Friday, April 3, 2009

Here...Have an intellectual cookie. It’s on me.

I originally meant to send this message exclusively to my parents (You know who you are, my Midwestern peeps.), but I found the topic too interesting to withhold from my almost ten off-and-on followers.

So grab a glass of milk, ‘cause here comes an intellectual cookie.

Dear Mom and Dad,

I have always firmly believed e-mail forwards are despicable things that take up space in my inbox and give me the brief and false impression that someone cares enough to write me an actual e-mail. Which tempts me into a tangential discussion of the “lost art of letter writing” to the terse electronic advents of text messaging, Facebook, and Twitter, but I think I’ll spare you.

So rather than just “forward” her message, I wanted to discuss something my company’s Senior Admin decided to forward to the rest of us, the groundling secretaries, this morning. I don't know who gave it to her. Heaven only knows who sent the original document, some millions of forwards ago. But back to my original point...

Somebody out there found a copy of an 8th grade final exam from 1895. And in light of the fact that I am a former public educator and aspiring university professor/graduate student, and because both of you are educated educators, if not by profession, at least in practice, I thought you might want to take a peek at an interesting pedagogical find.

[Please pause to review the attached Exam below.]

I can honestly say I wouldn't be able to answer half of those exam questions without some extremely intense weeks of study and contextual training. But I want you to notice how the questions are posed. Yes, they do require a buttload of memorized information, which I kind of expected considering the period and nature of late 19th century pedagogy. Yet, what strikes me as particularly mindboggling is how they ask the student to substantiate their answers.

Can either of you ever recall meeting a thirteen-year-old who was capable of taking the information they were taught in the public school system and using it to create original, detailed, and fleshed out intellectual expression?

Forgive my candid cynicism and utter lack of faith, but I sure as hell never have. I remember being thirteen, and I couldn’t even zip up my own pants consistently.

Take for example question #10 of the Grammar exam:

“Write a composition of about 150 words and show therein that you understand the practical use of the rules of grammar.”

I will bet my next month’s salary that students taking this exam in 1895 would never dream of approaching the exam administrator, let alone asking stupid questions like, “Um. What do you mean by ‘show’ the rules of grammar?” Or, “What does ‘therein’ even mean?”

Also notice how most items in the Grammer, History, and Geography sections are posed as essay questions. When I taught 9th grade English, I was still reviewing what basic grammatical components make up a complete sentence, and what information constituted a paragraph. I can’t imagine more than a few pupils of mine being capable of writing coherent answers to these questions. And can you imagine having to grade 220 exams like this? I would kill the students; then I would kill myself.

So what’s my point with all of this? I guess my point is education has completely changed since the advent of uniform, streamline, public education came into existence, and I’m trying to figure out why. You got any insight?

Let me know.


8th Grade Final Exam 1895

This is the eighth-grade final exam from 1895 in Salina, Kansas, USA. It was taken from the original document on file at the Smokey Valley Genealogical Society and Library in Salina, and reprinted by the Salina Journal.
8th Grade Final Exam: Salina, KS - 1895

Grammar (Time, one hour)
1. Give nine rules for the use of capital letters.
2. Name the parts of speech and define those that have no modifications.
3. Define verse, stanza, and paragraph
4. What are the principal parts of a verb? Give principal parts of 'lie,''play,' and 'run.'
5. Define case; illustrate each case.
6. What is punctuation? Give rules for principal marks of punctuation.
7 - 10. Write a composition of about 150 words and show therein that you understand the practical use of the rules of grammar.

Arithmetic (Time, 1 hour 15 minutes)
1. Name and define the Fundamental Rules of Arithmetic.
2. A wagon box is 2 ft.Deep, 10 feet long, and 3 ft. Wide. How many bushels of wheat will it hold?
3. If a load of wheat weighs 3,942 lbs.what is it worth at 50cts/bushel, deducting 1,050 lbs. For tare?
4. District No33 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?
5. Find the cost of 6,720 lbs. Coal at $6.00 per ton.
6. Find the interest of $512.60 for 8 months and 18 days at 7 percent.
7. What is the cost of 40 boards 12 inches wide and 16 ft. Long at $20 per metre?
8. Find bank discount on $300 for 90 days (no grace) at 10 percent.
9. What is the cost of a square farm at $15 per acre, the distance of which is 640 rods?
10. Write a Bank Check, a Promissory Note, and a Receipt.

U.S. History (Time, 45 minutes)
1. Give the epochs into which U.S. History is divided.
2. Give an account of the discovery of America by Columbus.
3. Relate the causes and results of the Revolutionary War.
4. Show the territorial growth of the United States.
5. Tell what you can of the history of Kansas.
6. Describe three of the most prominent battles of the Rebellion.
7. Who were the following: Morse, Whitney, Fulton, Bell, Lincoln, Penn, and Howe?
8. Name events connected with the following dates: 1607, 1620, 1800, 1849, 1865.

Orthography (Time, one hour) [Do we even know what this is??]
1. What is meant by the following: alphabet, phonetic, orthography, etymology, syllabication?
2. What are elementary sounds? How classified?
3. What are the following and give examples of each: trigraph, subvocals, diphthong, cognate letters, linguals & nbsp;
4. Give four substitutes for caret 'u.' [HUH?]
5. Give two rules for spelling words with final 'e.' Name two exceptions under each rule.
6. Give two uses of silent letters in spelling. Illustrate each.
7. Define the following prefixes and use in connection with a word: bi, dis-mis, pre, semi, post, non, inter, mono, sup.
8. 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.
9. Use the following correctly in sentences: cite, site, sight, fane, fain, feign, vane , vain, vein, raze, raise, rays.
10. Write 10 words frequently mispronounced and indicate pronunciation by use of diacritical marks and by syllabication.

Geography (Time, one hour)
1 What is climate? Upon what does climate depend?
2. How do you account for the extremes of climate in Kansas?
3. Of what use are rivers? Of what use is the ocean?
4. Describe the mountains of North America.
5. Name and describe the following: Monrovia, Odessa, Denver, Manitoba, Hecla, Yukon, St. Helena, Juan Fernandez, Aspinwall, and Orinoco.
6. Name and locate the principal trade centers of the U.S. Name all the republics of Europe and give the capital of each.
8. Why is the Atlantic Coast colder than the Pacific in the same latitude?
9. Describe the process by which the water of the ocean returns to the sources of rivers.
10. Describe the movements of the earth. Give the inclination of the earth.

Notice that the exam took FIVE HOURS to complete.

1 comment:

Marissa and Scott Bunker said...

I'm feeling particularly dumb right now. What happened to us?