I ran across a first edition of a book published in 1937, titled, "High School and You" by Irwin T. Simley, then Superintendent of Schools, South St. Paul, Minnesota. It is edited by Harold C. Hand, professor, School of Education, Stanford University.
Connecting the dots, it appears that high school wasn't compulsory in 1937, so the tone of the book is to give guidance to pupils on why they should consider attending high school and how to make the best use of their time there by selecting the best-suitable electives for their unique talents and needs. The tone of the book also leans toward self-actualization of the student's potential and in that way they contribute to the whole of society.
It also seems obvious that high school subjects covered much more breadth, including vocational topics, than offered--many of these subjects have been cut from the electives nowadays--and seems less standardized, one-size-fits-all. It's hard to tell if this is the actuality of high schools at the time of writing, or it is the ideal conveyed by the author and editor. However, the book isn't organized as a visionary tome, but as a simple guidebook for students as well as teachers.
From the chapters in the book, I can tell that the subjects offered in high schools at the time included: English (includes grammar, composition, literature, etc) and is stated as a mandatory course in all H.S., home economics (includes childcare in addition to the typical food, clothing, shelter househould management), bookkeeping and accounting, sociology, psychology, stenography and typewriting, agriculture, business training (includes commercial law, business math, salesmanship, etc), natural science, biology, chemistry, physics, other high school sciences (includes astronomy, geology, physiology, agronomy, botany, zoology, physiology), social science, history, civics, economics, industrial arts (includes mechanics, woodwork, drafting/mechanical drawing, metalwork, printing, etc), music and art, sports and physical education, algebra (not mandatory at the time), geometry (not mandatory), English, Latin and Greek, modern languages such as German, French, Spanish, etc.
A few excerpts (note there aren't any hyperlinks, of course, in the original!)--
From INTRODUCTION by Ernest O. Melby, Dean, School of Education, Northwestern University
Every high school pupil is an essentially creative organism. He is not only different from all other high school pupils, but he has creative capacities. If all the high school pupils in America should paint a picture of a landscape, no two of these pictures would be exactly alike. In-so-far as each pupil in the group was able to express himself in his painting, each picture would be essentially creative. The same thing is true in every field of activity. Therefore, the function of school and the teacher is not to shape the boys and girls in accord with a pre-determined pattern and scheme, but rather to create the environmental setting in which each of these boys and girls can attain the maximum of creative growth and development.
It Will Help You Find Yourself
One time, an English poet, Thomas Gray, when sitting in a country churchyard looked at the tombstones and read the simple inscriptions. He thought that many of the good people buried there might have become great if they had only had the chance. So strongly did this idea appeal to him and so much truth did this thought seem to contain that he was immediately inspired to write a poem about it. The poem is called Elegy Written In a Country Churchyard.
Both the poem and the poet have become famous. People still read the poem and enjoy it because of its beauty as well as its thought.
Many people are great because they have had the chance and because something has happened to bring their greatness! Likewise, people are destined to live in obscurity, because the best there is in them has never been called to the surface! Education will help bring out the best there is in a person and will thus help him truly to find himself.
Who Should Take Algebra
Now, who should take algebra? There was a time--and not so many years ago--when everyone who went to high school took algebra. There were many reaons for this. To begin with, high school was thought of principally as a preparation for college and, because of the importance of mathematics as a factor or reason for the progress of civilization, nearly all colleges required it for entrance. Then, too, there were--as there still are--a number of vocations and professions that required a knowledge of algebra. Again, there were other subjects that had to be taken for certain reasons, for the successful study of which it was necessary to know algebra. Physics might be offered as an illustration. Thus it is clear that there are many types of workers who need algebra and who use it as a tool but, that there are also a great many who do not so need it. Scientists, engineers, architects, and many other professional workers must not only know and use algebra in their work, but they must also know and use the higher forms of mathematics. To determine whether or not you should take algebra, therefore, you should know pretty definitely whether you are going to college and what you are going to study. Many colleges require algebra for entrance. Be sure about your college future.
There is another test, however, which it is well to apply. Do you like mathematics? Do you like arithmetic or is it hard for you, and, if so, why do you find it hard? There are a number of people for whom mathematics is very hard. If the difficulty is to be found in laziness or in lack of application, the remedy is,--to wake up! If the difficulty is to be found in the fact that mathematics, even after honest and conscientious trial, is naturally very difficult for you, the question should be asked as to whether it would not be a better plan to take up a life work in which mathematics is not necessarily required. There are plenty of such openings and life callings. Incidentally, a person should not allow himself to become discouraged simply because he finds himself unable to master mathematics. Nor should that be so for any other subject, for that matter. Most people find some things hard. Few people can excel in everything. It is always wise first to find the different things one can do and then to choose what one is going to do from among these things that he can do. Hence the question as to whether a person happens to have the ability to succeed in mathematics. If he hasn't, he may still have the ability to succeed in other subjects. The great secret of success lies in first discovering in what field a person can develop success.
Who Should Not Take Algebra
In view of what we have said, it is clear that not every one either can or should study algebra. Though it will not do anybody any harm to study it, nevertheless, if there are other suitable subjects from which to choose, only those should select algebra who will need it for further study, or for college entrance, or for the work they are going to do, and who, because they like mathematics better than other possible subjects, get a great deal of pleasure and satisfaction out of it for its own sake. Who should not take it? Those who find mathematics too hard and those who do not need it for college entrance and who feel they are going to get more good out of something else. It is a satisfaction to know something about all subjects, but it is no disgrace not to know algebra. There are many other subjects of more common use and need.