New York City Middle Schools – As They Were Fifty Years Ago

1961 Documentary – New York City Junior High Schools

The New York City Junior High Schools or Middle Schools as they are called now,  were once the breeding ground for a well-rounded education. My parents and grandparents were the products of the old New York City public school system and they never went to college. Yet they could read and understand Latin, had beautiful handwriting, could type, played and studied music and developed “the lifelong habit of turning to books for the information they needed.”

In 1961 students learned how to make things because the U.S.A. was still an industrial society and could actually design and manufacture useful products.

As shown in this 20 minute film, everyone learned about electricity, the elements of printing and participated in the novelty shop; where they could “build things for use and for pleasure.” There was what would now be termed sexism – girls learned millinery work, domestic arts, dressmaking, respect for manual labor and “neatness,” while boys learned the manly arts of metal, wood,  print, plastics and electrical wire. But up until the 1970’s gender work roles were applied in most of the fields of employment.

The children were taught “ideas and facts in citizenship, current affairs, history, geography, and government, to appreciate democratic ideals.”

Okay, maybe they were brainwashed.

But compared to today’s middle schools, they got a fine education.

The narrator shown at the beginning of the film, Joseph O. Loretan, the Deputy Superintendent for Curriculum in the New York City School System, played a key role in changing U.S. textbooks by announcing to publishers that New York City Schools would only buy books that reflected the diversity of American culture. He also introduced a program in the Bronx allowing each child to learn a musical instrument of their choice beginning in the third grade at a cost of $1 a quarter.

This is not a cinematic masterpiece. Put aside the slow opening, bad scripting, lighting, editing and cinematography, wooden “acting”, the obviously staged scenes and you still have a snippet of what the junior high schools were once like.

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