what was education like in the 1960s 70s and 80swhat was education like in the 1960s 70s and 80s

10 Answers

kplhardison's profile pic

Karen P.L. Hardison | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

Posted on

Education in a broad sense in the 60s was vastly different from education today. Things began to change very gradually in the 70s and then more so in the 80s. On the cosmetic level, many grammar/elementary schools had not yet replaced the cast iron linked wooden desks and seat, complete with with ink pot holes, with contemporary desks. Even contemporary desks they were replaced with still had wooden tops. There were no workstations allowing for movement at will (except in nursery schools!). Middle schools and high schools had dress codes requiring dresses or skirts with socks or "nylons" and casual-dress shoes for girls. Boys wore casual-dress shirts that were tucked in and slacks or well-fitting jeans with belts. Academic subject matter was comparable except for the addition of computer science. One significant difference--at least in California--is that in c. 1967, grammar was cut from the curriculum. Another change that came in during the 70s was the introduction of cultural studies which supplanted (replaced) some more serious or traditional academic subjects, either eliminating some altogether or taking time away from them, thus leading to an increasing need for more extensive homework. Homework was assigned differently as students were expected to go to bed at 10 P.M., midnight at the latest, so all homework had to be done by then. Memorization hadn't (mistakenly) fallen into disrepute during the 60s and 70s--that change slowly took root in the 80s. These eternal factors all greatly affected the kind and quality of educational experience a person received and what kind of individual citizen a person came to be. The role of discipline was central but of course it played out somewhat differently in urban and suburban schools

kiwi's profile pic

kiwi | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator

Posted on

I started school in 1974 and left in 1987. In my first years of school my area was part of the pilot of the ita system of phonic reading, the whole process and effects of which constitute a research project in itself. It meant that the books we 'read' at school (using a phonetic alphabet) appeared to be a diifferent language to that which the outside world provided. I could read before I went to school, so took the system on board as second language would. When we were to transition to 'real' text, some students really struggled.

I also remember uniform codes were much stricter - girls had to wear skirts, even in winter, which seemed cruel and unusual punishment in the cold north of England. We were not even allowed to wear the coveted leg warmers in fashion in the days of Fame (the TV show).

Girls were still discouraged from areas deemed the male domain: I was one of four girls who took Physics 'O' level. We had to be partnered with a boy for all practicals as 'girls break things' and we were double entered for the lower level exam in case we failed. I think we all passed both, but no boys were double entered so some of them ended up with no qualification at all. Thank goodness for greater equality!


pohnpei397's profile pic

pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

I was in grade school in the '70s and '80s, finished HS in 1986 so I think I can talk about this from a student's point of view, though not that of a teacher.

My memory is that school was much more structured in that time.  We sat at individual desks in grade school rather than in clusters like my kids do now.  I've volunteered in my kids' classrooms (older one's in 3rd grade now) and I don't remember having as much time where the teacher wasn't talking as the kids have now.

Also, things were a lot more strict back then (though that may just be my old age talking).  For example, I had my mouth taped shut every now and then for talking too much.  I don't think that happens these days...

As for HS, some of the same things apply (more lecture, etc).  The other thing is that when I look at my old textbooks (still have a few of them), they are really dull looking compared to ones I've taught from.  They didn't have all the pictures and graphs and charts and such that modern texts have.  I don't think they were as concerned with making things look inviting to read back then.

I'm sure other people will have different things to contribute, but that is my memory of education in those decades.

mwestwood's profile pic

mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

In the public schools of the suburbs of Chicago in the 1960s and earlier 1970s, students who continually made any Fs or even Ds were called in after they had reached 16 years old and told that they were expelled because they "were not doing anything."  So much for today's "No Child Left Behind."  There were no accommodations made for disabled people or no Special Education classes. Discipline was in place in schools; students were required to show respect for their teachers, or they were suspended or expelled.

