11 Things We No Longer See In Schools

Popartic/iStock via Getty Images
Popartic/iStock via Getty Images

If you ask a fifth grader what a card catalog is, there’s a good chance your question will be met with a blank stare. And while this might make you feel positively ancient, there are definitely some academic traditions and technologies from your parents’ and grandparents’ generations that you’re too young to know about, too. For example, did you ever solve a multiplication problem with a slide rule, or carry your books with a book strap?

Here are eight things that you may or may not remember from your time in school, but today’s students probably won’t.

1. Card Catalogs

Before digital catalogs could deliver a list of books perfectly matched to even the vaguest search term, you had to manually hunt for relevant information in the drawers of a massive cabinet. However unwieldy and inefficient card catalogs may seem compared to current technology, there was a certain tactile satisfaction in thumbing through card after card to find a particular author, title, or subject. The Online Computer Library Center officially declared the death of the card catalog in 2015 after it sent its last shipment of cards to Concordia College’s library in Bronxville, New York. But plenty of old catalogs live on as storing units for sewing supplies, wine bottles, and more.

2. Food Pyramids

U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

The 1992 food pyramid that many Millennials likely remember from their early school days broke food groups into ambiguous serving sizes and advised you to eat the most servings of bread, rice, cereal, or pasta each day. It was replaced in 2005 with the more modern MyPyramid diagram, which identified serving sizes in cups or ounces and corresponded with a website you could visit for more information. In 2011, the USDA effectively killed the food pyramid altogether with the launch of MyPlate, a new plate-shaped diagram that recommends you eat mostly vegetables and grains. This, of course, has an extensive website of its own.

3. Rope Climbs

Though fitness tests in gym class have been stressing students out at least since the early 1960s, some of the tests themselves have changed. According to the parameters set by the Presidential Youth Fitness Program—which schools can use as a guide for evaluating grade school P.E. students—push-ups, pull-ups, and curl-ups have withstood the test of time, but there’s no mention of a rope climb. The new dreaded portion of the exam is the PACER, a series of sprints during which you have progressively less time to complete each one.

4. Slide Rules

claudiodivizia/iStock via Getty Images

The slide rule, which dates back to the 1600s, did the job of a calculator before modern calculators existed in the classroom. It looks like a ruler crammed with extra lines and numbers, but the middle portion slides back and forth to give you the answers to multiplication and division problems, exponents, square roots, and more. It fell out of fashion with Hewlett-Packard’s introduction of the handheld electronic calculator in 1972, though some particularly fastidious math teachers still use them to keep their students from succumbing to the somewhat mindless nature of automatic calculators.

5., 6., 7., and 8. Chalkboards, Chalk, Chalk Erasers, and Chalk Holders

diamondsky/iStock via Getty Images

Since just about every chalkboard has been replaced by either its cooler younger sibling, the dry-erase board, or its genius baby cousin, the smart board, it stands to reason that all chalkboard accessories have also gone out the window—no more chalk, chalk holders, or chalkboard erasers. The gradual disappearance of chalkboards also means that children will no longer understand the actual noise made by fingernails on a chalkboard. Much like we use the phrase chalk it up to mean “give credit” without having experienced it in its original context—where store owners would write a customer’s outstanding charges on a chalkboard—future generations might use “fingernails on a chalkboard” as an almost meaningless synonym for “really bad sound.”

9. Book Straps

Hemera Technologies/iStock via Getty Images

Before students carted heavy textbooks around in backpacks, tucked them into the crooks of their arms, or simply decided not to bring them to class, there was the book strap: a glorified leather belt which fastened around a pile of books and often included a handle. It didn’t protect your books from bad weather and it didn’t contain compartments for any other school supplies, but it might help keep your pants up if you forgot your actual belt.

10. Dodgeball

Dodgeball may not have completely disappeared from schools yet, but it’s only a matter of time before hearing the name never again evokes that strange mixture of excitement and fear. The soft-balled combat competition, also known as bombardment, killer ball, and murder ball, so obviously pits athletes against their less coordinated classmates and promotes the idea of a human target that it’s ceased to be the cornerstone of gym class. Many schools have outright banned it, while others have quietly replaced it with less polarizing activities. And, if Justin Long’s concussion on the set of 2004’s cult classic DodgeBall is any indication, those foam balls can cause some damage.

