Recently in the New York Daily News an article was printed about a test from 1912 that was given to eighth graders. Given to the children of Bullitt County, Kentucky, it included spelling, reading, arithmetic, grammar, geography, physiology, civil government, and history. Look it up, read it, see how many answers you could possibility get correct.
Out of an estimate of 80 questions, I could have gotten maybe ten right, and most of them were in spelling. In the arithmetic portion, and please remember my professional background is in math, I probably couldn’t have gotten one right. I love government and history, and it was embarrassing how many I had no clue; and wouldn’t have been able to guess without Googling the answer.
I have a master’s degree, have sat in the pinnacle of my career, and have a nice and healthy IQ. I was literally ashamed that an eighth grader (a thirteen year old by most systems today) could have trounced me so thoroughly. I have taken the citizenship test and passed, I have taken what seems like thousands of IQ tests and done really well, but ask me what war Lundy’s Lane was fought during and I literally couldn’t tell you. And even when you take the test, try to remember that the students didn’t just know the answers to these hard questions, they had to know much, much more. The Bullitt County Board of Education picked these questions out of thousands, millions they could have chosen; and these kids would have had to know all of it. (By the way, Lundy’s Lane or the Battle of Niagara Falls took place during the battle of the War or 1812).
There have been many comments about this test and others like it. There have been people railing about our school system today. I don’t know that it is all bad to be truthful. Don’t get me wrong, it is in no way close to being even fine, but there are things taught today that good or bad are a prevalent part of our society. How to find the answers, rather than the answers themselves. How to deal with a bully, a boss, a person who has less than you are all good lessons. In 1912, the students would have been from the exact same social set. They would have, for the most part, lived and died together (well, until the First World War.)
And we can’t as a society really blame teachers. I dare you to find a teacher who started teaching so they could mold young minds to take the standardized tests. I dare you to find a teacher who spent his/her whole life hoping to teach children to the dumbest level possible so that everyone could pass and the school would get funding. I dare you to find a teacher not frustrated, not worried about the next generation, and not wishing with all their hearts that they could teach a well-rounded, thorough and much-needed education.
And it is hard to blame parents. Especially since these days both parents practically have to work outside the home. While in 1912 the teachers and the mothers were required to be as bright or brighter than the children and available for the students, these days neither our school system (or the school system twenty, thirty years ago) allow us to be brighter. Of course, Google helps. And the economic situation we are in doesn’t allow most mothers or fathers to choose to stay at home and encourage the growth of their child’s brain.
I, for instance work, all day. I am exhausted when I get home, as is my husband. On top of that, while my child hasn’t learned much they have been stuck in a classroom learning how to take a standardized test all day. The children want to be outside, I and my husband want to allow them to be outside; all of this does not lead to a very conducive studying and learning period. Plus, someone in my home has to fix dinner so the children don’t starve. And then of course, kids have to take a bath, and quite frankly, I like to go to bed at a decent hour. It is no wonder my house is a disaster of epic proportions, some parts I wouldn’t let my mother walk anywhere near.
So where is the blame and where is the solution. The truth is our children will probably never be taught in a way that would allow them to pass the 1912 test. One day, they will be sitting at their computer, come across a resurrection of this story and marvel themselves that they couldn’t do it. Some will comment on the state of the education department, some will lament the roles moms and dads are forced to have; and some will shrug their shoulders and move on.
Just like today, no one will do anything about this. No one will question why and how we set ourselves up for this kind of failure. And honestly, because of this, and my own inability to single-handedly fix this, I will also teach my child how to find the answers, rather than the answers themselves. I will continue to plug learning the means and ways, rather than the whys and the whats. I will dream of a time when my child actually learns what happened and the effect it had on society, history, and the world; but resign myself to him at least learning what the capital of New Hampshire is.
There is no one to blame, and everyone to blame. We have allowed ourselves to become this society and the only person that can fix it is each of us. I don’t really have the time or energy to demand my child actually know how to figure out per cent, but maybe I will get bored and show him anyway. Until then, I will allow him to continue to learn standardized testing, I will feel sorry for the teachers who are stuck in a reality they never signed up for, and lament with other mothers the sheer amount of homework that children have and yet the lack of learning they are actually doing.
Michael Eriksson said:
I googled the test and found it quite interesting. However, I do not believe your cautious claim about the arithmetic—some of them were trivial and only two should have given anyone with a math background problems. (6 might require a formula and is too vaguely formulated, likely using a convention of language that I am not aware of. 10 requires non-mathematical knowledge of what a cord is. Some minor reservations for other unit conversions, e.g. how many feet there are in a mile.)
While I do not think very highly of the school of today, I would not see this test as depressing. Many of the questions simply reflect another time; others test things that are useless trivia and not necessarily something that schools should teach and test. (While yet others are legitimate.)
For some of my own writings on dumbing-down and other problems in the modern school, see http://www.aswedeingermany.de/50Humans/50IssuesRelatingToEducation.html
It has become this way b/c ppl are more concerned about how to make their school more money. I remember having to take the TAAS test in 2 or 3 different grades but it wasn’t a pass or fail the grade kind of thing like it is now. My poor cousin’s son was so distraught over how well he was doing with the test he made himself sick. I asked why and she replied with, “the teacher’s keep saying its the most important thing they will do all year.” Well, I think its a load of crap.
