Open Thread

Open Thread: Old School

Before there was YouTube, there was…the educational short film.  Teachers looking for a quiet half hour to grade papers would wheel out an ancient TV set with an AV hookup and let’ er rip.

From the Sublime…

Sometimes the programming was really good. In the mid-Sixties, KQED studios in San Francisco launched “Wordsmith,” a low budget, black-and-white show about vocabulary. I loved it. Despite the rumors in the schoolyard at the time, I did not want to marry the host, Bob Smith, but it solidified my love of words and writing.

Another gem was “Biography,” launched in 1962 and narrated by Mike Wallace – and which used newsreel clips and photos in a half hour show about significant historic or cultural figures – Winston Churchill, Fiorella LaGuardia, Babe Ruth, or Douglas MacArthur.

…to the alarming…

Of course, not all the videos were so uplifting.  Remember these?


…to the ridiculous

Some of the videos we saw – outdated but still used by teachers desperate for a quiet ten minutes – reached into the realm of satire.

Your Turn

But that’s me.  What was your experience with old school instructional videos? Share  your picks and pans in the comments!

Virge Randall is Senior Planet’s Managing Editor. She is also a freelance culture reporter who seeks out hidden gems and unsung (or undersung) treasures for Straus Newspapers; her blog “Don’t Get Me Started” puts a quirky new spin on Old School New York City. Send  Open Thread suggestions to


4 responses to “Open Thread: Old School

  1. I definitely remember the reel to reel projectors and they’re clicking as they turned the reels. Then the film would break, get repaired and we would restart the film. Feeding the film into the machine was a challenge. Later projectors were self-feeding.

    My elementary school used instructional films, less so in high school but mostly science classes like physics and history. They were ok and seemed to add to the textbook materials usefully. It was a diversion from lecture and textbook too!

  2. ‘Duck and Cover’ was part of my elementary school experience. With its designated signage as a ‘Fallout Shelter, ‘ it was presented that, in the event of a nuclear event, this is where and how we’d survive. Was the teacher then to be caretaker to the overcrowded New York City (32 students) classroom? I’m curious how the teachers felt having to conduct these drills? I’m sure as a kid, there’d be no way I could fathom the purpose. But todays’ YouTube tutorials got me through a pandemic!

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