The 1950s Classroom Expectations

genius einsteinSchool Requirements in the 1950s

In perusing some old grade cards from the 1950s and 1960s, I was struck by the difference in attitudes and expectations between now and then. One cannot help but comment upon our current need for a similar set of responsibilities clarified for students and parents in place of the laid-back, lackadaisical approach of the soft-headed liberals who don’t want to teach students right from wrong from fear that some little sissy might get his feelings hurt. Some snippets from the cards themselves reveal much about how our society has changed in the last 50-odd years:

MOTTO: “All at It, All Together, All the Time”—Parents—Teachers—Pupils

Greene Township School District, Greene County, PA, 1952-1953: “Pupil Progress Reports are issued four times a year. They will keep parents informed of their children’s progress in school. We hope that they will contribute to the continuous growth and development of each child through the three-fold cooperation of the teacher, child, and parents. The grades on this report indicate the achievement of the child on the level that [s/]he is being taught. Prompt and regular attendance is essential to a pupil’s growth in school.”

Inside the grade card are statements revealing the responsibilities of the student (and his/her parents):

“The Teacher Requests: 1. That parents examine and sign this report, 2. That they visit the schools.”

Progress in Citizenship and Personality Development—The function of the school is to promote the social, emotional, mental, and physical growth of the child. We have enumerated on this page some of the characteristics that indicate the satisfactory progress of the whole child.

SOCIAL—Is courteous and considerate. Cares for personal and school property. Accepts school responsibility (leadership). Respects school regulations.

EMOTIONAL—Accepts criticism and profits by it. Has self-confidence. Has self-control—not easily upset.

WORK HABITS—Starts and completes work on time. Puts forth best efforts. Works neatly. Follows directions well. Works independently.

HEALTH HABITS—Is neat and clean in body and clothing. Sits, stands, and walks correctly. Reflects good sleep and rest habits. Evidences proper diet.”

By 1954-1955, the same Greene County, PA school system had changed the information. Above the area for parental signatures, we read:

A MESSAGE TO PARENTS—You are welcome to visit the school and observe your child at work. Your cooperation with the school is essential. The home, the school, and the community are all responsible for developing and maintaining a meaningful educational program. If you wish to discuss your child’s progress with the teacher, please ask for a conference. Please return this report promptly after indicating by your signature that you have examined it.”

Inside are areas for height and weight, days absent, times tardy, and a checklist of areas for improvement. Letter grades are given in this third-grade class for READING, WRITING, SPELLING, NUMBERS, & LANGUAGE. In addition, the school has expanded the requirements listed above and allows the teacher to comment on the child’s success or failure in these crucial areas:

SOCIAL GROWTH—Is courteous and kind. Respects property of others. Respects school regulations. Gets along well with others. Takes proper care of school materials. Accepts responsibility.

WORK HABITS—Is attentive. Follows directions. Works independently. Completes work begun. Puts forth best effort.

READING SKILLS—Understands what he reads. Works out new words for himself. Reads well to others.

NUMBER SKILLS—Knows number facts expected of him. Can solve thought problems.

APPRECIATIONS—Enjoys and takes part in music activities. Expresses ideas well in art.”

The Akron, Ohio public school system for the same period of time (1955-1956) provides a ranking system for each of the areas (1) deemed significant (Very good, Satisfactory, or Needs Time and experience to develop) as well as quantitative evaluations of student performance in certain activities (2) (Usually, At times, Seldom, or Is Improving) and sections for specific teacher comments. As with the PA system, the Superintendent of Schools addresses parents, this in a much more persuasive note:

TO PARENTS—In the home and in the school, we are engaged in the most important work in the world today—that of educating future generations. The fundamental purpose of the school program is to help your child become a useful and happy citizen. We are genuinely concerned with his personal and social development, as well as his achievement in school subjects. In order to understand his needs clearly, it is necessary that there be cooperation with the home. This report card is an estimate of the growth and achievement of your child, based upon the study and observation of his efforts and attitude toward the various school activities. Very often a visit to the school to see him at work, and for conferences with principal or teacher, will provide a more complete appraisal of his progress. It is hoped that through the active co-operation of the home and school there will be the development of all that is finest and best in your child.”

  1. Areas of significance: “Growth in social studies, Growth in reading, Growth in oral and written expression, Growth in understanding and use of arithmetic, Growth in understanding of science.”

  2. Activities: “Takes part in group activities, Shows helpfulness toward others, Behaves courteously, Assumes responsibility for own behavior, Respects property rights, Speaks clearly, Listens, Relaxes at rest time, Thinks, chooses and works independently, Works up to ability, Uses materials creatively, Responds to and participates in musical activities, Observes safety rules at school.”

Finally, from the grade cards of Cuyahoga Falls, OH Public Schools (1956-1961), we again see the parents addressed by the Superintendent of Schools:

Dear Parents: This report will be sent to you at the end of each six weeks period. Its value will be increased greatly if you study it carefully with your child. The school and the home have before them the greatest challenge the world offers today—the development of a new citizen—your child. In order that this enterprise may succeed, the closest degree of cooperation is necessary.

In this report an earnest attempt is being made to evaluate the progress of your child’s school life and growth for a year. To both the home and the school, his development in terms of his own interests, abilities, and capacities is of supreme importance. This report attempts to show that growth as an individual and as a part of his social group, measured against his potential capacity.

If the report is satisfactory, a word of praise to the child will be of great assistance; if it is not satisfactory, please visit the school for a conference with the teachers and the principal. The Cuyahoga Falls schools are YOUR SCHOOLS. Feel free to visit at any time as we can do more for your child when we get better acquainted with you as parents. Your cooperation is solicited in our endeavor to direct your child in the art of happy and successful living.”

More graded subjects are listed than for the grade cards for lower levels. And, significantly, the attitude toward Ds and Fs has changed: On lower levels, Ds were Poor or Slow but Satisfactory; here Ds are like Fs as Unsatisfactory. Subjects for grade school are: Reading, Writing, Spelling, Arithmetic, English, Geography, History, Health, Physical Education, Music, Art, Science, & Guidance. The subjects listed for the Junior and Senior High Schools include: English, Reading, Spelling, Writing, Geography/American History/World History, Ohio History/Civics, Arithmetic/Geometry/Mathematics/Algebra, Science, Latin/French, Typewriting, Home Economics/Industrial Arts, Physical Education, Music (Vocal/Instrumental), & Art.

Teacher comments are limited to a numbered list of suggestions pertaining to “CITIZENSHIP”:

Work and Study Habits and Attitudes:

  1. Should work more carefully and neatly.

  2. Should make better use of time.

  3. Should follow directions more carefully.

Social and Personal Habits and Attitudes:

  1. Should show more respect for ideas, rights, and property of others.

  2. Should assume more responsibility.

Health Habits and Attitudes:

  1. Should give more attention to personal neatness.”

—Luckily, my brother and I attended schools in the 1950s and 1960s, so we were well-prepared for real life. Too bad the children of today are not taught even the basics of good studentship or good citizenship and that both reflects and causes the chaotic society we see today.

teacher candle

©2015 Linda L Labin, PhD (except for graphic)s