Are You As Smart As An 1895 8th Grader ???

One of the things that I do is to provide after-school tutoring for students not doing well in reading and mathematics. It is extremely disheartening to see high school students reading and spelling and performing math at low elementary grade levels. However, it is also encouraging to know that virtually any student can be assisted with proper remediation education.

As I am a researcher I enjoy surfing the web to discover new and old facts, ideas, opinions, etc. In the area of education, I ran across something several years ago that I think will amaze anyone. It is the final exam for 8th grade students in Salina Kansas – from 1895.

Believe me, I was not prepared for the questions on this exam.

Here is one example, the first question in the one-hour Grammar portion:

Give nine rules for the use of capital letters.

A question from the 45 minute section on U.S. History:

Who were the following: Morse, Whitney, Fulton, Bell, Lincoln, Penn, and Howe?

That one is slightly easier but many people cannot correctly identify each of the individuals named.

How about one more from the one-hour Geography section:

What is climate? Upon what does climate depend?

How did you do with these three 1895 8th grade questions?

Would you like to attempt the full five-plus hour exam. Here is a link to one site that has the questions and also, on another page, provides the answers.

I have given this exam to individuals with doctorates in education, masters degrees in business, attorneys, medical doctors, politicians, and others and no one has scored much higher than 50% correct, if that (even taking into account a few obviously outdated questions). Some even gave up!

So, why am I posting this you may be wondering…

Well, we, as a Nation, are becoming less smart. It has been happening over the last century very gradually.

Is that a problem?

Yes, in many ways. One of the most prominent is that illiteracy, for one, drastically affects us economically.

The American Library Association estimates that illiteracy costs America over $225 Billion annually in crime, welfare payments, lost taxes, job incompetence and remedial education. A study by the National Institute of Justice strongly suggests that illiteracy is a primary cause of crime, with estimates that well over 65% of adults in prison are functionally or marginally illiterate and that 85% of juvenile offenders have problems with reading, writing and basic math.

In future blogs, I will take up the history of reading and how, from the research I have done, it appears we ended up in this mess. And, yes it is a mess. We keep throwing billions upon billions of dollars trying to fix the problem when what we really need to do is get early education back to basics.

A final note: Taking that 1895 8th grade final exam from Salina, KS, gave new meaning to the expression, “My grandparents only had an 8th grade education.”

Over for now,

Main Street One