11. Dunce caps

Library of Congress // Public Domain

The earliest known written mention of a dunce cap was in Charles Dickens’s 1840 novel, The Old Curiosity Shop, in which it’s made of old newspapers and sits on its own shelf in the classroom. The conical symbol of idiocy gained popularity during the Victorian era throughout both the U.S. and Europe, and continued to humiliate schoolchildren well into the 1950s. As if standing alone in the corner wearing flashy headgear didn’t draw enough attention to you, sometimes the dunce cap even featured bells.

Looking to Downsize? You Can Buy a 5-Room DIY Cabin on Amazon for Less Than $33,000

Five rooms of one's own.
Five rooms of one's own.
Allwood/Amazon

If you’ve already mastered DIY houses for birds and dogs, maybe it’s time you built one for yourself.

As Simplemost reports, there are a number of house kits that you can order on Amazon, and the Allwood Avalon Cabin Kit is one of the quaintest—and, at $32,990, most affordable—options. The 540-square-foot structure has enough space for a kitchen, a bathroom, a bedroom, and a sitting room—and there’s an additional 218-square-foot loft with the potential to be the coziest reading nook of all time.

You can opt for three larger rooms if you're willing to skip the kitchen and bathroom.Allwood/Amazon

The construction process might not be a great idea for someone who’s never picked up a hammer, but you don’t need an architectural degree to tackle it. Step-by-step instructions and all materials are included, so it’s a little like a high-level IKEA project. According to the Amazon listing, it takes two adults about a week to complete. Since the Nordic wood walls are reinforced with steel rods, the house can withstand winds up to 120 mph, and you can pay an extra $1000 to upgrade from double-glass windows and doors to triple-glass for added fortification.

Sadly, the cool ceiling lamp is not included.Allwood/Amazon

Though everything you need for the shell of the house comes in the kit, you will need to purchase whatever goes inside it: toilet, shower, sink, stove, insulation, and all other furnishings. You can also customize the blueprint to fit your own plans for the space; maybe, for example, you’re going to use the house as a small event venue, and you’d rather have two or three large, airy rooms and no kitchen or bedroom.

Intrigued? Find out more here.

[h/t Simplemost]

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

10 Facts About Real Genius On Its 35th Anniversary

Val Kilmer stars in Martha Coolidge's Real Genius (1985).
Val Kilmer stars in Martha Coolidge's Real Genius (1985).
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

In an era where nerd is a nickname given by and to people who have pretty much any passing interest in popular culture, it’s hard to imagine the way old-school nerds—people with serious and socially-debilitating obsessions—were once ostracized. Computers, progressive rock, and role-playing games (among a handful of other 1970s- early '80s developments) created a path from which far too many of the lonely, awkward, and conventionally undateable would never return. But in the 1980s, movies transformed these oddballs into underdogs and antiheroes, pitting them against attractive, moneyed, successful adversaries for the fate of handsome boys and pretty girls, cushy jobs, and first-place trophies.

The 1985 film Real Genius ranked first among equals from that decade for its stellar cast, sensitive direction, and genuine nerd bona fides. Perhaps fittingly, it sometimes feels overshadowed, and even forgotten, next to broader, bawdier (and certainly now, more problematic) films from the era like Revenge of the Nerds and Weird Science. But director Martha Coolidge delivered a classic slobs-versus-snobs adventure that manages to view the academically gifted and socially maladjusted with a greater degree of understanding and compassion while still delivering plenty of good-natured humor.

As the movie commemorates its 35th anniversary, we're looking back at the little details and painstaking efforts that make it such an enduring portrait not just of ‘80s comedy, but of nerdom itself.

1. Producer Brian Grazer wanted Valley Girl director Martha Coolidge to direct Real Genius. She wasn’t sure she wanted to.

Following the commercial success of 1984’s Revenge of the Nerds, there was an influx of bawdy scripts that played upon the same idea, and Real Genius was one of them. In 2011, Coolidge told Kickin’ It Old School that the original script for Real Genius "had a lot of penis and scatological jokes," and she wasn't interested in directing a raunchy Nerds knock-off. So producer Brian Grazer enlisted PJ Torokvei (SCTV) and writing partners Babaloo Mandel and Lowell Ganz (Splash, City Slickers) to refine the original screenplay, and then gave Coolidge herself an opportunity to polish it before production started. “Brian's original goal, and mine, was to make a film that focused on nerds as heroes," Coolidge said. "It was ahead of its time."

