School When You Were a Kid vs. Kids Today (’80s Edition)

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Every generation is different, especially when it comes to youthful trends. And the gap that exists between kids who went to middle school during the 80s and kids who attended school in the 90s and beyond is no different. In fact, some of the things that 80s kids got away with have become downright illegal today.

1. Pick Valentines

Perhaps it was the anticipation of thinking your crush was crushing on you, or perhaps it was the fear of thinking you wouldn’t receive one, but the exchange of Valentines cards and gifts was nothing if not exciting.

Due to too many kids wallowing in self-pity and disappointment throughout the 80s, however, you’d be hard pressed to find this activity in many schools today. And when you do, it’s likely to involve an “all or nothing” policy of gift giving, which, although a bit less humiliating for some, can take away from the “rush” of it all.

2. Supervise Other Kids

There’s something about a badge that just inspires confidence, even when it’s placed on the clothing of a child with zero safety credentials. In the 80s it wasn’t uncommon for kids to be placed in charge of other kids during daily activities—which could go terribly wrong. Thanks to a few too many close calls, this practice has largely been discarded.

3. “Clapping” Erasers

Few 80s kids could resist the strange level of joy that came from “clapping” chalk erasers together to clean them. The giant puff of white dust that emerged out of nowhere just made you feel like you were the coolest person in the room. Thanks to a vast increase in technology in the classroom, however, traditional chalk is more difficult to find these days. Chalk dust is also less-than-ideal for young lungs.

4. Make Ashtrays in Art Class

Ah, different times. In the 80s it seemed that everyone at least knew someone who smoked—making arts and crafts time in school a bit more adventurous than it is today. One common gift that could be made and sent home to mom and dad was the simple ashtray. (Perhaps it was because they were both easy to make, and practical!). However due to the fact that this undoubtedly inspired poor future behavior, and that fewer parents smoke today, this activity has faded out.

5. Play Dodge Ball

Remember the fun that came along with pelting your classmates with large rubber balls during gym class? Well not everyone who played dodge ball in school seemed to enjoy it, since this activity has been largely eradicated from gym classes around the country. Many saw the game as being a bit too cruel and promoting violence, which could end in more than one kid walking off the court in tears. In fact, these days it’s tricky to find gym-time activities that are even that competitive at all.

6. Play War Games

Speaking of violence, war games were a common sight on many school campuses in the 80s. With vaguely defined “rules” these would usually involve kids forming teams of countries and having it out with each other over the use of loud, imaginary guns. It doesn’t take a psychologist, however, to see why encouraging such violence might have rubbed some parents the wrong way, and now using fake guns in such a manner in most schools is banned all together.

Given the rise in school shootings over the years, perhaps this is all for the best. After all, with many schools implementing harsh “zero tolerance” policies for violence it would seem a little silly to condone students playing war “games”.

7. Shoot Real Guns

And if war games and imagined violence could lead to no good, then encouraging kids to shoot real guns could lead to disaster.

Yes, it is true that in some schools (mostly in the South) kids were actually encouraged to shoot guns as a recreational activity. Although learning to shoot can of course have real benefits, I think it’s safe to say that the cons outweigh the pros with this one.

8. Get Signed Out of School by Your Friend’s Mom

Ah, the days when practically any adult could sign you out of school are gone in the world of increased abductions and “safe routes”. Once upon a time, all it would take was a note or call from a friend’s mom and you’d be out of school in no time, playing at your best friend’s house. This seems to have led to more than a few kidnapping and abduction issues, however, and now only a designated parent or legal guardian can pick their kids up from school—making life a little less fun for the kids and likely a bit more stressful for the adults.

9. Teenagers Driving School Buses

Although the idea of sixteen and seventeen-year-olds behind the wheel of a massive bus sounds scary now, it wasn’t apparently very scary for people in North and South Carolina, where the activity was sanctioned all the way until 1988. It was the tragic death of a four-year-old at the hands of a seventeen-year-old, inexperienced driver that apparently led people to come to their senses regarding this insane policy.

10. Bring Cupcakes for Birthdays

It seemed for so many years that bringing cupcakes to school on your birthday was a given. After all, they taste delicious, look pretty, and are easily handed out to large groups of people at once who need not wait for a large cake to be cut. Thanks in part to skyrocketing obesity rates, food allergies, and more, many schools now discourage bringing cupcakes and other sweets into class, and other schools ban the practice all together—leaving many kids doubtlessly craving a sugar buzz that will never come.

11. Buy Soda From the Cafeteria Vending Machines

It would be one thing if most schools nowadays simply stuck to the “no cupcakes on your birthday” policy, yet many schools are going further and eliminating sugary snacks and beverages from the school vending machines, as a way to help bring down obesity rates among young students. Now, when a student is craving a midday snack or sip, he or she is likely to find only some fruit or granola waiting for them behind the glass instead of a tasty (yet wildly unhealthy) sweet, sugary snack.

