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[REV 25-NOV-2014]

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New Math: 1942

New Math: 1942

February 1942. "Third grade classroom, Farm Security Administration camp at Weslaco, Texas." 35mm nitrate negative by Arthur Rothstein. View full size.

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Barefoot in School, and everywhere else.

People often misinterpret barefoot kids. Were we barefoot because we had to be? Well, some were, but usually not. Were we barefoot to preserve our shoes? Usually not. Usually, we were barefoot by choice. We didn't have to wear shoes, so we didn't. When I started school, we each had a little cubby to put our jackets in during the day. My shoes and socks went in there too. The other kids kept theirs on, but nobody said, "Tommy, put your shoes on," so I didn't.

Before they came up the the little jingle about shirts, shoes and service, it was pretty common for kids to be barefoot, even shirtless in stores, or even the library.

In school, we were supposed to wear dress clothes. I wasn't the only kid in jeans, but usually the only one in a bib.

Time frame? I started school in 1963.

2 and 2

The big fellow might not have been all that smart or he might just have missed a lot of school with his folks moving around the country, or maybe some of both. Back then, they didn't move you to the next grade unless you were up to the work. Eventually, some kids got so big and far behind that they dropped out of school, but if there's farm work around, his folks probably won't complain and he'll do well enough.

Tactile memory

tterrace, as I was reading your comment about the chalk on the board I was thinking to myself how the chalk would captured that so perfectly! I completely understand what you're referring to here. I went to grammar school in the 60's and I have the same sensual memory about chalk moving across the board. You're not the only weird one here, I guess.

Barefoot boy

I went barefoot to school a few times during the first grade. That was in 1936. But not many boys did that, and I quit.

Green "Chalkboards"

At St. Catherine's (Catholic) Elementary School, Spring Hill Avenue, Mobile, Alabama, we had wooden classrooms with blackboards. A new brick school was built adjacent and opened in 1949. It had green "chalkboards." We were told at the time that they would be easier to see. They were a wonder to us for a good while.

We're always barefoot in the winter!

Weslaco is just about five miles from where I live. We're on the Mexican border, and it rarely gets cool enough to wear long sleeves or long pants, even in the winter! So barefoot in February isn't that big a deal. Within the past couple of years, we've had temps over 100 in January.

Blackboards go green

By my grade school era (1952-60), most black chalkboards had been replaced with green ones. You can find all kinds of screwball "reasons" given for this on the Internet, but the two most plausible ones to me are that a) they were originally black because they were made of slate, and b) a green background was easier on the eye and thus aided legibility. Brown was another popular color. I don't know about other people, but web pages with white text on a black background drive me nuts.

I loved watching my teachers writing on the blackboard, not for the content particularly, but I found something satisfying about watching the chalk skim over the surface; sometimes it rasped, but at others, due to the varying composition of the chalk or of the surface of the board, it would glide noiselessly along like butter over a warm surface. Mmmmmm... Man, you thought I was a weird kid before.

School attire

My parents (and aunts and uncles) all went to one room rural schools. All the boys wore the overalls. Looking at the school pictures (always taken outside of course), I always thought that looked sloppy. But I suppose that was primarily what they owned. Probably a nice shirt for church.

Future Heismann contender

The big guy is obviously being held back to improve his NCAA football chances.

Hey Mr. Wilson!

The kid in the striped shirt looks just like Dennis the Menace!

An extra recess

A lot of pics lately from 1942. That year was big for me. I started my first trip around the sun that year.

Loved being picked by the teacher to go pound the erasers. It was always during school time and it was like having an extra recess.


Oh man, I wish the photographer was just a little farther back. I'd love to see that little girl's cowboy boots!

Winter Silhouette

The border decor above the blackboard indicates it is winter but the boys are barefooted. They also seem to be pretty clueless for an answer to the math problem, each is looking to copy from someone else. A confident little girl sitting at the table on the right is busily working away, engrossed in her own work, possibly as smart as a whip. She is also wearing very nifty cowboy boots. This may have been a "one-room schoolhouse" in which kids of all ages were all taught in the same room by one teacher which would explain the difference in size. Very interesting personalities. Thanks Shorpy.

[Indeed, as noted in the caption, it's February. Exterior shots a few comments down. - Dave]

Yeah, he's tall but

If Third Grade has a basketball team this year, look out!

Shoeless Joe from Hannibal Mo.?

Although I know it was very common at the time, its still weird to see kids attending school in bare feet!

Fold and Cut

Remember making fold and cut silhouettes like the scene at the top of the blackboard? It looks like digging and packing to make a snowman.

Take the chewing gum out of your ears!

"I said FIFTY, Ned, not fifteen. Fifty plus forty-five gives us what, class?"

One room

It may be that this school was still on the one-room system, where everyone worked at a level rather than a grade. The big boy I initially mistook for the teacher, though!

[This was, as noted in the caption, one of the classrooms at a Farm Security Administration camp for families and migrants displaced by the crop failures of the Dust Bowl years. Exterior shots below. - Dave]

A real "blackboard"

I haven't seen a black slate blackboard in years. I remember kids staying after school to wash the board and beat the chalk dust out of the erasers.

The tall kid must have had arithmetic problems to be in that class with those little kids. Either that or he was was really big for his age.

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