Generations of the Public School System

Recently my ‘G-son’ asked me what programs and activities I missed most during my grade school years. I shared with him my love of dissecting frogs (which he was thankful for not having the privilege) but overall, I enjoyed the freedom! From woodshop, cooking class, to science projects it gave me the opportunity to be creative, especially when required to make our own book covers from brown paper bags. I loved personalizing mine with drawings, expressing myself through images silently on display.

That brief discussion sparked a very interesting conversation between he, myself and my daughter when he asked if I knew who Horace Mann was. Shocked and curious to learn what my g-son knew, the conversation between the three of us regarding how the school system has changed over the years led me to further discuss the one thing that each generation has in common is that the education system was not established to create a nation of free thinkers but intended solely for labor, particularly during the times of our ancestors. Horace Mann (1796-1859) was an American educator, the first advocate of public education. According to, “Mann grew up in poverty, hardship & self-denial. He was taught briefly and erratically by comparatively poor teachers but managed to educate himself…”. After attending Brown University, he gained interest as a slavery abolitionist and Whig politician known for his commitment to promoting public education. Once we did some research independently on Mann, we all shared varied opinions as to whether or not we could agree on his role within the school system, but we shifted our focus. Our intent was to share our individual experiences in school and how some changes have drastically occurred over the generations.

Many of the differences within the school system for me were due to geographical locations. During junior high which for my time consisted of 7th & 8th grade I attended four schools in four different cities as well as four high schools ultimately earning my diploma at Reuben Daniels Lifelong Learning Center in Sainaw, Michigan. Although I excelled in school, it was very challenging trying to keep up with the other kids. During the conversation the first thing that became obvious was the terminology we each used to reference various topics regarding school. For example, AP (Advanced Prep), “Electives”, “Homeroom”, “Home Economics”, and “Vocational classes” to name a few. Home Ec was no longer offered by the time my children began high school and had also changed drastically for me, since my mother’s school age years. I explained a number of subjects taught when I was in school that are no longer part of the curriculum such as Roman numerals, typing, the decimal & metric system. Shop class at some point became “industrial arts”. Latin was useful in helping me learn and breakdown words in preparation for spelling bees. My g-son wished he was able to borrow instruments to take home for music class like me & his mother. This turned into us over talking each-other while yelling out as many instruments as we could remember as fast as we could. With his love of cars, we transitioned into how students looked forward to drivers ed, field trips to local museums, the zoo, and occasionally opportunities to venture out of town for the day. We also noticed how physical education has changed. I was fortunate enough to participate in archery, gymnastics, and jazz dance. Present day it’s frightening to image if I would have had to attend school online, I’m almost certain I wouldn’t have done as well considering my learning style.

The conversation shifted to stories of our ancestors who never learned how to read. “If public school was free…” he asked, my grandson didn’t quite understand how this could be possible, especially since he began reading at the age of three. We explained the politics of the South at the time and how out of 12 of my great grandmother’s children, many of them had to work in the fields all day for sustainability and a few of them, like my grandfather received their education in the Navy/military. It was important for my grandson to understand, while many of his ancestors may not have been “book smart” that didn’t mean they weren’t knowledgeable in many other areas. It takes a lot to live of the land, by the land and for the land. From cultivating to overall sustainability, they were able to survive & thrive despite educational adversities. Those who were able to attend school still faced many challenges, the photos above of my ancestors gave a visual of some of the conditions they endured only to get a minimal education. For a period of time my ancestors and other colored folks gathered in a tiny shack, and many walked for miles in order to learn what they could while they could. As it did me when I first acquired these photos after Big Momma’s passing, it was just as disturbing for my G-son when he noticed some of them in the photo are barefoot. Another factor he noticed when viewing all the photo’s I’ve collected is that the teacher student ratio has drastically changed over the generations. Many factors play in the changes from then until now which I’m sure will turn into another insightful discussion as my grandson continues to read, grow and return with more questions. I’m thankful my G-son is aware he has a V.O.I.C.E and that we were all able to share our perspectives on this subject. In doing so, it allowed us to not only learn from one another but also have these conversations that hopefully will continue on through future generations.

