Dan Spradley, a Joliet West High School math teacher, was searching through an antique store Sunday in Yorkville when he came across a pile of old textbooks.
About halfway through the stack, he saw a fourth-grade textbook called “Strayer-Upton Practical Arithmetics.” At first, it seemed like any other book, but then he opened it.
“Joliet Public Schools” was sprawled across an inside page, stamped in black ink.
“Oh, it’s an old Joliet textbook; I teach in Joliet,” Spradley recalls thinking. “It was a very funny moment.”
On the inside cover, Spradley came across a page filled with students’ names from Joliet School District 86.
“I wonder if any of these students are still around,” he said. “I would be interested to find someone who was taking math in District 86 way, way back in the ’30s and just ask them, ‘What was it really like?’”
After sharing his finding with family members, Spradley’s aunt did some research. Soon, she was able to locate information about four of the students. The only surviving student is retired in Melbourne, Florida.
Then, Spradley brought the textbook to Joliet West, where he shared its contents with students and co-workers.
“Even if you were able to do the problems, almost everyone would do them with a calculator,” he said. “I think [the students] were surprised. There were many, many more word problems than they were normally used to doing.”
The old textbook’s curriculum was more difficult than today’s lessons, Spradley said.
Joliet West got rid of math textbooks a few years ago, Spradley said. The district has an online curriculum for students.
“They took problem-solving very far for fourth-graders back then,” he said. “We’re doing a lot more computation.”