Schools and Classrooms a Century Ago

Here are photos of schools and classrooms from the 1920s in cities and rural districts. While there are now 13,000-plus districts in the U.S. now, a century ago, there were over 100,000. Rural consolidation of schools and migration to cities during the Great Depression and especially after World War II reduced dramatically the number of one-room school houses as age-graded schools became the “new” normal across the nation.

The 1920s were also the years that the Progressive movement expanded school functions such as serving lunch, providing doctor suites to examine children’s eyes, ears, and body, taking field trips, and other innovations–small group teaching– showed up in various–but hardly all–schools.

Looking at these photos reminds me anew about how stability and change mark tax-supported public schools over the past century.



Filed under how teachers teach

11 responses to “Schools and Classrooms a Century Ago

  1. Jerry Heverly

    Amazing, really, that in a nation so physically vast and ethnically diverse that the norms of the school room infiltrate into every corner of the land. The similarities are so….surprising.

  2. bluecat57

    Wow! I’ve got my school papers from a half-century ago. Does anyone want them for research?

  3. Laura H. Chapman

    These photos are a reminder that as public education became compulsory, the number of students to be taught led to many efforts to improve efficiencies. Seating and room arrangements were only a small part of these efforts. Taylorism…the Cult of Efficiency is still with us. I know it has been part of your research for some time.
    I briefly taught a history of art education course with as many primary sources as possible. In these you differences in seating, overall room arrangement, conditioned by the aims of instruction, age/grade level accommodations, understandings of teacher competence, and materials judged to be affordable and safe for use in studio projects. Only in the years following WWII were there expectations for teachers to have a four year degree and some form of certification. Only in the late 1950s were there industry certifications for “safe” art materials–not a biggie if the kindergarten or fifth grader ate the paste.

  4. David F

    Hi Larry—thanks for this. See this article on seating arrangements–it appears that rows are best for on-task behavior….

    • larrycuban

      Thanks, David, for the link to article summarizing research on seating arrangements. Tradition, I believe, becomes the strongest variable, not research, in teachers arranging furniture. Also I have seen far more variation in elementary school classrooms insofar as tables, desks, and chairs than in secondary school classes.

  5. Reblogged this on From experience to meaning… and commented:
    Stability and change…

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