One thing kids can always be certain of: If adults hate something, it must be cool. And if schools don’t allow it, it’s even more irresistible. For whatever reason, hysteria at schools seemed to reach a fever pitch in the 1990s, when cultural trends became contraband in classrooms. Check out 11 fads, toys, and other items from the ‘90s that were once banned from schools.
1. Bart Simpson T-Shirts
Shortly after premiering in 1989, become a pop-culture juggernaut, with kids and adults quoting lines from the show. Today they’d meme; at the time, they donned a T-shirt. But the wisdom of juvenile delinquent Bart Simpson didn’t go over well with school administrators, who often prohibited kids from sporting a Bart tee with incendiary quotes like “Eat my shorts!” or “Don’t have a cow, man!” (The worst offender: “I’m Bart Simpson—who the hell are you?”)
Bart’s proclamation of being an “underachiever” and “proud of it, man” really rankled educators. “To be proud of being an incompetent is a contraction of what we stand for,” Ohio principal William Krumnow said in 1990. “We strive for excellence and to instill good values in kids … the show teaches the wrong things to students.” Offenders were often forced to turn the shirts inside-out or, worse, call their parents and have them bring a change of clothing.
2. Tech Decks
Despite what Bart Simpson may have you believe, skateboarding through school hallways has never been a thing. But in 1999, kids found a substitute of sorts with Tech Decks, a line of finger-sized skateboards that could do some simple tricks on a table. (Another product, Flick Tricks bikes, were also popular.)
Teachers quickly confiscated the miniature symbols of rebellion. “We require the student to bring a note from home that says, ‘I realize they are a disruption and I will keep them at home,’” Larry Meyer, the dean at George Ellery Hale Middle School in Woodland Hills, California, told the Deseret News. “Then we return it. I'm sure in a couple more months, when it gets hot, it will be squirt guns. These things come and go in cycles."
For a brief and beautiful time in 1995, Pogs were the hottest children’s gambling pastime on the market. The coin-shaped discs could be knocked over with a slightly heavier “slammer” disc, with the loser relinquishing their Pogs to the victor. This hard lesson in risk was unwelcome at schools, mostly due to the fact that seizing a kid’s Pogs could lead to child-on-child violence and because the “slammer” Pog might be repurposed as a weapon in retaliation.
“I guess you could liken it to going to Las Vegas and losing your money on the table,” Reilly Elementary School principal Kathy Muelder told The Los Angeles Times. “Adults don’t like that. And children don’t like losing their chips.”
The school even tried to convince students to play for points instead of Pogs, but that didn’t work. Pogs were subsequently shown the door.
4. JNCO Jeans
For those of you too young (or too old) to notice the classroom clothing trend of the ‘90s, JNCOs were ultra-baggy jeans that could almost completely swallow up a person’s thighs, calves, and feet with cuffs 23 inches in diameter. School officials were alarmed at the potential danger of the jeans, which caused some students to trip; others believed they were baggy enough to hide contraband.
In 1992, Mattel teamed with Nickelodeon to capitalize on the network’s love of slime with Gak, a revolting blob of acrylic and silicone that could be stretched, hung from the nose like a booger, or folded into its container to make flatulent noises. Kids, naturally, loved Gak; adults, naturally, detested it.
“The kids were stretching it from one corner of the room to the other, over each other’s heads,” an exasperated Washington-area teacher named Angie Ashley told The Washington Post. “They were bouncing it and throwing it. Every child was going for it.” Her school, which was run by nuns, banned it.
6. Slap Bracelets
Teachers tend to hate anything that can distract students, and Slap Wraps—one of the many brand names of the stainless steel bracelets that could be worn with the flick of a wrist—may have been the most obnoxious of them all. During class, kids around the country would thwack them over and over, leading to repeated scolding. Worse, some knock-off brands could be injurious, with the soft fabric exterior giving way to the sharp steel inside. Administrations didn’t wait for the fad to die out; many just banned them from classrooms.
7. Trapper Keepers
These marvels of academic design were everywhere in the 1980s and 1990s, but not all school officials embraced kids being so organized. Trapper Keepers utilized a Velcro enclosure to keep the binders from spilling out, but that zzzzt noise proved distracting to educators who wanted them kept out of school. Teachers also disliked that some Trapper knock-offs were so big that they either interfered with another student’s desk when fully opened or couldn’t fit inside of one.
8. Crazy Bones
Originally introduced as Go-Gos in Spain and based on an ancient game from Greece and Rome that used pieces made of sheep knuckles, Crazy Bones was another pocket-sized diversion. The game consisted of tiny sculpted heads with names like Eggy Bone and Reggae Bone that were used with rules similar to marbles or tiddlywinks. While Toy Craze, which produced the toy, argued that Crazy Bones could help kids learn math, adults weren’t so convinced. Kids would trade pieces during class, prompting teachers to relegate them to a desk drawer.
Gotta catch ‘em all—unless class is in session. Pokémon, the popular trading card game that led to a decades-long craze, was so pervasive on school grounds in 1999 that districts in Pennsylvania, New York, and elsewhere told kids to keep them at home. The main problem was that older children were preying on their younger peers to grab hot cards.
“They seem to be the latest craze and the children are beginning to become obsessed by them,” principal Gerard Finelli told the Associated Press. “Some of our younger kids were getting suckered out of their more valuable cards.”
10. Magic: The Gathering
Next to Pokémon, Magic: The Gathering may have been the other great cardboard obsession of the 1990s, with players of the trading card game vying for supremacy in a fantasy landscape. That setting bothered some teachers, who may have had flashbacks to the controversy surrounding Dungeons and Dragons in the 1980s. Teacher Galinda Tunney of Illinois told The Chicago Tribune in 1998 that the cards were “scary stuff,” “racy,” and that she “didn’t approve of them at all.” One principal said the cards “bordered on the occult.”
In the Bedford and Central School District in Westchester County, New York, angry parents even filed a lawsuit against the district for allowing the game to be played on school grounds after class, among other charges the school was engaged in “New Age” instruction. (In 2001, a federal appeals court panel cleared the district of the claim they were promoting paganism.)
Wizards of the Coast, which produces the game, actually hired someone to travel to schools and deny accusations it was satanic in nature. Most students, however, were forced to toy with malevolent spirits on their own time.
The palm-sized virtual animal device was such a hit when it debuted in 1997 that kids everywhere became obsessed with caring for their own Tamagotchi. The game required that players feed and tend to their digital pet, lest it expire. The problem for schools was that Tamagotchis had no pause button: Students were compelled to bring them into class to make sure they didn’t die at home. When schools banned them for being a distraction, kids turned to some replacement caregivers: their parents.