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10 Old School Subjects Making a Big Comeback

It makes perfect sense that in an education system focused on readying students for standardized tests with a few particular categories, coupled with the need to prepare them for an increasingly digital world, some subjects that had been taught for decades faded out of fashion. And yet, if the current state of education in this country is any indication, we may have been a bit too quick to let some of those old subjects die. In the last few years, these dozen courses have been making a strong comeback at high schools and colleges in the U.S.

  1. Ethics:

    More than a decade of high-profile ethics abuses has created a surge in a subject that had largely fallen off the map. Business schools especially, like those at Philadelphia University and MIT, have revamped their MBA programs to make ethics a key component. Other colleges have offerings on ethics from different angles, from Harvard’s popular Ethical Reasoning 28: “Moral Inquiry in the Novels of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky,” to “Eat Your Values: The Ethics of Food” at Centre College in Kentucky.

  2. Technical:

    Once a staple of high schools across the country, vocational classes teaching technical skills like woodworking or automotive skills virtually disappeared as schools zeroed in on academics. But the classes are starting to reappear, and interest is surging. An April 2006 poll found 90% of 9th- and 10th-graders in California would find school more interesting if they could take vocational classes. That year, Gov. Schwarzenegger set aside $100 million for providing those classes. North Carolina and Florida also increased funding. Several Texas high schools offers the classes in topics like robotics, photojournalism, and welding.

  3. Latin:

    Ipsa scientia potestas est … knowledge itself is power. Education in Latin goes back to the Puritans, but it’s taken a recent surge in popularity to keep it from becoming a truly dead language in American schools. New York City educators from high schools like Maspeth High and Nightingale-Bamford recently testified to the current public mood that the study of Latin is beneficial for students. Three thousand miles away in Oregon, Latin has taken off at Portland High, serving almost twice the number of students it did a decade ago.

  4. Home economics:

    A recent The New York Times article calling for a return of home ec classes proved the subject is poised for a big comeback, if it hasn’t already begun. Now referred to as “Family and Consumer Sciences (FACS),” the classes can be found at high schools like Northglenn High in Denver, Hopkins in Minnesota, Cherokee High in New Jersey, and many other places around the country. Colorado State University , Kansas State, and Texas State University are three notable colleges offering degrees in teaching FACS.

  5. Agriculture:

    Until a few generations ago, agriculture was the backbone of the American economy, and ag education reflected that. But with the move to an information-driven economy, interest faded in many areas, until recently. A community-driven movement to have the FFA program brought back to the Independence Community School District in Iowa recently succeeded for the classes of 2013 and 2014. And the biggest school district in Nebraska recently made plans to dedicate nearly $300,000 to up to five ag classes over the next three years.

  6. Grammar:

    A few moments browsing the Internet should be enough to satisfy you that grammar instruction is a thing of the past. But a decision by the College Board — the group that administers the SAT — to include grammar questions by 2005 has since caused an uptick in the subject’s popularity. The National Council of Teachers subsequently reversed its stance against the teaching of grammar. Westfield High School in Virginia is one of the schools in the state that, with its neighbor Maryland and other states, is witnessing a return to grammar instruction.

  7. Abstinence-only sex ed:

    Teaching kids only about completely refraining from sexual activity in a sex ed class is definitely an old school way of handling the subject. And yet, abstinence-only education is enjoying a long day in the sun right now. This year, Wisconsin’s legislature passed an abstinence-only bill, while a Utah legislature bill banned the teaching of contraceptives altogether. Most recently, in Tennessee, the State Senate has gone so far as to define hand-holding as a “gateway sexual activity” in its abstinence-only curriculum.

  8. Philosophy:

    From 2001 to 2011, the number of philosophy graduates from four-year schools grew 46%. And despite what many may think about the degree’s usefulness, graduates say they are great to have in a weak economy because they prepare students to work virtually anywhere. The universities of Pittsburgh, Massachusetts, Texas A&M, and Notre Dame have all had twice as many philosophy majors in recent years as they did in the ’90s. Rutgers and Colorado State have also had big gains in the number of students entering the major recently.

  9. Yiddish:

    What’s more old school than a language created in the 10th century? Yiddish nearly disappeared when millions of speakers lost their lives in the Holocaust. Now, several colleges in the U.S. and Canada are working to preserve it by teaching it to students. At Atlanta’s Emory University, students learn Yiddish grammar and songs that they perform at area nursing homes. Rutgers offers courses in the language, the literature, and the culture of Yiddish and its native speakers. The University of Massachusetts offers Yiddish instruction as part of its Near Eastern Studies class.

  10. Personal Finance:

    Teaching kids how to handle money responsibly was once primarily a subject handled by parents or worked out through trial and error by students. However, tough economic times and huge amounts of student loan debt have made personal finance instruction a necessity, and colleges are stepping up in a big way. The NYU School of Continuing and Professional Studies offers several courses, and more students are starting to show interest in them. Similar courses can be had at Washington University,Drexel University, Kansas University, among other schools.