Not So Old School
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Things They Don't Teach in School Anymore — and What Kids Are Learning Instead

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Not So Old School
Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/communityhistorysa/

Not So Old School

Most everyone agrees it's important to be educated, but what we're educated about is a subject up for constant debate. Accordingly, national, state, and local school curriculums have changed a great deal over the decades thanks to many influential factors, to the point that some former students might feel lost in the schoolyards of today. In this list, we'll catch you up with some of the courses and specific lessons that have been scrapped, why, and what, if anything, replaced them.

Related:50 'Facts' You Learned in School That Are Actually Lies

Pluto is a Planet
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Pluto is a Planet

Everyone over a certain age grew up learning that our solar system had nine planets, the smallest and most distant from the sun being Pluto. Our estimations (and school curriculums) changed in 2006, when the International Astronomical Union "demoted" Pluto to dwarf planet, based on the fact that it had not "cleared the neighborhood", meaning it had not achieved gravitational dominance in its orbit. The controversy came about with the discovery of several other icy celestial bodies of similar size in the same area as Pluto, called the Kuiper Belt, which led to an updated criteria on planethood. Now, more than a decade after the shift, schoolchildren are still very much aware of Pluto, but it's become distinguished instead for its non-planethood.

Trigonometry
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Trigonometry

You'll no longer find many schools teaching a full course on trigonometry, the branch of mathematics dealing with sines, cosines, and other triangular relationships, but that doesn't mean it's disappeared entirely. Instead, it's been parceled out and integrated into other standard mathematics courses like geometry, algebra II, and pre-calculus, which many argue helps students better retain trigonometric principles than condensing it all into one year.

Dodgeball
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Dodgeball

Hurling inflatable rubber balls at one's classmates is no longer an option at more and more school districts across America, which have banned dodgeball and other "human target" sporting activities on campus out of post-Columbine concerns for how they might physically and emotionally harm children. Despite the hubbub from individuals and outlets like the New York Post that such measures "suck the fun out of life," it's worth noting that no one's stopping children from playing dodgeball in general — just that they're no longer required to for physical education.

Instead: Self-Guided Fitness
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Instead: Self-Guided Fitness

PE and gym classes in many school districts have taken a softened approach and become more responsive to all skill levels and interests by replacing team sports like dodgeball with independent, self-guided ones like archery, rock climbing, and yoga. The goal, in part, is to place less emphasis on winning and more on encouraging students to find their own pace of physical activity, thereby becoming "lifelong movers."

Home Economics
Home Economics by Elgin County Archives (CC BY-NC-ND)

Home Economics

For much of the 20th century, home economics classes — which teach how to cook, clean, set tables, and sew — were a gendered norm for most girls, while boys were more likely to opt for wood and auto shop. Overcoming stigmas of the subject as a sort of "Housewife 101," the course was rebranded by most American schools in 1994 as Family and Consumer Sciences (FCS). Now it may be going the way of dodgeball, as a 2018 NPR story, citing a national study, noted that in 2012 there were fewer than 3.5 million students taking FCS classes, a decrease of 38 % over 10 years, a fact perhaps due to teacher shortage.

Shop Classes
Shop Classes by Fabrice Florin (CC BY-SA)

Shop Classes

Bestselling author Ken Robinson, Ph.D., an authority on creativity, innovation and human resources in education and business, who's also given TED talks on the topic, wrote in his book "Creative Schools" that vocational programs like auto and wood shop have disappeared from America's schools, much as the number of skilled tradesmen has declined in our workforce. They should, he also argues, be brought back. Many people think classes like home economics and shop have been sacrificed for the sake of other, more academic subjects that are emphasized in state standardized testing or curriculum. In the Los Angeles Unified School District, for example, more than 90% of shop classes were eliminated by 2012 to make room for the University of California's "a-g" requirements, covering social sciences, English, history, mathematics, and other subjects — but no woodworking.

