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Big hair history lesson on the 1980s

Tom Vanderwal and Roxanne Stinar dance in Ardis Johnson’s 7th grade history class Friday during a lesson on what life was like in the 1980s. (Kevin Cederstrom / Enterprise)1 / 2
Andrea Morgan, a proud product of the ‘80s hugs her daughter Hannah during a living history lesson in Mrs. Johnson’s 7th grade class at Century Middle School. (Kevin Cederstrom / Enterprise)2 / 2

     We lost musician John Lennon. The Brady Bill emerged following an assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan, marking what some consider the start of gun control in America. Desktop computers burst on to the scene with a quirky storage device called the floppy disk.

     Ardis Johnson’s 7th grade history class at Park Rapids Century Middle School was studying the 1980s last week, and on Friday the students got to hear, and see, what that decade was all about.

     Tom Vanderwal, Roxanne Stinar, Aarin Galzki and Andrea Morgan showed up on Friday to provide the students some living history, maybe even embarrass their 7th grade children and grandchildren a little.

     The ’80s were about hair band music and the clothes. Oh, those clothes.

     “We wore things that, it’s like everybody threw up on each other,” said Vanderwal who led the oral history lesson and dressed the part with a strong resemblance to Dee Snider of the hair band Twisted Sister.

     Vanderwal talked about Reaganomics, under the direction of President Reagan which arguably dug the country out of an economic hole coming off the high inflation years of the 1970s.

     “With Reaganomics, you were glad he had leadership and surrounded himself by great people, very smart people. That’s the kind of president he was,” Vanderwal said.

     Vanderwal’s animated and visually interesting classroom lesson led to one student commenting: “Sorry, I can’t help but stare.”  

     Computers were nothing

like they are today. Vanderwal told the students how the first personal computers used 9-inch diskettes to save data. Later, thanks to technological advances, those diskettes shrunk to 5.5 inches and held up to 2 Kilobytes of information.

     “It was the beginning of the computer age,” Vanderwal said.

     Reagan’s speech in 1987 at the Brandenburg Gate in West Germany famously urged: “Mr. Gorbachev tear down this wall.”     One student asked Vanderwal about the Challenger explosion.

     “Everybody was watching their TVs in disbelief when that happened,” Vanderwal said. “It was unfortunate when the Challenger exploded because we lost people and our space program stepped back.”

     What did kids in the ’80s do for fun? Some found trouble, just like any other decade. Others found more positive activities like rollerskating.

     What were some of the television shows? There was Mork & Mindy, which brought a young actor/comedian Robin Williams into our living rooms.

     Kids of the ’80s went to the mall to play video games at an arcade. We needed quarters or tokens to play games like PacMan, Donkey Kong and Centipede.

     Vanderwal continued with his lesson, calling the 80s the end of the disco era and beginning of loud colors in clothes. The drug era took hold with heroin and cocaine more prominent in mainstream America.

     Food, cars, school?

     “Hamburgers were hamburgers,” Vanderwal joked. “The cars were bigger, heavier and not quite as safe.”

     Vanderwal talked about how teachers were looked upon with tremendous respect and the general philosophy was for students to get through school with good grades.

     There was more discipline in school back then, even physical at times, depending on the town, school and administration.

     “I think teachers liked it better then,” one student joked referring to physical discipline in school.

     Andrea Morgan, a product of the ‘80s and whose daughter Hannah is in the 7th grade class, contacted Mrs. Johnson about the idea of having a little fun with the history lesson.

     “I had Mrs. Johnson in 8th grade so I’ve known her for years and she was always my favorite teacher! I offered to come dressed up in ‘80s clothing to show the kids the fashion. She totally took me up on it!”

 Notable events grabbing national headlines in 1980s

- Miracle on Ice (1980) – the U.S. hockey team defeats heavily favored Soviet team in the 1980 Winter Olympics

- Mount St. Helens erupts (1980)

- Who Shot J.R.? (1980) – 83 million viewers tune in to Dallas learn who shot J.R. Ewing.

- AIDS virus identified (1981)

- Iran Hastage Crisis ends (1981) – After 444 days, Iran releases all 52 American hostages

- Diana and Prince Charles Wedding (1981)

- MTV launces (1981) – the first 24 hour-a-day music television station is born.

- Spontaneous human combustion (1982) – A Chicago woman burst into flames and dies. She is the eighth recorded victim of human spontaneous combustion, based on records dating back to the 18th century.

- Tylenol tampering scare (1982)

- Final episode of M*A*S*H airs (1983) - The final episode is seen by the largest audience ever to watch a televsion program.

- First test tube babies in America born (1983)

- Michael Jackson’s hair catches on fire while shooting Pepsi commercial

- “Just Say No” (1985) - While discussing drugs at a school in Oakland, California, First Lady Nancy Reagan is asked how to counter peer pressure. She responds, “just say no”, and the movement is born.

- New Coke debuts (1985) - Coca-Cola replaces its original formula with “New Coke” recipe to compete with Pepsi-Cola. Public outcry quickly develops and the company brings back the original Coke.

- Titanic wreckage found (1985)

- Challenger disaster (1986) - Space shuttle Challenger explodes 74 seconds after lift-off, killing all seven crew members, including high school teacher Christa McAuliffe.

- Chernobyl accident (1986) - Soviet nuclear power plant has a partial meltdown, releasing clouds of radiation across Europe.

- Baby Jessica McClure is rescued from well (1987) – After falling in a well, 18-month-old Jessica McClure is pulled out with only minor injuries.

- Geraldo’s nose gets broken on his show (1988) – When a fight breaks between white supremacists and a black activist Geraldo’s nose gets in the way of a flying chair.

- The Exxon Valdez oil spill (1989) - Tanker Exxon Valdez runs aground on a reef in the Gulf of Alaska, causing about 265,000 barrels of oil to spill into the waters. This is the largest oil spill in U.S. history.

- Fall of Berlin Wall (1989) - The East German government submitted to mass protests for more freedoms and opened its borders, allowing its people to visit the West. This marks the beginning of the end of Communism.

1980s Slang

Awesome: Extremely good. Bad: good.

Bodacious: beautiful.

Bogus: not good.

Boss: very cool.

Take a Chill Pill: take it easy, calm down.

Deck: to beat someone up.

Don’t Have a Cow: remain calm, don’t get excited.

Fer Sure: definitely.

Gag Me With a Spoon: disgusting.

Gnarly: exceptional.

Grody: disgusting.

Make Me Barf: a way to signal disgust with a situation.

McFly: someone has just done something very stupid.

Preppie: a person who dressed in upscale clothing and acted snobbish towards people not in the same social standings.

Radical: something extremely hip, almost awesome.

Wicked: excellent or great.

Yuppie: a person who is a white collar worker who has possessions of an expensive nature and flaunts them.

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