.livinghistoryfarm.org/farminginthe50s/life_12.html 16/08/2013). The black people schools had limited teachers and facilities. Most of their schools just had the basic subjects and it was only after 1954 when the Supreme Court announced desegregation did this change and the black people were allowed to go to school with the white people and have access to their assortment of subjects. “The subjects taught in elementary school were maths, reading, social studies, science, art and music” (http://library.thinkquest.org/J002606/1950-60S.html 14/08/2013). Although music was usually just a basic sing-a-long with the teacher and it would happen once, maybe twice a week. The schools in the 1950’s didn’t have the variety of subjects we have today and it was limited even more because of many social issues such as racism, sexism and families wealth.
School life was harder in the 1950’s because of the lack of facilities and their poor conditions, the students had to cram into overcrowded dingy classrooms and the coloured children had to walk miles to get to their black people schools. Schools were stricter and corporal punishment meant teachers were allowed to hit the students on the hand or over the head and parents let this happen as they believed it was good for the their child. The assortment of subjects choices available to the students in the 1950’s was limited and became even less as social issues such as racism, sexism, wealth and discrimination got in the way. The children and teens of 1950’s had to put up with an inadequate education system nevertheless many went on to become successful in business and life.