12. Wear “Indian” Costumes

This one is fairly self-explanatory. Even before the onset of the super-hyped era of political correctness, many took great offence to dressing in “traditional” Native American clothing. After all, the Native Americans have more than their fair share of grievances with white America, and seeing little kids donning their apparel without fully understanding and appreciating the history behind it would understandably be grating. This of course also makes the days of playing “Cowboys and Indians” a distant memory.

13. Bring Peanut Butter & Jelly Sandwiches

Ah the grand old days of food simplicity. Rolling up to school with a fresh peanut butter and jelly sandwich used to seem as routine and mandatory as going to class. However due to increased awareness of peanut allergies and a desire to cut out unhealthy carbs, in many schools around the country the PB&J is beginning to fade into obscurity.

14. Sniff Glue and Markers

While one could have legitimate grievances about the disappearance of PB&Js and even sugary drinks from thousands of schools across the country, it’s a bit trickier to mourn the end of sniffing glue and markers to get high—something that school children used to do with great abundance in the 80s and before. Although the high is brief it can be powerful, and it clearly damages the growing mind.

15. Bring a Swiss Army Knife to School

Much like children being encouraged to fire guns way back when, children were often encouraged to carry pocket knives for practical reasons—not for violence. Although this surely led to more than a few kids learning how to properly use a screw driver and bottle opener, it also led to one too many kids getting hurt, which in turn led to the end of pocket knives in school, as well as numerous “zero tolerance” weapons policies being implemented.

16. Walk to School

Thanks again to increases in kidnappings over the years, children are almost never seen walking to school by themselves. In fact, parents can even be charged with “unsubstantiated neglect” for letting their kids walk to or from school unsupervised. One mom in Texas was even arrested for allowing her children to play outside without supervision—showing once again that laws put in place to protect children can go a bit too far.

17. Sit “Indian Style”

For much the same reason that “playing Cowboys and Indians” was banished from schools around the nation, the phrase “sitting Indian Style” has become extinct as well. And likely for good reason. Although it is true that many Native Americans adopted this style of sitting, it was not applicable to all of them, and to suggest otherwise is just bad teaching. Perhaps “Native American Style” would be a good compromise?

18. Play Tetherball

In 2011, the New York Department of Health decided that tetherball, along with a large number of other once-classic games on the recess field, was simply too dangerous—after numerous reports of child injuries came pouring in at the end of the school day. While it is true that some tetherball games can get a bit out of line, it seems a bit silly to ban an entire game where the ball is attached to a pole. See the ball coming at your face? Duck.

19. Write Lines on the Board as Punishment

Ah to be called up in front of the class to write lines on the chalkboard highlighting your alleged crime. It was nerve-racking, time-consuming, and ultimately demeaning and humiliating—which is exactly why this punishment was faded out of practically every school in the country. Too many students felt that they were an object of ridicule (which was somewhat the point…) and more than a few parents on school boards seemed to agree.

20. Climb Trees

Very few activities seem to represent childhood and adventure more than climbing a tree. Doing so for many kids seems to bring an unusual amount of cheap and unchecked joy. It can also bring injury and sometimes even death, however, which is why most schools now prohibit such activities on their property. Still, it could be argued that some trees lower to the ground should be fair game for climbing.

21. Line Up According to Gender

We never could understand why exactly this practice was implemented for so long, but it was. Boys and girls would stand in different lines awaiting dismissal. But why? Were teachers and parents scared that if the two genders were mixed it would inherently lead to inappropriate behavior? We may never know, since this dated and silly practice has thankfully ended in the modern age of schooling.

22. Get Candy As a Reward

In the same vein as removing sugary drinks from vending machines and banning cupcakes from the classroom lies the end of another famed school tradition: handing out candy to students as a reward for a job well-done. Rising obesity rates and cavities have made such activities highly unattractive, and parents seem to have had a hard time understanding why their kids were coming back from school riding high on sugar—only to crash heavily moments later.

23. Pick Teams in Gym

Ah, the terror and anticipation of being picked last in gym class—perhaps the most commonly understood emotion for school children of a different era. It’s little surprise then that the most popular and athletic kids would always get picked ahead of the less physically-inclined—making this practice both rude and humiliating for many. Now teams are “assigned” by instructors rather than “picked” by the students.

24. Call teachers “Mrs.” or “Miss”

Titles always change with the times, and addressing female teachers with either “Miss” or “Mrs.” is no exception. Once upon a time, it was common to address a married, female teacher as “Mrs.” while the single teachers were addressed as “Ms.” Now, however, it’s much more common for both the married and the single teachers to be addressed as “Miss”—the idea being that someone’s marital status really isn’t the business of school children.