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.