2. Martha Coolidge’s priority was getting the science in Real Genius right—or at least as right as possible.

In the film, ambitious professor Jerry Hathaway (William Atherton) recruits high-achieving students at the fictional Pacific Technical University (inspired by Caltech) to design and build a laser capable of hitting a human-sized target from space. Coolidge researched the subject thoroughly, working with academic, scientific, and military technicians to ensure that as many of the script and story's elements were correct. Moreover, she ensured that the dialogue would hold up to some scrutiny, even if building a laser of the film’s dimensions wasn’t realistic (and still isn’t today).

3. One element of Real Genius that Martha Coolidge didn’t base on real events turned out to be truer than expected.

From the beginning, the idea that students were actively being exploited by their teacher to develop government technology was always fictional. But Coolidge learned that art and life share more in common than she knew at the time. “I have had so many letters since I made Real Genius from people who said, 'Yes, I was involved in a program and I didn’t realize I was developing weapons,'" she told Uproxx in 2015. “So it was a good guess and turned out to be quite accurate.”

4. Val Kilmer walked into his Real Genius audition already in character—and it nearly cost him the role.

After playing the lead in Top Secret!, Val Kilmer was firmly on Hollywood’s radar. But when he met Grazer at his audition for Real Genius, Kilmer decided to have some fun at the expense of the guy who would decide whether or not he’d get the part. "The character wasn't polite," Kilmer recalled to Entertainment Weekly in 1995. "So when I shook Grazer's hand and he said, 'Hi, I'm the producer,' I said, 'I'm sorry. You look like you're 12 years old. I like to work with men.'"

5. The filmmakers briefly considered using an actual “real genius” to star in Real Genius.

Among the performers considered to play Mitch, the wunderkind student who sets the movie’s story in motion, was a true genius who graduated college at 14 and was starting law school. Late in the casting process, they found their Mitch in Gabriel Jarrett, who becomes the third generation of overachievers (after Kilmer’s Chris and Jon Gries’s Lazlo Hollyfeld) whose talent Hathaway uses to further his own professional goals.

6. Real Genius's female lead inadvertently created a legacy for her character that would continue in animated form.

Michelle Meyrink, Gabriel Jarret, Val Kilmer, and Mark Kamiyama in Real Genius (1985).Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Michelle Meyrink was a staple of a number of ‘80s comedies, including Revenge of the Nerds. Playing Jordan in Real Genius, she claims to “never sleep” and offers a delightful portrait of high-functioning attention-deficit disorder with a chipper, erratic personality. Disney’s Chip 'n Dale: Rescue Rangers co-creator Tad Stones has confirmed that her character went on to inspire the character of Gadget Hackwrench.

7. A Real Genius subplot, where a computer programmer is gaming a Frito-Lay contest, was based on real events.

In the film, Jon Gries (Napoleon Dynamite) plays Lazlo Hollyfeld, a reclusive genius from before Chris and Mitch’s time who lives in a bunker beneath their dorm creating entries to a contest with no restrictions where he eventually wins more than 30 percent of the prizes. In 1969, students from Caltech tried a similar tactic with Frito-Lay to game the odds. But in 1975, three computer programmers used an IBM to generate 1.2 million entries in a contest for McDonald’s, where they received 20 percent of the prizes (and a lot of complaints from customers) for their effort.

8. One of Real Genius's cast members went on to write another tribute to nerds a decade later.

Dean Devlin, who co-wrote Stargate and Independence Day with Roland Emmerich, plays Milton, another student at Pacific Tech who experiences a memorable meltdown in the rush up to finals.

9. The popcorn gag that ends Real Genius isn’t really possible, but they used real popcorn to simulate it.

At the end of the film, Chris and Mitch build a giant Jiffy Pop pack that the laser unleashes after they redirect its targeting system. The resulting popcorn fills Professor Hathaway’s house as an act of revenge. MythBusters took pains to recreate this gag in a number of ways, but quickly discovered that it wouldn’t work; even at scale, the popcorn just burns in the heat of a laser.

To pull off the scene in the film, Coolidge said that the production had people popping corn for six weeks of filming in order to get enough for the finale. After that, they had to build a house that they could manipulate with hydraulics so that the popcorn would “explode” out of every doorway and window.

10. Real Genius was the first movie to be promoted on the internet.

A week before Real Genius opened, promoters set up a press conference at a computer store in Westwood, California. Coolidge and members of the cast appeared to field questions from press from across the country—connected via CompuServe. Though the experience was evidently marred by technical problems (this was the mid-1980s, after all), the event marked the debut of what became the online roundtable junket.