A main factor here is time. I think most of the arithmetic problems are doable (those that don’t involve unknown units, that is). This seems very much like the stuff I learned in my K-12 education, only in a different form. It’s really not so bad!
Raven Whyte said:
Something I just now remembered. In 1912 very few children were still in school after grade 5. Many were already in the work force by then.
Raven Whyte said:
Something that you may not have considered. Nowadays, we are required to learn about a lot more information that children had to know back then. The spelling is pretty much the same. At grade eight we have to know how to do a lot more than add and write whole numbers. We still teach the grammatical rules and geography, but as we grow older and specialize it is easy to forget these things from lack of use. History I cannot comment much on, as I do not even learn the same events that you would.
Think about it though….
If the questions about inventions were about computers, the likelihood of you knowing the answers would be much higher. There was a lot of relativity in those questions. If the geography questions asked you to name one crater on the moon, most adults in our world could likely do so. If the wars in the history questions had been WWII, Korean, or Vietnam war, it would not have seemed so hard.
Don’t be so hard on yourself. We have 100 more years of reality to learn about, and most kids can’t do it all in school now. Training for standardized tests is something some schools are great at doing, but learning how to learn is a life long skill. Repeating memorized material can seem like a good thing to do, but learning how to communicate is a skill that matters both in our development and, later, in our employment. Remember to take the space in time into perspective.
I must admit, I hate it that my third grader is being trained for the TCAP ALL SCHOOL YEAR LONG. He has a high IQ and loves to learn, but it seems to be my state’s goal to turn him into a standardized test robot.
Thank you for including this in your article.
Congratulations in being freshly pressed.
I completely agree that our education system has suffered greatly, as a result of things like “No child left behind,” the inability of one parent in a couple to stay home, and other such things. One thing that must also be examined when comparing the current education system to that of 1912 is how drastically different American society was at that time. For example, in 1912, education was not a federally controlled system. All states had compulsory education laws, but only required attendance up to age 14. Because there was no national curricular standard, the requirements varied by state and district. Further, there really wasn’t any legal consequence for children who dropped out of school younger than 14; this was especially true in more rural areas. Those who continued with school were required to know the things outlined on that test because they were likely aiming for teaching, politics, or some other profession that would have required vast and widely varied knowledge to be reputable. You did mention that all the children would be of the same socio-economic background, which is absolutely true. The diversity of our school system now makes it so difficult to teach in a way that children would be able to successfully take that test. Keep up the good work!
Your writing displays a truthful and sharp image of your persona and I think that is fantastic. As I was reading, I could imagine the kind of person you are!
I also noticed that, as I was reading, I was recognizing a lot of thoughts that I also have. The education system is in a rough state and yet everyone wants to blame somebody else. We all need to take responsibility and focus on what really needs to be changed for us to get back on track.
I’ll be following this blog from here on and I hope you can check out my blog and see if it’s worthwhile to follow as well!
Jane Demajio said:
Gawd that’s awful
I want to drown my son’s iPod in the toilet right now
You speak the truth.
I saw that test and I took it and passed, not with flying colours, but I got 70%. Grammar I had trouble with because I didn’t understand the exact questions,and civil government because I am not a U.S. citizen and never learned a lot of them. The rest wasn’t that hard, but once again I will state I was not raised in the U.S. education system. The U.S. education system has become very myopic and only teaches things from their current political perspective and even then dumbs it down to the lowest common denominator.
Fresh Ginger said:
I am so frustrated with the state of the US public education process right now. My son is four and we are considering private options (which we cannot afford) to help make it better for him. On the other hand, I’m not sure we can afford to do anything other than find a better way for him. Public education stinks.
Pingback: A Soap Box | The Truth Ache | The Sundries of Life's Experience
Its certainly food for thought, isnt it? I grew up in a part of the world where studies and academic brilliance has always been based on how well we would memorize the study material. In fact even today, more stress is placed on how much you can reproduce at the examination. The application level of the knowledge, so painfully memorized is forgotten. To me, its not about knowing the answers or knowing where to look for it, it is about application. If I can train my kids to apply the knowledge they have aptly and at the appropriate situation and time, then I consider my work done. The problem we have today is that we have all the knowledge at our finger tips, yet we fail to use it wisely. If only we could just find a way around it..
climbing bean said:
Interesting thoughts. I wonder about the kinds of lives children (and parents, and teachers!) had in those days. Certainly there was a lot more emphasis on book-knowledge, learning by rote, and sometimes that’s not such a bad thing… and the world for which they were being prepared was very different to the one which our children will one day face. But as you say, there are always the same challenges, no matter what time will live in.
I was just thinking about how women back then managed to spend quality time with their children? My children are still very young (the youngest is almost 1 year old) and I find that my days are very full, trying to do all the washing, cooking meals, putting clothes away, cleaning up and running errands, and that’s with all the modern conveniences, plus a car! I still find it difficult to sit down with each one and discuss their days, and homework is something that happens for a few minutes each morning! (Of course, parents in 1912 didn’t have the internet to distract them, either! Haha) I don’t even know how we’ll cope when I start work again. I guess you always find a way.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this. And congratulations on being Freshly Pressed!