Instead: Career and Technical Education (CTE)
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Instead: Career and Technical Education (CTE)

Rather than viewing shop classes as an alternative to academic achievement, more secondary schools, like Georgia's Dalton High School, are offering a broad range of skills- and career-focused courses to promote critical thinking and problem-solving, and requiring students to follow a related "pathway" to graduate. These can include engineering, health science, agribusiness, and culinary arts. A 2016-17 U.S. Department of Education report found that 98% of all public school districts offer CTE courses to high school students.

D.A.R.E.
D.A.R.E. by USAG Livorno PAO (CC BY-NC)

D.A.R.E.

From 1983 to 2009, millions of middle school students completed a Drug Abuse Resistance Education program. The curriculum, designed by Los Angeles teachers and police officers, quickly spread to 75% of U.S. schools. However, a 1994 Department of Justice study, as well as a 2009 report compiling 30 subsequent evaluations, both found "no significant long-term improvement in teen substance abuse," according to a 2014 story in Scientific American.

Instead: Keepin' It REAL
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Instead: Keepin' It REAL

Also in 2009, D.A.R.E administrators switched over to a new, researcher-designed curriculum called Keepin' it REAL that focuses on making generally safe, responsible decisions in addition to substance abuse prevention (REAL stands for "refuse, explain, avoid, and leave"). The new 10-week course cuts the lecturing down to only eight minutes per lesson to emphasize interactive instruction using story examples and role play designed to help kids make smarter decisions. This "learn by doing" approach has reportedly proven just as popular with students as it was effective in preliminary studies.

The Food Pyramid
Source: commons.wikimedia.org

The Food Pyramid

The U.S. Department of Agriculture created its first food pyramid in 1992 to help guide Americans' nutritional knowledge and eating habits, with controversial influence from the food industry itself. It was updated to a more colorful, vertically oriented design called MyPyramid in 2005, then largely replaced in 2011 by a new icon called "My Plate."

Instead: The Nutrition Plate
Instead: The Nutrition Plate by U.S. Department of Agriculture (CC BY-ND)

Instead: The Nutrition Plate

Citing the food pyramid as "simply too complex to serve as a quick and easy guide for American families," then-Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack unveiled the more intuitive nutrition plate that schoolchildren now learn instead. It features four segments of a plate representing fruit, vegetables, grains, and protein with a serving of dairy on the side, giving a clear visual representation of a balanced meal with the aim of not just educating, but improving Americans' eating habits.

Driver's Education
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Driver's Education

Driver's ed is another former high school staple that's fallen out of fashion due to budget cuts and increased emphasis on college entrance requirements, not to mention the decline of teen car culture. While 32 state laws still require driver's education before teens can sit for the written and driving exams to get a driver's license, local school boards that set the graduation requirements often neglect it, with many offering it as an online course, if at all. Students who want to drive before age 18 are thus stymied by the costs of other driver's ed options and increased legal restrictions on teen motorists.

Related: 16 Ways Driving Has Changed in the Past 50 Years

Cursive
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Cursive

The Common Core education standards no longer require elementary school students to learn cursive, which, along with other forms of written communication, has fallen out of fashion in the digital age. Many advocates have argued — and several states have enacted laws — in favor of retaining cursive not just for its aesthetic qualities, but because of other skills it teaches, such as hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills. "More areas of the human brain are engaged when children use cursive handwriting than when they keyboard," cursive enthusiast and then-Idaho state representative Linden Bateman told the Christian Science Monitor in 2013.

Typing
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Typing

You might guess that schools are devoting the time they would've spent teaching cursive to typing instead, but you'd be wrong. Since laptops and smartphones have become so ubiquitous, many schools aren't teaching typing or other computer skills on the assumption that kids will pick them up regardless. As a result, instead of learning about the standardized home-keys in a high school computer lab, many children are developing their own "hunt-and-peck" methods of typing that could prove more inefficient and problematic down the road. Nonetheless, computer use has become a major feature of the communication skills schools are expected to impart. For instance, in 2011, eighth and 11th graders were expected to use computers to complete the National Assessment of Educational Progress's writing test, and the same requirement went into effect for fourth graders in 2019. There are also new programs, such as Hour of Code, aimed at teaching elementary-aged students coding.

