Every now and then, I get emailed this sort of thing, usually accompanied by much hemming and hawing about how hard it is, and how kids today couldn't do it because schools have been "dumbed down" so much. Here's a copy of the exam, preceded by the typical "our schools today suck!" comments (I've copied it straight from my email, and there are some parenthetical comments in there that aren't mine):( Eighth Grade exam from 1895 )
Whenever I get one of these, I always wonder if it's comepletely accurate -- you never know. I haven't looked up the source. But the language is a bit archaic, which lends credibility. The other things that make it seem 100 years old are the emphasis on practical "town and country" mathematics. Nothing beyond arithmetic, nothing that isn't just computation, nothing that requires any sort of algebraic or creative thinking.
The questions in the other topics are also telling. There aren't any "Why?" questions, really; they all ask the student to state memorized rules, and maybe to provide an example. Nothing asks the student to explain, or to extrapolate, or to justify. The history questions ask student to recite facts, not to explain why events were significant, or what political and social factors brought them about. There is a geography question asking "Of what use are rivers?", which is extremely
telling! (Back to the whole "God gave the earth to man to use" philosophy of environmentalism, which has got us where we are today.)
There isn't any science. The only free writing the student is asked to do is to write a 150-word paragraph. That's about the length of an abstract, maybe 6 sentences. That's what we expect of second graders these days.
The thing that always gets me about how these are sent around is that there is an implied message that we have "dumbed down" schools since then, that this material is somehow hard and something kids today couldn't do. But this material isn't hard! It just relies on rote memorization of many things we no longer force kids in schools to memorize. For example, we don't force kids to memorize so many explicit language rules anymore because it was shown that such things didn't improve their writing and reading. It was a pointless exercise.
isn't about being able to spout trivia on command. True understanding
isn't demonstrated by reciting facts and computing the answers to arithmetic word problems. There is no critical thinking here. There's no synthesis of ideas. There's no applications of ideas to new situations. There's nothing in this test that reflects what we consider to be evidence of actual learning and understanding, today
The mathematics eighth graders do today is so far beyond what was required 100 years ago! Those folks would be stunned to learn that we now expect all kids (and yes, that includes the non-white ones and the female ones) to be ready for algebra at the end of eighth grade. We expect them to have mastered proportional reasoning, and to know how to apply many of the basic ideas of Euclidean geometry. There is none of that in this test.
So what if kids today couldn't pass this exam? They can do far more complex things, they can solve problems, they can think creatively and sift through large amounts of information very quickly, and so much more. The kids from 100 years ago wouldn't be able to pass our
exams, either. And, frankly, I think ours are better!
So why does this always bother people? Why do they think education has gotten worse
over the last 100 years? The only answer I can come up with is that they themselves don't understand what it really means to learn or know something, what the purpose of schooling is, or what the activities of learning should be. But I'm sick of getting this email, I can tell you that.ETA:
I posted this on math_teachers
too, and someone there looked it up at Urban Legends
. It looks like the exam is indeed real, but the author of the entry also explains why such things don't imply our educational standards have fallen. :-D