In the 1960s, schools across America underwent massive changes that shaped education as we know it today. From desegregation to new teaching methods, the ’60s were a pivotal decade for education.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: In the 1960s, schools were segregated until landmark court cases mandated desegregation. Teaching methods began to change from rote memorization to more hands-on learning.

Students faced new social issues like the Vietnam War and the civil rights movement. Schools were not well-equipped to support students with disabilities. New federal programs like Head Start began during this decade.

In this comprehensive guide, we will explore all aspects of education in the 1960s, from desegregation to teaching methods to social issues students faced.


Brown v. Board of Education ruling

One of the most significant events in the history of school desegregation in the United States was the landmark Supreme Court ruling in the case of Brown v. Board of Education in 1954. This ruling declared racial segregation in public schools unconstitutional and paved the way for the integration of schools across the country.

The decision was a major step towards achieving equal educational opportunities for all students, regardless of their race.

Slow pace of desegregation in the South

While the Brown v. Board of Education ruling set the stage for desegregation, progress was slow, particularly in the southern states. Many schools in the South continued to resist integration, using tactics such as “massive resistance” and “token integration” to maintain segregation.

It was not until the 1960s that significant efforts were made to enforce the desegregation of schools in the region.

Federal troops enforce desegregation

In some cases, the federal government had to intervene to enforce desegregation. One notable example is the integration of Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1957. Despite the Supreme Court ruling, the governor of Arkansas ordered the National Guard to block the entrance of nine African American students.

It was only after President Eisenhower sent federal troops to escort the students into the school that they were able to attend classes.

Other instances of federal intervention included the use of federal marshals to protect African American students in Alabama and Mississippi, where violent opposition to desegregation was widespread. These efforts were necessary to ensure the safety and equal rights of students during the process of desegregation.

Desegregation was a challenging and often contentious process, but it was a crucial step towards achieving equality in education. Today, schools in the United States are more diverse than ever, reflecting the progress that has been made since the 1960s.

Teaching Methods and Curriculum

In the 1960s, schools underwent significant changes in teaching methods and curriculum. Traditional teaching methods that relied heavily on rote memorization began to be phased out, making way for more innovative and engaging approaches to education.

Move away from rote memorization

Gone were the days of mindlessly repeating facts and figures. Educators realized that simply memorizing information did not lead to a deep understanding of subjects. Instead, they encouraged critical thinking and problem-solving skills.

Students were encouraged to analyze and interpret information, rather than simply regurgitate it. This shift in teaching methods fostered a more holistic approach to learning and helped students develop valuable skills that would serve them well beyond the classroom.

Introduction of ‘new math’

The 1960s also saw the introduction of the controversial “new math” curriculum. This approach aimed to teach students the underlying concepts and principles of mathematics, rather than just memorizing formulas and procedures.

It emphasized logical reasoning and abstract thinking, challenging students to think beyond the traditional methods of solving math problems. While it faced criticism and resistance from some parents and educators, the new math curriculum aimed to equip students with a deeper understanding of mathematical concepts.

Rise of hands-on learning

The 1960s witnessed a shift towards hands-on learning experiences. Educators recognized the importance of engaging students through practical applications of knowledge. Science experiments, art projects, and group discussions became more common in classrooms.

This approach allowed students to actively participate in their own learning process, fostering creativity, curiosity, and a deeper understanding of the subject matter. Hands-on learning not only made education more enjoyable, but it also helped students retain information better.

Teaching about social issues

The 1960s was a time of significant social change, and schools began to incorporate discussions about social issues into the curriculum. Topics such as civil rights, the Vietnam War, and the feminist movement were introduced to encourage students to think critically about the world around them.

This approach aimed to create informed and socially conscious individuals who could actively engage in shaping a better society. By addressing real-world problems and encouraging open dialogue, schools sought to empower students to become agents of change.

Social Issues

Vietnam War

The 1960s were marked by significant social and political changes, and one of the most prominent issues of the time was the Vietnam War. This conflict, which lasted from 1955 to 1975, deeply divided the American society.

Many young people were drafted into the military and sent to fight in Vietnam, causing widespread protests and anti-war movements. Students across the country organized demonstrations and strikes, demanding an end to the war and questioning the government’s decisions.

The war became a central topic of discussion and debate within schools, with students and teachers engaging in political discussions and activism.

