Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Public Schools: Salina Kansas revisited


Or at least Snopes thinks so. Snopes debunks the 1895 Salina exam, but then gives "a certification examination for prospective teachers, prepared by the Examiners of Teachers for the Public Schools in Zanesville, Ohio, in the late 1870s". You’ll notice that the Zanesville test is every bit as difficult (for us, today, at least) as the Salina test. Snopes does not actually say where the Salina Urban Legend came from. And whoever wrote the Snopes article was giving his personal opinion. Maybe there WAS such a test in 1895 in Salina, Kansas.

The point of the Salina test article is that we don’t know as much as 8th graders did in 1895. Snopes says that isn’t so, but then backpedals by showing us the Zanesville test, which sure seems to be saying we don't know as much.

In spite of these things, the Snopes article does bring up some good points.

First, could you or I pass the tests our own 8th graders have to take today? I don’t know if they even give "final" exams in the 8th grade today, but if they do the answer to that question might be interesting.

Second, maybe the test merely looks hard to us older folks because we’ve been out of school for so many years. Snopes says, "If a 40-year-old can't score as well on a geography test as a high school student who just spent several weeks memorizing the names of all the rivers in South America in preparation for an exam, that doesn't mean the 40-year-old's education was woefully deficient — it means the he simply didn't retain information for which he had no use, no matter how thoroughly it was drilled into his brain through rote memory some twenty-odd years earlier."

I sure wish I were 40 again. But I digress...

Third, as Snopes points out, "the questions on this exam don't reflect only items of "basic knowledge" — many of the questions require the test-taker to have absorbed some very specialized information, and if today's students can't regurgitate all the same facts as their 1895 counterparts, it's because the types of knowledge we consider to be important have changed a great deal in the last century, not necessarily because today's students have sub-standard educations."

Snopes then lists some things we would have on our tests today that are missing from the Salina exam: questions about the arts, the greatest works of English literature, algebra, geometry, and maybe even trigonometry. There would be questions about world history, as well as questions about our own government and institutions. There would be a huge difference in the number and type of science questions. There would probably be questions that would require some foreign language competence. An 1895 Salina, Kansas 8th grader wouldn’t be able to pass our test any more than we could pass his.

Snopes goes on to ask, "would it be fair to say that the average Salina student was woefully undereducated because he failed to learn many of the things that we consider important today, but which were of little importance in his time and place? If not, then why do people keep asserting that the reverse is true?"

Well then, how are our public schools doing today? It will come as NO surprise to most people when I say our system of education has serious problems. In my previous article I mentioned the family and our entertainment industry as root causes. If you are having trouble reading this blog you'll have to put down your TV remote or your can of beer so you can use the mouse. One or the other. I'll have more to say. Stay tuned.


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