Listen Up! A Look at Distance Learning

Thousands of students, from kindergarten to graduate school, are sitting down at computers to attend class right now, using the internet to connect to teachers, resources, assignments and other students. The idea of this network of people learning from a distance brought to mind an interesting photo I came across some time ago while browsing our collections. Every detail of this photo is fascinating, and the caption only adds to the curiosity. Without reading the caption, what do you think the young boy here is doing?

Master Harold Shaver of Jersey City learns to draw by listening in to lessons broadcast by WOR. Photo by Morris Rosenfeld, copyrighted 1924. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3a38916

Master Harold Shaver of Jersey City learns to draw by listening in to lessons broadcast by WOR. Photo by Morris Rosenfeld, copyrighted 1924. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3a38916

If there is one subject I would have thought very difficult to teach over the radio, it would be drawing! Yet somehow, young Harold Shaver is sketching based on information broadcast over a New York radio station in 1924. I love studying the image for the details – my best guess is this is a winter scene he’s creating – snow covers the house in the background, and perhaps the figure is a snowman? From Harold’s attention on the voice broadcast to his pencil poised to add new lines, he is the very image of a focused student. (I also enjoyed spotting the ubiquitous Kodak Brownie camera on the shelf just behind his easel, the camera that brought photography to so many households.)

The 1920s was a boom time for the radio and that decade saw a proliferation of educational uses for this somewhat new technology appearing in thousands of homes. Finding this one image made me curious what other examples I could find of young people learning over the radio in our collections.

The first image below shows a young man in deep thought, possibly connecting what he is hearing over the radio to the book in his hand. In the second photo, students listen to a broadcast about South America from their classroom. (The chalkboard poetically describes Chile as “The Wonderland of the Andes.”)

[Boy listening to radio set and reading book]. Photo copyrighted by Underwood & Underwood, 1909. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3b45110

[Boy listening to radio set and reading book]. Photo copyrighted by Underwood & Underwood, 1909. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3b45110

Washington, D.C. Class listening to a radio broadcast about South America, sponsored by a local station. Photo by Marjory Collins, 1942 Mar. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/fsa.8d20230

Washington, D.C. Class listening to a radio broadcast about South America, sponsored by a local station. Photo by Marjory Collins, 1942 Mar. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/fsa.8d20230

The following series of photos introduced me to the American School of the Air. Broadcast daily in classrooms during the 1930s and 1940s, this educational program brought a half hour of art appreciation, geography, dramatizations of literary works, vocational guidance, poetry, current events and much more to classrooms across the country. Distance learning in the age before the internet!

American School of the Air. Photo by Harris & Ewing, 1932. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/hec.36726

American School of the Air. Photo by Harris & Ewing, 1932. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/hec.36726

[American School of the Air]. Photo by Harris & Ewing, 1932. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/hec.36725

[American School of the Air]. Photo by Harris & Ewing, 1932. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/hec.36725

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