1900s: Movies and recordings for school use

Because we post post moderns are so often completely cut off from the past, even the recent past, lacking context and judging the past on the basis of our ignorance, we make some silly mistakes. One of them is assuming that that movies and recordings were just not available for educational use until our era. So I found these excerpts interesting:

1912,  The American School Board Journal, Volume 45:

The phonograph has already won as a valuable addition to the equipment of school room.

….the future of the phonograph as a necessary piece of schoolroom equipment seems assured.

We must not forget however in our admiration and appreciation for the phonograph as an aid in all that is connected with school music, that it is also a speech reproducing instrument that it is still a talking machine.
The motion picture has already entered the school field to remain and to develop into one of the most important aids that superintendents and teachers have ever enlisted in their work.

It is of course unnecessary to enter upon a discussion of the pedagogical value of the motion picture if we can assume practical apparatus, proper film, and all the other accessories necessary to the safe and skillful projecting of pictures upon the screen. (isn’t it interesting how every educational innovation requires proper acce$$orieS?)

Americans are frequently referred to as eye minded people and to a large extent this appears to be true. Certainly no one will deny that visualization is an important factor in most educative processes.

Our Progress: While the motion picture is not in any sense a novelty at the present time its use has been largely monopolized by the motion picture theater for reasons which are quite apparent.

… the standard projector has frequently been used to excellent advantage in assembly rooms playgrounds and other places where large numbers of children are brought together and has served as an important means of instruction and education in many instances.

The motion picture is able to do much in the field of history, in the direction of adding interest and reality to the study of great historical events.

In 1912 the National education association of the United States published an 8 page pamphlet titled:
Training:  What School Facilities Should Be Provided for Instruction by Means of Motion Picture Machines, Stereopticon, Lanterns, Phonographs, Player Pianos, etc. (by Frances Elliott Clark, Agnes Benson)

Of course, much of the push for use of phonographs or early record players and movies in schools came from the corporations which manufactured and sold the necessary equipment.


…Talking machines were practically used in only a few schools two years ago. Today they are in daily use in more than 400 cities, in many of them in every school.

There are now made special records for marching, for calisthenics, for folk dancing, for the rote singing, for primary grades, for intermediate grades, grammar and high school work records for correlation with the studies in literature, the Burns and Shakespearean songs, the songs of all the different nations, there are songs of the older composers to correlate with studies in general history in those epochs.  We are issuing a course for high schools complete and thorough in music history and appreciation.

The Talking Machine in the Schools: The talking machine came into existence to amuse; it remains to educate. What was once a luxury has become a necessity, a curious toy has come to be a practical and indispensable instrument in modern education. Every school should have its talking machine just as it has maps, globes, supplementary readers, etc. It is comparatively new but necessary, just as are sanitary drinking fountains, sanitary towels and the equipment for manual training and domestic science. The field of the talking machine is not limited to the teaching of music alone nor yet to the obvious service of furnishing accompaniment to the physical culture and folk or interpretative dancing. The whole realm of vocal expression is wide open and is being rapidly filled by records of readings for every grade; stories for the kindergarten and home circle, models in diction, inflection, and all the shades of expression of the cultured human voice.

Another 1919 article or advertisement I found concludes:  “This article has treated entirely of the value of the phonograph to the various musical activities in school life. No hint even is given that it has just as great a value in interpreting readings and stories for all grades, and opening to the listeners the whole realm of vocal expression in models, in diction inflection, and all the shades of expression of the cultured human voice. The talking machine came into existence to amuse, it remains to educate. What was once a luxury has become a necessity.”

You can see they had their copy ready with the right talking points.

In 1915, School Music, Volumes 16-17, says in Kansas in a single year,  800-900 rural schools would be using a program which supplies records and a phonograph along w/teacher directions for using these educational materials on loan (free).

The School Journal, Volume 63, 1901:

There is no telling how far methods of teaching may be revolutionized by modern inventions. A writer in an English magazine has the following suggestions. The addition of the phonograph to educational paraphernalia suggests some farther developments. What about the kinetoscope? Has not the time come when this instrument may be used in conjunction with the phonograph, the two together constituting a means of bringing vividly before the mind’s eye the living world of action? How admirablv could a person learn a foreign language if he saw before him on the screen the various moving scenes taken from life while simultaneously there is heard from the throat of the phonograph the suitable vocal accompaniment? What a new impressiveness would be given to Ich habe zwei Tassen Thee getrunken if on the animated screen should first appear the bibulous tea drinker going conscientiously thru his performance and if then the phonograph should volley forth the statement kh habe zwei Tassen Thee getrunken. How vivid if the student should see before him the moving figures of two persons standing in doubt and embarrassment on a door step while in his ears are heard issuing from the phonograph the anxious words… (I’m not reproducing them here because the text is garbled and I’m not qualified to correct French or German typos, but the gist of it is basically the same idea as watching foreign films, which remains a handy way to reinforce foreign language learning, it’s just not very new).   No we are not joking. Nothing is impossible in these days.’

(In previewing education journals from the early 1900s, I find them full of ads for language learning via phonograph, as well as learning through various recordings of lectures).


Journal of Education, 1905;

One of the things I find most interesting about reading all this stuff, is how very similar it still sounds to today.  We can modernize the language a little to replace out of fashion words with our latest buzzwords, and use laptops, computers, iPads, or whatever the latest technological marvel is, and nothing much has changed.  What we’re really talking about is delivery systems and things, apparatus, stuff to buy, always stuff to buy.

What we’re not talking about is content- ideas.  If we don’t pay attention to that, the latest model in delivery systems is just a gimmick.


(P.S. another example found in a 1921 edition of

Modern Stationer Serving the Office Products Dealer, Volume 5, recommends placing an advertisement for school supplies at the local theater (moving picture house) where parents and children will be sure to see it as so many of them spend school vacation time there.

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