Monday, February 26, 2007

What's Happened to Basic Education?

I am still amazed when the grocery store cashier cannot count the change due me or the electrician's helper cannot spell words like 'circuit' or 'customer'. I'm troubled enough these days by the lack of civility and friendliness from one person to another, but how does someone manage to graduate from 8th grade, let alone high school, without basic skills?
This is the eighth-grade final exam from 1895 in Salina, KS, USA. It was taken from the original document on file at the Smokey Valley Genealogical Society and Library in Salina, KS, and reprinted by the Salina Journal. If you had any doubt educational demands have slipped and our fund of knowledge has pummulted, here's all the evidence you need. Clearly, an 8th grade education is not what it used to be! Jeez.

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, lay, and run
5. Define Case, Illustrate each Case.
6. What is Punctuation? Give rules for principal marks of Punctuation.
7. Write a composition of about 150 words and show therein that you >understand the practical use of the rules of grammar.

Arithmetic (Time, 1.25 hours)

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 3942 lbs ., what is it worth at 5 0cts/bushel, deducting 1050lbs. for tare?
4. 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?
5. Find cost of 6720 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 meter?
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 around 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, >and 1865.

Orthography (Time, one hour)

1. What is meant by the following: Alphabet, phonetic, orthography, etymology, and syllabication?
2. What are elementary sounds? How classified?
3. What are the following, and give examples of each: Trigraph, sub vocals, diphthong, cognate letters, and linguals?
4. Give four substitutes for caret 'u'.
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 & Orinoco.
6. Name and locate the principal trade centers of the U.S.
7. 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.

This exam took five hours to complete. I admit there are questions where I haven't a clue.
But it gives new meaning to my father's 8th grade education.
What's happened to us? What does a high school diploma represent?


  1. Well, the end terms (what has to be known when finishing school) and are they reached, is a big issue here in Flanders. To announce the results of an investigation and discussion in the newspaper, funny ads were made. I only remember this one : Who is Leonardo Da Vinci ? He is a handsome actor and he was so great in the "Titanic".

  2. Oh please do not get me started! First, Si habla Espanol? Where is the Spanish version of these tests? We won't have them because I doubt if some of the current teachers will pass this tests. Politically correct institutionalized and legalized processes have lowered our standards all because interest groups want equal results when it should have been equal access based on skills not on quotas.

    It's not just high school. What about college? Charles Murray author of the Bell curve had a great editorial in the Wall Street Journal last week entitled "What's Worng With Vocational Education". In it he stated that too much emphasis is placed on college education that students with an IQ of 100 barely scrape by. They can't even learn logic reasoning because it takes a higher IQ to process logic. So we have an overflow of college graduates who have no analystical and critical thinking skills. The gist of the editorial was actually a praise for vocational education. We no longer have specialists and tradesmen because society has placed too much emphasis on a college degree just for the sake of having one.

    At any rate the "Dumbing Down of America" (Harolf Bloom) is indeed true. We are enundated by low skilled, low IQ populace.

  3. Dear KJ, let me put it this way: I am worried that it is with you in the USA the same as here in the Netherlands (and in the rest of Europe I reckon). For instance the Dutch language: this is rather complicated compared to e.g. English, but when I was 12 years I did not make many mistakes while writing. It was considered very important to know your own language in the fifties/early sixties. And we had to read a lot of books and know a little about a lot. We were not supposed to talk much and my generation was not used to speak in public. But I am shocked to learn what the children really know these days. Yes, they are very handy with their mouth and apparatus and computers. They know 'Google' and how to find facts and pictures. But knowledge in the way you mean.... :-(

  4. I was wondering why a friend of mine who lives in New Jersey suddenly wants her kids to be educated in the Phils. And it's not just in the US. My friend from Australia also wants to go back. I still don't know the answer. I've always thought that education in the US is way better than here.

    Then again, most Filipino students do very well in US high schools. My cousins who studied here then went there say school is much harder in the Philippines than in the US.

  5. I couldn't answer many of those questions and I have a Ph.D. But it's a complicated issue (aren't they all?). Information has become increasingly specialized, science has advanced immeasurably - it's so much harder to fit in a gernalized knowledge set. I think about how facile my own kids are with computers - that wasn't even an issue when I was in school. I think education is more polarized now, with some kids learning an incrdibly rich array of information nad others simply getting passed from grade to grade to move them through the system. And then there is a political twist to all this - our current administration actively encourages a lack of respect for science - what will that do to our culture in the long run? It's troubling to be sure, but I don't think its as easy as saying that kids a century ago got a better education. In some ways, yes, in other ways lots of rote memorization. I'd like to see more teaching of critical thought - that would make a world of difference.

  6. I worry that someday Charlotte and Iris will ask me to help with their homework ... and I'll be no help at all! :)

  7. thanks everyone. this is a topic with alot of sides and undercurrents. csl said almost everything that i believe too. and ces is right about inferiority of vocational education. and one has to wonder how american schools really do measure up to their international counterparts.

    menchie, sometimes i wish i better understood the basic magic of the philippines. i have learned SO much from you and ces and maria and sidney.

  8. I can't remember the last time I saw an exam paper but this one is quite hard!
    I think education has been watered down over the years and the emphasis on being totally correct has been replaced by a lenient acceptance of mediocrity...

  9. As I feel quite dumb now reading the test I was thinking of how knowledge manifests in us. Do you, for example, grow up with the rules and incorporate them to a degree where your outlet is good, but the memory of the sheer rule has gone? Does knowledge become part intuition? (I can mostly tell arithmetic things by intuition whereas when I truly need to calculate I have harder times.)

    I saw a cute clip of an old man (90) returning to his former school in Berlin. He visits a class of Six Graders and asks them what a circle is. They all look buffed. He then recites the definition just like a poem and everyone is stunned, including the teacher.

    My Grandmother knows more poems from her school days than my father.
    My father knows more poems from his school days than his daughter.

    I think the amount of things we have to learn today leaves less space for the basics. Perhaps everyone is so afraid to miss the breadth that the depth is put behind. In my work last year I was amazed at all the things school kids are stimulated and entertained with and wondered if that makes them smarter or just more confused.

    But then the question also is, what is Basic Education? Is it a never-changing landscape of facts and formulas? Or do we adapt the education the same way everything else develops, too. Computers at all sizes support us dealing with those things. Why would I need to press my brain if I can push the computer button? Would Basic Education be more of learning the Soft Skills these days? Or as csl says the teaching of critical thought?

  10. Being educated once mean't having the mental capacity to recall information from a vast depository of deciphered and categorised knowledge that you had accumulated in your noggin.
    Now kids can find an answer to almost anything in 15 seconds by googling it.
    Kids who txtmsg everything don't know a grerund from an errand..they think that a dangling participle is another word for even basic language is being modified to accomodate this situation.
    I am not sure where this dumbing down will all end up..I call it VAPID TRANSIT...but it is ironic that with all of this information at their fingertips this generation will be unable to use it!
    Information versus knowledge