Standards were very high for students.  In the 1960s the United States led all great nations in academic test scores.  A few years ago, the U.S. was 13 out of 14 great nations. Now the U.S. has completely dropped out of world academic competition. 

When the 1970s introduced the "new math," test scores started to plummet.  There were many more changes in attitudes about the importance of grammar and other approaches such as the study of phonics.  In the 1980s the concept of "self-esteem" found its way into the schools and the discipline procedures changed greatly.

jmj616's profile pic

jmj616 | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Associate Educator

Posted on

I finished high school in 1979.  One big difference was the computers--or the lack thereof.  I went to school in suburban Long Island where we had plenty of good science equipment, plenty of sports equipment, musical instruments, and books.  Computers, however, were almost non-existent.  My high-school had two computer terminals that were hooked up to a mainframe somewhere.  The school shared time on the mainframe, so even those two terminals were not always available.  There were a few science geeks who got a fair amount of time using the computers.  I'm not sure I ever used the computer in high-school; it's not as bad as you think, because I wouldn't have had the slightest idea how to use it.

In case you're wondering, young lady, a "terminal" means a keyboard and a screen.  A "mainframe" was a very large computer in a central location that did all the "thinking" for the various terminals that are connected to it.  The PC, or personal computer, was unknown back in those primitive days.

lmetcalf's profile pic

lmetcalf | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

Posted on

I graduated from high school in 1985, and I too would say that the strategies in the classroom where more traditional, and that the curriculum was more about the core for all students, but as jmj616 points out, the biggest difference is the technology.  Research was HARD!  We had to read and sort through books in the hope of finding a shred of information.  We had to figure out how to use a micro-fiche reader, and again read a lot of fine print to get to exact kind of information we needed.  This was even true through my college education.  In those years the big difference was the personal computer -- but the miracle of that technology was the "spell check" feature and the ease of printing multiple copies/drafts.  The research was still done in the stacks -- not on a screen.  The kinds of access to information that we take for granted today would have been mind-boggling to my 18 year old self. 

litteacher8's profile pic

litteacher8 | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

There was not much difference between schools in the 60s and schools today.  On the surface, it might seem as though there is a big difference because there is more technology.  Yet the structure of the day is pretty much the same, and the content in the textbooks has only changed in terms of flashiness.

The main difference between schools of then and now is that now we have the accountability movement, including content standards for student learning and high-stakes tests.  As far as instructional strategies, this has actually mostly resulted in a return to the methods of the 60s and before, because people think that "back to basics" education will raise test scores.  When in doubt, we fall back on what we know.  The people who are teaching figure that they learned it, so they should go back to that style and their students will learn it.

ask996's profile pic

ask996 | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Senior Educator

Posted on

I agree with pohnpei. School was more structured. I remember more individual book work and memorization activities such as spelling words, vocabulary, facts and dates. Now students are involved in more hands-on learning. In addition, student attitudes were different. In my day, students were afraid of talking back to teachers, and if they did there were serious consequences. Now students curse at teachers, yell in class, and other outrageous behavior, and it is not uncommon for their parents to show up at the school complaining about the teacher.

kapokkid's profile pic

kapokkid | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted on

I've read some about the 60's that would suggest that there was much more of an air of experimentation and trying to figure out what would work alongside the very traditional lecture style teaching, at least at the high school level.

But my own experience in classes through the 80's in elementary and middle schools was much more of the teacher directed activities and very little autonomy for students, something that particularly primary schools appear to encourage more of today.


User Comments

thewanderlust878's profile pic

thewanderlust878 | Student, College Freshman | (Level 3) Salutatorian

Posted on

From what I've read and been told about school in the '60's, '70's, and 80's, school was much more of what the teachers wanted to do and what the school itself wanted to do rather than what the government wanted. Of course, there were still some obvious mandatory classes like science, reading, math, etc, but nowadays it seems like almost every part of school is controlled by the government. Types of punishment, tests, even the food.