Students learned differently in other outbreaks
by BRIAN NADIG
While remote learning thanks to technology has replaced the traditional classroom in schools due to the current pandemic, there were other ways that students learned during outbreaks in the past.
In 1937, a polio outbreak led to the closing of Chicago schools for a few weeks, and the Chicago Board of Education relied on radio and newspapers to facilitate teaching while children were kept at home.
At the time, the school board operated public radio station WBEZ, whose middle letters stood for "board of education," according to radio historian Chuck Schaden, author of the book "Speaking of Radio."
The school board would use its station to supplement its curriculum and provide a variety of educational programming for listeners, Schaden said.
During the 1937 closings, the school system coordinated with several radio stations and daily newspapers to facilitate the instructional process while the students were kept away from school buildings.
Each grade was assigned a radio station and a day for each subject to listen to and get lessons, according a dissertation titled "A History of Educational Radio in Chicago with Emphasis on WBEZ-FM, 1920-1960" and written by Jerry Field of Loyola University Chicago.
In the 1930s radios cost about $9 and were common in households, Schaden said. "Radios were more for entertainment. There were commentators, (but people) were getting their news out of the newspaper," he said, adding that newscasts became more prevalent on radio during World War II.
Before the advent of a polio vaccine in the 1950s, polio epidemics were not uncommon. The life-threatening disease could cause paralysis, especially among children.
The group March of Dimes, which focuses on health issues affecting mothers and babies, was started in the late 1930s in an effort to eradicate polio, and radio played a key role in informing the public about the organization’s efforts.