"Parents Today Would Freak Out If That Happened": Older Adults Revealed 29 Things That Used To Be "Normal" In Schools

There's no question that the education system has changed drastically over generations. In decades prior, certain things deemed "normal" at school would send parents into a frenzy today.

Lecture hall with rows of desks and central podium facing a large, empty blackboard
Andrea Chu / Getty Images

I recently asked older adults in the BuzzFeed Community: "What "normal" things used to be common in school that are unheard of today?"

Person dressed as a quirky older lady with a wig and glasses, raising a finger as if to make a point
NBC / Via youtube.com

Here are their most shocking responses:

1."In elementary school, I used to bring teachers their cigarettes from the cigarette vending machine in the teachers' lounge so they could smoke outside while we played at recess."


2."Our high school had a rifle range on the fourth floor for our school rifle team to practice after school. Students would bring their rifles into school slung over their shoulders and have pockets full of ammo. No one panicked. This was a decent-sized city, not a rural area."


3."My school used to have children from kindergarten to high school compete against each other in sports. Imagine a little 5-year-old against an 18-year-old in a sprint. It was wild."


4."When I was in elementary school (early to mid-90s), our principal would pull out your wiggly teeth if you asked."


5."When I was in the fifth grade (1997), we went to the Bronx Zoo on a class trip. We weren’t allowed to go into the bat exhibit as a whole group, so our teacher paired each student with a stranger to go into the dark, cave-like exhibit with. Thankfully, we all returned to our teacher on the other side."


6."My teacher tied my left hand to my chair to force me to write right-handed."


7."We had our smoking area at the high school. If you wanted to smoke, no matter how old you were, you were allowed to go to the smoking area."


8."We used to line up in elementary school to get vaccinated. The same needle was used on everyone; it was just wiped with an alcoholic cotton ball between uses. This was in the '60s."


9."We had a wood-burning stove to heat the classroom."


10."When I was in second grade, the teacher would give us mercury to play with at our desks."


11."As punishment (at a public school) for misbehaving or not completing homework, we would have to get on our knees. So, if you didn't write your spelling words five times one night, you would have to kneel by your desk and write all 30 words five times each."

"You would get reprimanded further if you sat on your heels or leaned on your desk in an attempt to give your knees a break. This physical punishment did not require permission from parents, nor did it even entail a phone call to inform parents it happened."—Anonymous

12."I remember teachers placing a strip of masking tape over the mouths of students who talked aloud or out-of-turn in class."


13."Naughty children in my fifth-grade class were made to sit or stand in the trash can because they were acting like trash (or, to be more blunt, because the teacher labeled them as trash)."


14."Probably second grade, the bus gets stuck on a snow-covered hill, fairly steep. The driver has the kids get out, go behind the bus, and push."


15."Streakers. Yes, this happened a lot for a couple of years. Mostly at sporting events and graduation."


16."I have the distinct memory of coming back to my first-grade classroom after lunch and there being a cloud of smoke in the room and an ashtray with cigarette butts on my teacher's desk. It was totally normal for the early '80s, but man, that was completely bonkers looking back!"


17."In the '60s, girls and boys were separated at recess. A teacher monitored to ensure girls stayed on their side and boys on theirs. You got in big trouble if you crossed the line. The boys had all the cool stuff on their side (basketball court, monkey bars, etc). All we had was hopscotch squares and swings."


18."In high school, if you were going hunting after school, you were told to check your gun at the office for safety. Then, at the end of the day, you went to the office and picked your gun up."


19."My small town, New England, elementary school, which I attended from '88–'94, would have fifth and sixth graders working in the cafeteria. Every week, a different group of four kids would work. Lunch had two shifts, one for 1st–3rd grade and another for 4th–6th. The group of four would alternate in pairs which lunch they worked and which they ate. We served food, collected the dirty trays, used the industrial washer for the lunch trays, and cleaned."

"All we got for the work was a free lunch. And we had to miss lunch recess. It wasn't seen as child labor but a right of passage that we all looked forward to in the younger grades. I still think of those weeks as good memories. I can't imagine them getting away with that now, though. Wild times."—identicalsnowflakes

20."When I was in elementary school, kids who had what we would now diagnose as ADHD were thought to simply have an overabundance of energy that needed to be worked off. So, if they were having a struggle day, the teacher would send the kid(s) to the cafeteria, where they had to run laps under the supervision of the janitor for a half hour or so before returning to class. Yeah, I don't follow the logic either. Small town Indiana over 30 years ago."


21."Left-handed kids sat separately."


22."Going to the principal's office meant there was a chance you would get paddled. I remember in elementary school, the principal had a paddle on the desk with holes drilled in it."


23."When I was in high school, every quarter, our grades and class standing would be posted for everyone to see. The top 10 always remained the top 10 through to graduation. The top 10 ate lunch, hung out, and didn't talk to anyone else. The bottom kids were shunned in very passive-aggressive ways. The teachers would also hand back tests from lowest to highest score."


24."When I was a female student in Texas schools in the early 1960s, girl athletics were almost nonexistent. Schools only had half-court basketball for girls to play as they didn't feel girls were athletic or strong enough to run back and forth on a full court. They made us wear long full skirts as a uniform that could not be higher than our knees and shorts under them. The skirts and tops were made of wool in the Texas HEAT! They were so afraid the girls might wiggle and unduly have an impact on males."

"The only coaches were male, and they were usually very bad because the good coaches wanted to coach boys teams, so we got whatever coach would lower themselves to coach girls. The only other sports girls were allowed to play were track, and some schools had gymnastics. We were told that if we wanted to be involved, we needed to be cheerleaders and support the boys' teams, as that was our real role in life: to support males and not to try to be the athletic stars. I never forgave the school system for that."—Anonymous

25."Even in public grade school in the '60s, we all got our lunches, sat down, and said Grace together. It went like this: 'God is good. God is great. Let us thank him for this food. Amen.' Also, before we could go out to the playground, we had to show our lunch tray to the teacher on duty to prove we had eaten. We were allowed not to eat one item that we didn't like."


26."Bullying by the teachers as a form of discipline. Our science teacher was also a bus driver. You spent lunch cleaning the bus floor with a toothbrush if you said one word on the bus. The same teacher's bus broke down a few blocks from the school, about two miles from our neighborhood. He told a busload of 11-year-olds to go ahead and walk home unaccompanied. Parents today would freak out if that happened."

—Olivia Moore

27."At my Texas public school in the '60s, girls weren't allowed to wear pants. My mom was supposed to chaperone a field trip. She got sent home for wearing an olive green pantsuit and a Loretta Lynn wig that was considered inappropriate attire to wear around children."

—Olivia Moore

28."Having to write 'I will not talk in class' enough times to fill the blackboard."


29.And finally, "My sister, who graduated in 1990, was the teacher's pet in her home economics class. If the class was out of something, sugar, flour, spices, etc., the teacher would send her to the grocery store 5 miles away to go buy them for her."


Older adults — what other "normal" things happened in your school that are unheard of today? Let us know in the comments below, or use this Google Form to remain anonymous.

Note: Some responses have been edited for length/clarity.