THEN AND NOW: … Classes U.S. public schools rarely offer anymore — and what they’ve been replaced with (Talia Lakritz)

For those critics who have said schools (never) or hardly ever change, here are instances of old courses that were innovations in the 20th century being deleted from the curriculum and new courses that have been added in the 21st century. Anchored in the early 20th century progressive education ideology of “learning by doing,” these courses became tagged as “vocational” and over time carried a negative connotation.

Vocational courses in carpentry, metal, and printing shops were often required of all junior- and senior high school boys while girls took “home economics” classes where they learned about cooking, sewing, etc. between the 1920s and early 2000s.

Now, these “shops” and “home economics’ (re-branded as Family and Consumer Services) taken by both boys and girls have given way to other vocational subjects often captured in today’s acronym of CTE (Career and Technical Education).

This article appeared in Insider August 11, 2018. Talia Lakritz is a journalist.

Just as back-to-school fashions go in and out of style, different classes offered in schools rise and decline in popularity over the years. The basics like math, science, and language arts aren’t going anywhere, but other parts of school curricula continue to adapt to changing technologies and student needs.

Here are [some] once-popular classes and school activities that aren’t usually offered anymore in the US ….

Shop class used to be a chance for kids to be creative and learn vocational skills.

Students learn woodworking in 1974. Chadwick/Express/Getty Images

Ken Robinson, Ph.D, wrote in “Creative Schools, The Element, Finding Your Element and Out of Our Minds” that vocational programs like shop class have been on the decline in the last decade because of emphasis on improving standardized test scores, not skills.

“The work of electricians, builders, plumbers, chefs, paramedics, carpenters, mechanics, engineers, security staff, and all the rest is absolutely vital to the quality of each of our lives,” he wrote. “Yet the demands of academic testing mean that schools often aren’t able to focus on these other capabilities at all.”

Some schools want to reintroduce shop class to complement their academic classes.

Using power tools in a shop class.

Some schools, such as Dalton High School in Georgia, are moving towards a more blended approach where academic and technical skills are both emphasized in the curiculum. Innovations such as 3D printers have also helped regenerate interest.

Basic computer skills no longer need to be taught in schools.

Today, kids grow up surrounded by technology. Many learn how to use iPads before they can talk. Gone are the days of computer lab classes teaching students the basic tenets of how to operate a computer…. Now, there are programs designed to teach elementary school students how to code.


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6 responses to “THEN AND NOW: … Classes U.S. public schools rarely offer anymore — and what they’ve been replaced with (Talia Lakritz)

  1. David F

    Hi Larry, Thanks for this. I grew up in rural Missouri in the 1980s and attended a public school that had a large vo-tech building attached. I took mostly college-prep classes (though we didn’t have any APs), but also had to take some from the vo-tech side. Shop and computer skills for sure (we learned BASIC on Apple IIes), but also typing on IBM Seleterics, Home Ec, and Consumer Economics (which may still have a life). The typing has probably been the most helpful over time. For the record, we also used a grading system of E (excellent), S (satisfactory), M (marginal), I (inadequate), and F (failure) instead of A,B,C,D,F.

  2. I would love to see all of these classes come back, plus the arts. Around here (Southern San Francisco Bay Area) we have magnet schools if you want arts, and they’re so crowded you have to already be really talented to get into the classes. My son’s high school had a new rock band class, so fortunately he got into that. Another son had cooking in middle school and took advantage of CTE classes for high school. It should be the norm to offer all these things – I’d like to see them in elementary as well! More kids able to work to their strengths and see themselves growing up doing something they are good at sounds like a positive thing to me! If we only offer the three R’s, kids who don’t excel in those are going to be angry and depressed. That’s what we have now, and it isn’t pretty.

  3. Larry, I am with you. We constantly evolve requiring educational review and change.
    However, It is quite a paradox when we look back into the 20th century and current.
    I am thinking it resembles recommended food pyramid; recently undergoing an entire evaluation of nutritional food disparities introduced a half a century ago.
    “We are exploring space and considering space migration, while looking into space millions of light years back in time and attempting to capture the future thru physics findings. I am sorry! We can not afford to go back and spend time teaching shop when robots use and AI advance proliferate in our universe.”
    It is ironic to go back and realize- I came from a Country where if students did not feel they wanted to complete high school there was a different path that started after 7th grade. The technical/apprentice path. Not to be confused with Engineering and Sciences. That technical apprentice path might work here also in areas where climate impact and environmental concern are critical for survival. Today, considering current economic climate changes and viral infection quarantine cycling the arts become essential to all of humanity. Arts are also rapidly evolving into electronic formats.
    Computers as we know them will soon disappear and so will devices in the current forms. I also believe food content consume today, might change. We might have to substituting breakfast with water and a pill, scape lunch and have a healthy drink before going to bed.
    Professor Elliot Eisner thoughts on education will still apply for millennia. He will be eminently remembered and followed.

    • larrycuban

      I appreciate your comment about alternate routes to a diploma including vocational/technical avenue. Some states and districts now include such opportunities usually beginning in the middle and upper grades. Thank you for commenting.

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