Concerns about education and messages about them reflect the issues of the times. Currently, tax-supported school choice, COVID-19, banning textbooks that might make the traditionally dominant culture feel bad, virtual/online education and gun violence in schools are prominent.
Remember the brouhaha over the length of boys’ haircuts a few decades ago? It sounds ludicrous today, but educational settings reflect societal norms of the times. Two items that I found in my collection of “things about which I may someday write a column” clearly illustrate some societal issues and changes in our schools and culture.
An old slightly faded reprint titled “How to be a Good Wife,” which includes excerpts from a 1950s high school home economics textbook, is fascinating. It’s clear that the prevailing attitude at that time was that a female had one main purpose in life — to make her spouse’s life happier and easier.
For example, a wife was instructed to have a warm dinner ready when her husband returned from work, touch up her makeup, fix her hair, make sure the children’s toys were picked up and all household tasks completed before she welcomed the hard-working breadwinner home. She was never to complain.
No wonder that in 1963 when Betty Frieden wrote the best-selling “The Feminine Mystique” that it was a hit. She was the first to publicly declare that women were frustrated by limited life roles because of their gender, and she discredited the myth that women could only find happiness and fulfillment in domestic activities. In high school, my very traditional guidance counselor made it clear that women planning on college were expected to work only as teachers, nurses or secretaries until they could find a husband. World War II’s Rosie the Riveter informed Americans that this wasn’t true. In 1976, when we arrived in Huntington, I found a job at what is now Prestera Center. More than once, women acquaintances asked if I was working because Marshall’s new medical school didn’t pay my husband enough.
Fast forward to October 2021 when The Herald-Dispatch carried an article “Kentucky school event included lap dances, Hooters costumes.” Datelined Hazard, Kentucky, it was noted that “Homecoming activities included male students giving lap dances to staff and girls dressing like Hooters waitresses.” Photos were said to include the school principal, who also was the mayor of Hazard, “smiling during the lap dances.”
The very same week that Hazard High was living the high life, Texas State Rep. Matt Krause put forth a list of about 850 books that he wanted removed or banned from Texas schools. West Virginians may remember the Kanawha County book banning episode of the 1970s, reminding us that book banning rarely solves problems. Another Texas book-banning advocate wanted to make sure that there were no pornographic books on school shelves. Don’t think they’ll need those books in Hazard.
These two articles illustrate the great change in American society and schools over a few generations. Women, limited to the help-mate role generations ago, now make up more than half of college graduates and are integral to America’s work force. On the other hand, with all the stresses facing schools today, homecoming activities might be advised to skip lap dances.