For more information about the Vietnam War, you can visit

Civil rights movement

The 1960s was also a time of great strides in the civil rights movement. African Americans and other minority groups were fighting for equal rights and an end to racial segregation. This movement gained momentum with the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955 and continued throughout the 1960s with significant events such as the March on Washington in 1963 and the Selma to Montgomery marches in 1965.

Schools played a crucial role in this movement, with students participating in sit-ins, protests, and voter registration drives. The fight for civil rights was a topic of discussion in classrooms, and teachers played an important role in educating students about the importance of equality and justice.

To learn more about the civil rights movement, you can visit

Counterculture and hippie movement

The 1960s saw the rise of the counterculture and the hippie movement, which challenged traditional societal norms and values. This movement was characterized by a rejection of materialism, a focus on peace and love, and an embrace of alternative lifestyles.

Schools were not immune to this cultural shift, and many students expressed their dissatisfaction with the education system and societal expectations. The counterculture movement influenced school dress codes, hairstyles, and attitudes towards authority.

It also brought about changes in the curriculum, with subjects such as environmentalism and peace studies gaining popularity.

For more information on the counterculture and hippie movement, you can visit

Support for Disabilities

In the 1960s, support for disabilities in schools was limited and often inadequate. Students with disabilities faced numerous challenges due to a lack of resources and understanding. This made it difficult for them to receive a quality education and fully participate in school activities.

Lack of resources

One of the major issues faced by students with disabilities during this time was the lack of resources available to support their educational needs. Special education programs were not widely implemented, and many schools did not have the necessary equipment or trained staff to accommodate students with disabilities.

This meant that students often did not receive the individualized support and accommodations they needed to succeed academically.

Additionally, assistive technologies and tools that are commonly used today, such as hearing aids, communication devices, and specialized software, were not readily available in schools during the 1960s.

This further hindered the ability of students with disabilities to fully engage in the learning process.

Passage of laws to support disabilities

Fortunately, there were significant advancements in support for disabilities during the 1960s. In particular, the passage of laws aimed at protecting the rights of individuals with disabilities marked an important turning point in the education system.

One of the notable legislations during this time was the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, specifically Section 504, which prohibited discrimination against individuals with disabilities in programs receiving federal funding.

This law paved the way for improved access to education and other resources for students with disabilities.

Another crucial legislation was the Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975, which mandated that all students with disabilities have access to a free and appropriate public education. This law later evolved into the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which provides students with disabilities access to specialized instruction and related services.

These laws played a significant role in ensuring that students with disabilities received the support and accommodations they needed to succeed in school. They also paved the way for further advancements in inclusive education and the development of individualized education plans (IEPs) for students with disabilities.

Today, thanks to the efforts made during the 1960s and subsequent years, students with disabilities have greater access to resources and support in schools. However, there is still work to be done to ensure that every student, regardless of ability, receives a quality education.

Early Childhood Education

In the 1960s, early childhood education began to gain recognition as an important foundation for children’s development. This was the time when educators and researchers started to realize the significant impact that early education can have on a child’s future success.

Two major initiatives that emerged during this period were the Head Start program and the growing body of research on the importance of early education.

Head Start program

The Head Start program was launched in 1965 as part of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty. Its aim was to provide comprehensive early childhood education, nutrition, and health services to children from low-income families.

This program recognized the importance of addressing the educational needs of young children from disadvantaged backgrounds and providing them with a strong foundation for future learning.

Head Start has since become one of the longest-running programs in the United States, serving millions of children and families. It has been credited with improving school readiness, promoting healthy development, and narrowing the achievement gap for children from low-income families.

Research on importance of early education

During the 1960s, a growing body of research emerged highlighting the importance of early education in a child’s overall development. This research shed light on how early experiences and interactions shape a child’s brain development and cognitive abilities.

Studies showed that children who received quality early education were more likely to succeed academically, have better social-emotional skills, and exhibit higher levels of self-regulation. They were also less likely to require special education services or engage in delinquent behavior later in life.

Research conducted during this time laid the foundation for the recognition of early childhood education as a crucial component of a child’s educational journey. It provided evidence-based insights that continue to inform educational policies and practices today.

For more information on early childhood education and the Head Start program, you can visit


The 1960s ushered in major changes to education in America. Landmark court cases mandated desegregation, although the South resisted. Teaching methods began to evolve from rote learning to hands-on activities. Students faced intense social issues like the Vietnam War.

Support for disabilities and early childhood education saw progress but remained lacking overall. The 1960s laid the groundwork for many aspects of our current education system.

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