Janae's Fallgirl Shepherd said:
Valid points, the more well rounded teaching as possible too – on top of everything from homework to the research is important, and doing that well is key… hey sometimes a soap box becomes necessary. Very nice set up of your blog too, have a great weekend(“-“)
I like how you don’t simply dismiss the importance of learning facts. The skills to search the right answers are important. But to make connections between facts and create new original ideas, you can’t just open a bunch of website on your screen. It’s only when you’ve really mastered the information that you own it and are allowed to make something interesting out of it.
We don’t have standardised tests in Belgium. It’s easy to see why large organizations like the government like them so much. But I’ve been hearing more and more about these negative consequences…
Kami Tilby said:
Feels like being hit in the gut. What wrenching truth you write. Heartbreakingly real and sad. I wish there were easy answers. I wish there were answers of any kind.
Reblogged this on The Road.
Well said. It’s not an easy problem to find solutions, too. I agree that is a yarn-ball of a mess from all parts of society. It’s the world we’ve created and the world we have to deal with and live in. As a teacher, I really appreciate your perspective! Thank you.
Thank you for all you do as a teacher. I think that our teachers don’t get half the credit they absolutely deserve for all they do. As a mother, and once a student, I find that teachers are truly one of life’s greatest gifts. Every time you have that one child that you can help to make great, remember there are people like me, who are simply thankful.
Thank you for the sincere encouragement. We don’t often see the fruit of our labor, but it is so rewarding when you see former students grow up into fine adults! And many do, even the most trying ones! Thank you again!
You are ‘spot-on’ with this commentary!
“No child left behind,” has created an educational farce for all the world to see. By assuring we dumb ourselves down we insure that others outside of this country will trample us beneath our own undoings.
We spend more and get even less.
Reblogged this on thepirateslink.
silver linings shine said:
well not to be arrogant but i thought the test was like any other school test i have given. Maybe it’s because i belong to a third world country. i knew even the grammar and reading part even though English is not my native language. The arithmetic portion was pretty standard i learned all this earlier than eight grade. but still, considering an eight grader studied for this is a little tough but it doesn’t deserve the ‘o’s and ah’s’ its getting from high school students.
What Happens to Us said:
You’re in the trenches, so you’re knowledgeable about these problems. However, I wonder if kids in 1912 were learning through rote and memorization rather than by encouraging them to think, whereas today, thinking for oneself is more freely encouraged. (Teaching to the test works against that, I would suspect.) Just a thought from an uninformed fellow blogger.
Rodica Iova said:
Thank you for this interesting post. I remember looking at my dad for answers: he never graduated a college, but he had the school of life. He knew Geography, History, Math, Literature, Science…I admired him so much for being so eager in self educating. In the country I came from everybody worked 8 hours and 20 minutes. My parents would be at home around 3pm. How cool was that! Our life was full of family time and projects to do together because we had time. Now that’s not the case anymore. And that’s so sad for the children,for their parents, for the relationship between husband and wife. I was telling my adult children a while ago that if I would have my own business, my employees would work 7 hours and would be paid 8. At 4pm everybody would go home. And that would be for the sake of our families.
Hilariously, there is a misspelling in the spelling portion of the test. “Eneeavor” should be “endeavor.” There are several other typos, too. Makes me feel superior for a moment.
I think I did pretty well. As a writer, hiker/traveler, and health nut, I kicked ass on the spelling, grammar, geography, and physiology questions. Government always bored me to tears, so I only knew about a third of the answers. History, to me, is something I never condemned myself to repeat by studying it at any great length, so practically zero there.
The math was interesting. The syntax and symbols back then were definitely different than today’s–so different, in fact, that I often wasn’t sure if I was looking at a number or another typo. (What is “21-4 miles” exactly? 21 different segments of 4 miles each? 2 1/4 miles? 21.4 miles? 214 miles? Was the secretary typing this drunk at the time?) I still use a lot of math in order to survive at the supermarket, so I would encourage you to acquaint your tadpole with how to at least find the best deal on frozen pizzas. He’ll use that one all through college.
The only way today’s children would be expected to know the location of Servia, Greece, is if there was a massive earthquake that killed thousands during ratings week, a Kardashian married and divorced a native, or oil was suddenly discovered in the middle of the town and a war broke out over it that directly affected U.S. commerce. (sigh)
I also saw the test and took it. I am a former teacher now retired with over thirty years in the field. I taught at the middle school level at a variety of schools. I have a Masters and a fair IQ. What the test does not stress is all that has gone on from 1912. No World War Two, No war period, Vietnam did not exist to those students, neither did television or a cell phone or a computer. Just as we are barely literate in their world they would find themselves illiterate in ours. I have blogged on this subject and would love you to tell me what you think of some of my work. Sincerely, A fellow educator.
Well written and a good commentary on todays society! Teaching a child how to find the answer is the best possible resource that you can give them because the questions are always changing! Have a great day.