Saturday, February 26, 2011

End Of The Century Blues (19th Century Edition)

I saw this interesting look at what 8th graders were expected to know in 1895. I just wonder at what the acceptable answer was for this question:

2. How do you account for the extremes of climate in Kansas?

Rampant horse and buggy use?

Also, look at this question:

5. Name and describe the following: Monrovia, Odessa, Denver, Manitoba, Hecla, Yukon, St. Helena, Juan Fermandez [sic], Aspinwall and Orinoco.

Forget 8th graders, today zero percent of college graduates could answer this. I cannot answer it either - I'd never heard of Hecla (and, even after trying to look it up, I'm not sure which Hecla they are referring to, the small town on the South Dakota/North Dakota border, the small town in Montana now designated a ghost town, or the uninhabited island in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago.)

Thank goodness we live in an age where not knowing any, what are they called.... oh yeah, facts, is considered a sign of progress.


Evidently, Hecla is Hekla, which would make it an Icelandic volcano. OK, that makes it a little more doable.


Tully said...

Um, I wouldn't rely too heavily on that exam. While it was indeed published in Salina in 1895 there is considerable doubt that it was intended for 8th graders and not for graduating-teacher applicants who wanted jobs with the district.

Rich Horton said...

Actually Tully, I don't think so. The owners of the document,Smoky Valley Genealogical Society, have stated, "The names of the children who took the exam and their scores are on file in the Saline County Courthouse." The original document itself seems pretty clear that this is an application for graduation, not a job. I think the teacher angle came about by some people misreading the Snopes entry on this. ( Which used, by point of comparison, an 1870's teacher application. There is no comparison. The teacher application is far more advanced. Take the arithmatic part:

1. Define integer, fraction, interest, discount, power, and root.

There is nothing like "power" or "root" on the Salinas exam.

There also was nothing as involved as this:

Give the rule for obtaining the difference of time, having the difference of longitude, and vice versa, and give the reasons for the rule.

NOtice also that in the Snopes example the applicant was asked to "correct" sentences, something a teacher would be expected to do, while the Salinas exam has not a single example.

Given what I have seen so far, I'm prone to think the exam is exactly what it is said to be.

Tully said...

I've seen the original and am well aware of the ongoing debate. I'd suggest that despite the assurances of the SVGS, they do not have an actual link between said exam and said school records other than the suggestion of the exam author's descendants who provided them with the exam a century later.

Even if it is the actual exam used (which is certainly possible but not proven) that's not what they would have been expected to know, but what they had to know enough of to graduate with certification -- a much higher bar in those days. High school was simply not available in those days*, 8th grade was the max offered and many graduates were 16 or older. (*-- in 1895 KS the Barnes High School Law was still a decade in the future)

Assuming this was the exam for graduation, these would be questions covering the actual subjects the students studied in class, not general knowledge questions. Had either of us spent our time in that classroom, we'd probably be pretty well acquainted with the material before attempting the exam. But I would no more expect someone today to be familiar with the 1895 curricula than I would expect the people of 1895 to be familiar with, say, the details of the last few classes you or I have taken.

Lastly, do note that we've ZERO info on what the actual graduation (or attendance!) rate was from the district. "Compulsory attendance" in 1895 KS meant that kids in the 8-14 age bracket had to attend 12 weeks of school a year (" ... of which six weeks must be consecutive ... ") and most did the bare minimum.

Rich Horton said...

OK, as to what it means, that is a different question. But I don't see a compelling reason to believe the document isn't what it says it is.

All I know is I get kids fresh from the hands of the high schools in this country and they don't know the language, in its written form at least. They all seem to "know" that the problem with the United States is we use "first past the post" and not a "PR" system, though they also have never heard of The Federalist Papers so they don't know what to say about Madison's arguments concerning faction. (Literally. I asked 40+ students the other day who had read Fed. #10 - not one of them had.) Most of them are bigots. They have been taught someone else's prejudices and how to make them their own, but not how to evaluate these things for themselves. That is part of the reason I like the idea of having students explain something, as opposed to picking the right answer on a multiple choice exam. Kids today can fake coherence. I think it would be a lot more difficult to do on teh Salinas exam.