Dewey Decimal System
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Dewey Decimal System

If you've ever tracked down research works from a library, you've had some experience with the Dewey Decimal System, a numerical method to divide books into 10 broad categories with smaller subcategories within them. Thanks to online resources, students no longer need to rely as much on libraries in general. Even when they do, some schools have begun phasing out the Dewey's long-standing organizational principles in favor of bookstore-like signage and a new, more child-friendly system called Metis, believed to be more engaging and conducive to discovering related subjects.

Computer Labs
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Computer Labs

Now that most students carry computing power in their pockets between classes or have school-provided laptops that go from class to home, there's been a lot of controversy over the continued usefulness of old-fashioned computer labs, with some schools getting rid of them entirely. Others favor new layouts that merge them into library common areas or bring devices directly into the classroom via a cart. In many cases, computer labs are still around but simply rebranded as "digital commons" or "STEM labs" to reflect new collaborative designs, new furnishing options, and additional technologies like 3D printers.

Duck & Cover Drills
Source: wikipedia.org

Duck & Cover Drills

Many baby boomers will recall hiding under their desks to prepare for the omnipresent threat of nuclear warfare, learning through the example of a cautious animated turtle named Bert. More extreme examples saw teachers in select cities conducting in-classroom air raid drills, yelling "drop!" to students, who were expected to cower under their desks, and even handing out dog tags so that bodies could be identified after the fallout.

School Shootings
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Instead: Active Shooter Drills

While nuclear warfare is no longer at the forefront of students' minds, it's sadly been replaced by fears a little closer to home. Lockdown drills have become more common in American public schools trying to prepare for the threat of a school shooter, using much the same method of hiding under one's desk and keeping silent, with a faculty member sometimes acting out the role of shooter. While it's difficult to gauge how much harm these drills prevent, there's significant concern for how they may traumatize or otherwise psychologically affect students by teaching them to disproportionately fear violence from their peers at a young age.

Barb teaching Latin Class 1960-61
Barb teaching Latin Class 1960-61 by Christopher G Lyon (CC BY-NC-ND)

Latin

The perceived importance of learning the classical languages of ancient Greek and Roman Latin steeply declined thanks to the postwar Space Age placing increased emphasis on math and science, with the number of high school Latin students reportedly falling from 700,000 in 1962 to 150,000 in 1976. Though Latin as an educational subject isn't as dead as many of its detractors claim, particularly in private Catholic schools, now only around 1,500 U.S. high schools offer Latin, according to the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages.

Instead: American Sign Language
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Instead: American Sign Language

While almost three-quarters of American students learn Spanish for their foreign language requirement, another option gaining ground in some districts is American Sign Language, or ASL, a language officially recognized by more than 40 states. Standards for both deaf and hearing students learning ASL have been updated to reflect recent decades' growing interest in the visual language, though it still remains a unique specialization depending on the district. According to a 2017 survey report, California, with 62, had the highest number of high schools offering ASL classes. Three states, Nebraska, Mississippi, and Rhode Island, offered zero ASL opportunities.

Shorthand
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Shorthand

Shorthand is a series of symbol-based writing systems, often used for keeping up with conversations or one's own thoughts, that peaked in U.S. popularity in the early-to-mid 20th century, when it was taught at secretarial schools or as an elective at standard secondary schools. As beneficial as it was (and, in some cases, still is) for court reporters or journalists, its prominence suffered from the rise of the typewriter, the declining practice of dictating speeches, and demographic biases against office duties as "women's work." Now not only is it not taught in schools, it's a declining technique beyond secondary education.

Recess
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Recess

Do kids really need unstructured time to learn and be healthy? It's a question more schools — 20% between 2001 and 2007 — had been implicitly raising by eliminating these breaks from elementary classroom practices. These efficiency-minded schools generally replaced kids' free time with lengthened in-class instruction and drilling in Common Core standard requirements. Now, however, schools may be reversing course. Four states — Rhode Island, Florida, Missouri, and New Jersey — have passed laws mandating at least 20 minutes of recess each school day, and Arizona dictates two recess breaks without length requirements. This about-face is in line with the empirical evidence that recess is good, with the American Academy of Pediatrics calling it "a necessary break in the day for optimizing a child's social, emotional, physical, and cognitive development."