Past Times

It was a new world for the first-graders of 1966

Students find their classrooms on the first day at this Greenville, N.C. school in the 1960s.
Students find their classrooms on the first day at this Greenville, N.C. school in the 1960s. Courtesy of Joyner Library, East Carolina University

In the fall of 1966, writer Lynda H. Homes took a look at that year’s crop of first-graders and the new world they were facing, “living in the middle of the greatest knowledge explosion in history.”

Our world of 1966 is one of speed, noise and prosperity. The child of today has been exposed to far greater experiences in almost every area than the child of 20, or even 10 years ago. How does this child who enters school for the first time compare with the first-grader who was the product of a quieter, slower, and less prosperous period?

Many teachers in the Eastern Carolina elementary schools have taught for enough years to make an honest evaluation, and to notice striking differences in attitudes of their first-grade charges. …

Beyond question, the television that now sits in every home has been the most powerful factor in changing children’s attitudes. Unfortunately, its influences have tended to veer into the realm of the harmful rather than to offer experiences of value, according to both teachers and principals.

One elementary school principal pointed out, “Television could and should be a marvelous method of getting across worthwhile instruction – especially to the very young. The industry itself is falling down on the job, but so are we educators. We are not taking full advantage of it as a teaching medium.”

On the negative side there are many areas where the “tube” influences the child. One teacher commented, “Although TV has brought new experience into the lives of children, it has hurt in the mental development of many because it primarily entertains. For hours and hours they sit before the set and use their minds merely as receivers – they never have to think.”

…The attention span of a six-year-old is in itself something to cope with, but getting and keeping his interest now is even more of a problem than it used to be. A teacher remarked, “They’ve seen so many highly colored cartoons, shows with such fast-paced action, all tuned in so loudly that naturally a quiet reading of ‘See Sally Run’ is pretty tame fare. They become bored more easily. They want excitement constantly, and look for thrills in their daily lives.”

…Another vast difference is found in the lack of home reading for pleasure….

Causing concern in many quarters is the obvious lack of patriotism – children of 1966 as compared with the children of the 1946 era express little awareness in the area of respect or love for our country.…

Over and over, both teachers a principals voiced the opinion that today’s first-grade child does not get enough outdoor exercise. “He is more prone to listless inactivity rather than good vigorous physical play outside in fresh air. Television does a lot of indoor baby-sitting, instead.”

But television influences aren’t all negative. First-graders have a larger vocabulary than they have ever shown in the past. They use correctly words that once they seldom learned until fifth or sixth grade.

First-graders come to school cleaner than they once did, and take more pride in dental hygiene. Perhaps this positive attitude can be traced in part to the advertising field. Children see their youthful contemporaries happily brushing away those deadly food particles with that new green or red toothpaste, to the rhythm of a happy tune – and they do like to conform.…

As the child of 1966 entered first grade, school authorities were beginning to face up to one pertinent difference: going to school used to be the highlight of a child’s life, and remained so until his graduation. This was particularly true in rural communities and small towns. But this no longer holds true for the young child – school for him has become a side issue.

These changes in attitudes began at the end of World War II, and naturally have increased with our rapidly advancing technology. The N&O Oct. 2, 1966

Read more stories from local and state history and send us your own stories on the blog Past Times, newsobserver.com/past-times.

Leonard: 919-829-4866 or tleonard@newsobserver.com

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