Published by 5thgenerationgirl

Tammy Wynette is a mother of three and a “G-MA” (grandma). Born in Warren, Arkansas, she currently resides in Sacramento, CA and is pursuing an AA degree in English at American River College, with plans to transfer to California State University, Sacramento (Sac State). She is an active leader and role model in her community, she works with teens sharing and teaching poetry, as well as providing insight for young parents to prosper. She has certificate from NAMI (The National Alliance on Mental Illness) and is a trailblazer & Griot, keeper of stories/traditions passed down from her ancestors. As an Author and motivational speaker it’d be an honor to present at your events to inspire, encourage & let our VOICES be heard! She has short stories and poems published in Our Black Mothers Brave, Bold and Beautiful!

25 thoughts on “Generations of the Public School System

  1. Such an interesting post. It must have been difficult to change schools so often in your teen years. Such a difference in education over the years as well. That is much the same here.

    I went to a rural school that didn’t off the same quality or variety of education as city schools. I often think I would have liked to have learned a musical instrument when I was in school … then maybe I would be doing better at piano lessons at the age of 65. You never know.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Public education truly is a universal right and it is sobering to remember that not really all that long ago, this was not a right granted to all.

    It’s also interesting to note how the generational experiences vary. I do remember having classes like Home Ec and Woodshop and it’s a shame they’re not as widely offered now. On the other hand, it’s wonderful to think about all the computer, digital and STEM education kids these days are getting.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Him going to Arkansas last year for the first time was an amazing experience. He’s always been about family & him visiting our family cemetary,, seeing the markers dating back to the 1700’s has opened his eyes in many ways.
      I welcome his questions & our discussions 🥰


    1. Yes, my G-son was so intrigued by cursive & can’t believe it’s no longer taught in schools now.
      Most of what he’s learned has come from home/family, including balancing a check book eventhough I’m sure it will soon be obsolete as well😁

      Liked by 1 person

  3. TW, this is interesting for a few reasons. First of all, did you know I was a teacher educator? Because of that, I have my students research specific educators who influenced US education, and Horace Mann is one of them. Another thing is did you say you went to school in Saginaw, Michigan? I finished my senior year in Covert, Michigan, about three hours west lol

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah indeed we discussed this before. I wrote about when I taught art & K-3 Science. Later you wrote a post about being stubborn as a child & refused to eat something which is when we discovered we both had roots in Michigan. I remember I thought I spelled Ypsilanti wrong, lol.
      I may have to revisit your post if I can find it🤣🤣

      Liked by 1 person

  4. What a wonderful post! You have overwhelmed my mind with memories. My dad mentioned lack of shoes at his rural school in the ’40’s. You know the joke people use to say about the older generations: In their story telling, they had to walk 5 miles each way, uphill, and through a foot of snow. Getting to the outhouse at 3a.m., in the dark, through the snow, while cold and sick, is something our great grandchildren may never hear of. Your children and grandchildren seem so introspective, contemplative, and compassionate!
    Wow, you had archery classes?! It is strange how the names & simplicity of classes changed. Is language arts less offensive than English? I just don’t even know. I was bussed grades 1-3. When I met my 2nd grade teacher a quarter into the school year (after her chemo & the sub left) she took us to the gym for an hour once a week and taught us square dancing. Square dancing!! We rolled our eyes as we do-si-do’ed. But in hindsight, it was kinda neat. I miss art class and crayon boxes. I think someone through away the few year books I had from my years. I have my boys’ year books though.
    Also, you have amazing photos, I hope you and family have a few copies of each. I apologize for the length, I wasn’t kidding how you flooded my mind with memories🥹

    Liked by 1 person

    1. This is beautiful feedback & greatly appreciated. At one point I,d lost many photos but got most of them back through family I’d given copies to before.
      I’ve always loved school. It was a safe place to escape to for me (until high school, lol). And yes we’ve all heard the stories of walking miles in the snow, but I never believed the part about barefoot until seeing the photos I found after my great grandmother passed away.
      When my G-son visited our land back in Arkansas last year & saw a huge part of our family history first hand, he became intrigued & began his research.
      Blessings to you my dear!


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