Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Are You as Smart as...

"School days, school days
Dear old Golden Rule days

Reading and 'riting and 'rithmetic

Taught to the tune of the hick'ry stick
You were my queen in calico

I was your bashful, barefoot beau
You wrote on my slate, 'I Love You So'

When we were a couple o' kids"

-Words and Music by Cobb & Edwards

A test has been making the rounds lately that claims to be an 8th grade exam from 1895. Areas covered include...

  • Grammar: "Name the Parts of Speech and define those that have no modifications."

  • Arithmetic: "If a load of wheat weighs 3942 lbs., what is it worth at 50 cts. per bu., deducting 1050 lbs. for tare?"

  • U.S. History: "Give the epochs into which U.S. History is divided."

  • Orthography: "Mark diacritically and divide into syllables the following, and name the sign that indicates the sound: Card, ball, mercy, sir, odd,cell, rise, blood, fare, last."

  • Geography: "Name all the republics of Europe and give capital of each."

The entire exam takes 5 hours to complete.

Curious about the provenance of this artifact, I did a little research and learned that the test was taken from an original document on file at the Smoky Valley Genealogical Society and Library in Salina, KS, reprinted by the Salina Journal.

The original does not indicate it was intended for 8th grade students, rather it is titled "EXAMINATION GRADUATION QUESTIONS OF SALINE COUNTY, KANSAS April 13, 1895 J.W. Armstrong, County Superintendent."

TruthOrFiction presents several arguments to advance the theory that the exam was, in actuality, given to teacher candidates, including the fact that it was administered for "applicants" and that some of the questions seem geared towards teachers rather than students ("District No. 33 has a valuation of $35,000. What is the necessary levy to carry on a school seven months at $50 per month, and have $104 for incidentals?").

Snopes considers the 1895 Examination from a different angle:

"What nearly all these pundits fail to grasp is 'I can't answer these
questions' is not the same thing as 'These questions demonstrate that students in earlier days were better educated than today's students.' Just about any test looks difficult to those who haven't recently been steeped in the material it covers."
The subject matter covered in 1895 was vastly different in scope and focus from the curricula of 2009. Memorization was valued over critical thinking; arithmetic and geography superseded science and global studies. Students were being prepared for jobs in agriculture and manufacturing. Today's need to connect, communicate, collaborate, and create has, if not supplanted, then certainly reshaped, the school agenda.

Recitations and reckoning aren't enough any more.

"Since we can't know what knowledge will be most needed in the future, it is senseless to try to teach it in advance. Instead, we should try to turn out people who love learning so much and learn so well that they will be able to learn whatever needs to be learned." -John Holt

"School Room" by Rob Shenk

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