Publisher’s Perspective – Volume 2, Issue 6

School rules have undergone big changes

When I begin telling stories of “how life used to be” to my kids, now grown adults with children of their own, I realize how much attitudes and behaviors really have changed in the past half century or so. Growing up in Waterloo in the 1950s, life was a lot simpler in so many ways.

I can still recall when the first television set arrived at our house in 1954. After school, I had gone to the YMCA for a swimming lesson and could hardly wait to get home to see the “Gene Autry Show” on our magic box. The entire family – my mom, dad and all three of us boys – gathered around the set after a quick supper to watch “America’s favorite cowboy” punch a villain, sing a song or two, sweet talk the pretty heroine, and ride off into the sunset on his beautiful horse, Champion. The most popular television shows were westerns like the “Gene Autry Show,” “Cheyenne” and “Gunsmoke”, situation comedies such as “I Love Lucy,” and variety shows like “Milton Berle” and Ed Sullivan’s “The Toast of the Town.”

There were no video games or I-pods to keep us occupied. All of my boyhood pals enjoyed activities like trading comic books and playing marbles all year long, while neighborhood baseball games in the summer and tough sandlot football games in the fall were always a big deal. In the winter, most of the kids I knew spent many a night ice skating on local outdoor rinks, and then trudged home for a cup of hot chocolate.

We didn’t watch television much in the evenings because we were doing homework. And the TV stations went off the air at 11 p.m., with nothing but a blank test pattern (and a dull buzzing sound) on the screen until about 6 am the next day. That’s very difficult for my kids to believe.

Phone conversations were limited because some of us were on party lines (sharing a phone line with neighbors) and kids weren’t supposed to hang on the phone for long chats, anyway. Phones were primarily for business and important adult talk.

Honest, that’s the way it was back then.

BUT IT WAS a recent letter from Don Gooder, a longtime friend of mine who lives in Cresco, that really caused me to reflect on how our lives have changed!

Many of my closest friends are retired school teachers, and so I have heard firsthand about the changes in the educational system from the standpoint of how much students can get away with in today’s system and how little discipline can be exercised by teachers in today’s classrooms.

As someone who attended schools in the 1950s, I am shocked to hear what goes on in classrooms across America. Many students seem to have lost all respect for the authority of teachers. And rules and regulations for teachers have undergone dramatic changes over the past 90 years or so.

Don sent me a teacher contract that female teachers coming to Cresco in 1922 had to sign in order to get hired. Talk about “different times” … Wow!

Listed here are some of the rules and regulations in the contract for female teachers from 88 years ago: These teachers agreed to:

  • Not get married. The contract becomes null and void immediately if the teacher marries;
  • Not to have company with men;
  • To be home during the hours of 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. unless in attendance at a school function;
  • Not to loiter downtown in ice cream parlors;
  • Not to leave town at any time without the permission of the chairman of the trustees;
  • Not to smoke cigarettes. This contract becomes null and void if the teachers if found smoking;
  • Not to drink beer, wine or whiskey;
  • Not to ride in a carriage or automobile with any man except her brother or father;
  • Not to dress in bright colors;
  • Not to dye her hair;
  • To wear at least two petticoats;
  • Not to wear dresses more than two inches from the ankles;
  • Not to wear face powder, mascara or paint the lips.

Ah yes, it’s a far different world today. I often wish Gene Autry was back in the saddle and that Ed Sullivan’s show was still on television, and I long for the time when there was more discipline in the classroom, being a strong believer in the lessons one learns from discipline and sacrifice.

On the other hand, some changes are for the good. I do think it’s okay if female teachers loiter in an ice cream store, wear dresses in bright colors and go for rides with men other than a brother or father!

(Mike Chapman is the publisher of Iowa History Journal. Born and raised in Waterloo, he retired from a 35-year newspaper career in 2002. He is the author of 21 books and is a public speaker. He and his wife, Bev, live in Newton.)