Back to School: American History That Unfolded During the School Day

Back to School: American History That Unfolded During the School Day

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Most school days were full of the same routine: get up, have breakfast, get dressed, go to school via bus or being dropped off, sit in class, learn, play at recess, have lunch, learn some more, and head home to get started on homework and after-school activities. But a handful of school days are some that will forever be engrained in our minds. We will never forget who we were with, where we were sitting, what was going on around us, and maybe even the time of day. These are the days where time seemingly stood still, where events shocked and stunned the nation, and where classrooms across America were captivated in both curiosity and horror. These are the days where American history unfolded right before our very eyes. Here are a few that you may remember:


  • The day JFK was assassinated. Friday, November 22, 1963. President John F. Kennedy was riding in his motorcade through Dealey Plaza in Downtown Dallas, TX when suddenly at about 12:30PM Central, shots rang out and the President slumped over, having been shot in the neck and head. He was pronounced dead at the hospital only 30 minutes later, and that very afternoon, two hours after the fateful tragedy, Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson took the oath and was sworn in as President of the United States. The nation was utterly stunned and heartbroken, as over 250,000 came to pay respects to the late President’s casket while on display at the Rotunda in D.C. before being laid to rest on November 25, 1963. Little did many know, it was John F. Kennedy Jr’s third birthday the day his father was laid to rest. Those who lived to see this play out may never forget it. 

Related Story: Memories from 1960's school children on JFK Assassination

  • The day of the Challenger shuttle tragedy. Tuesday, January 28, 1986. America was captivated, and the excitement was certainly palpable as the nation watched in awe and wonder as we sent the 7-person crew into space. This was an especially exciting day as Christa McAuliffe, a teacher from New Hampshire, had been selected as the first “Teacher in Space” and was set to become the first civilian in space. It was a record-setting day. NASA had set up a special connection in schools across America for classrooms to watch the event live – more students and educators watched live that day than the general public! 73 seconds after launch, the shuttle was ripped apart mid-air and all 7 crew members aboard perished. Children who watched this unfold live on TV will refer to this instance as a pivotal point in their childhood. 

School children processed the Challenger tragedy through drawing

  • The fateful attack of 9/11/01. Tuesday, September 11, 2001. Where were you on that day? Were you at work? School? Home? Were you actually in New York City? Regarded as one of the most tragic events in American history, if you were old enough to remember it, you may never forget it. Many didn’t see the first tower get hit, but once news spread (at a time when mobile texting and news was picking up), people tuned in just in time to see the second Twin Tower get hit, and to watch in stunned horror as both towers collapsed and went down, killing thousands and injuring many many more. After the towers, we got news of the attack on the Pentagon, then the brave heroes who managed to take down another terrorist on Flight 93, a plane that was bound for our nation’s capital and instead landed in a field in Pennsylvania. Our nation was frozen in fear and panic, everyone trying to get a hold of their loved ones, and phone signals, internet connections all jammed as Americans maxed out all available technology to ensure their family and friends were safe. Flights were grounded, schools closed early, counselors set up all across the country to help people cope with what had just happened. President George W. Bush was actually sitting in a classroom with elementary-aged students when the news came that America was under attack. The days, weeks and months that ensued while our nation mourned, healed and fought back against terrorism will not be forgotten. 

President Bush learns of 9/11 attacks while reading to school children

  • The days we attacked Hiroshima and Iwo Jima in response to the Pearl Harbor attack. Monday, August 6 and Thursday, August 9, 1945. Upon dropping the bomb in Hiroshima, President Truman said, “The Japanese began the war from the air at Pearl Harbor. They have been repaid many fold. And the end is not yet.” Between both bombs, over 100,000 were killed, many tens of thousands more died in the months following the blasts, and tens of thousands more suffered health deformities and issues as a result of the detonations. 
  • The March on Washington. Wednesday, August 28, 1963. This was the day that over 200,000 Americans marched the Mall on Washington to bring light to the challenges African Americans were facing in America and the civil rights that still lacked equality. This is also the day that Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his now-famous “I Have A Dream Speech.” 
  • The day O.J. Simpson was acquitted. Who remembers watching the chase on TV over the summer, O.J. behind the wheel of a white Bronco? We watched in confusion and horror as he ran from police, a sports star now allegedly a murderer in his ex-wife’s death and her boyfriend’s death as well. The weeks and months of this case dragged on, and the country was seemingly divided on whether or not he was guilty. Conspiracy still surrounds how this case played out, and many classrooms actually showed the case as it went on, including the final verdict on Tuesday, October 3, 1995, when Simpson was declared “not guilty” and acquitted of all charges. 


These are just a few that span the last few decades of American history. What significant dates and events do you remember playing out during the school day? 

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