Thursday, December 22, 2005

The Inlander gets it wrong

An interesting story ran on the last page of the most recent Inlander. It is titled "Grandpa's WASL," and it shows an exam given to eighth graders in Salina, KS in 1895. It asks questions such as:

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, 1865.

Wow, that exam sounds really tough. I guess we are total idiots these days, and the modern education system is in shambles. In the words of EWU professor Robert McGinty, the author of this article, "A century ago, you probably couldn't have even graduated from eighth grade."

The problem is, this test is probably hogwash, according to snopes.com and truthorfiction.com.

While snopes.com disputes the intent behind the exam, truthorfiction.com gets very specific about the exam's authenticity. TorF does note that the exam is actually from the Smokey Valley Genealogical Society in Salina, Kansas, and was published in the Salina Journal newspaper. However, the exam appears to not have been intended for eighth graders. The site has published scans of the original exam, and nowhere is eighth grade mentioned. However, the exam appears aimed at "applicants." This, coupled with questions such as, "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?" leads the site to believe it was a test for "newly graduated teachers or teacher applicants."

Furthermore, snopes.com mentions that students taking the exam did HORRIBLY:

"As Joseph Crosby, the man who created the English Grammar and Orthography sections of this exam, wrote to a friend in 1876:
'I gave them a pretty severe test in Grammar, and some of them did make terrible work of it. One young lady said the singular of "Swine" was "pigs", another "a hog". One being asked to give me the past tense of "I lie down" said "I lied", which she certainly did. Out of some 30 or 35 words I gave them to spell, not over 10 were spelled correctly by any one, several missed on all but 5 or 6 -- Yet they blushed & tried so hard to do well -- and many were graduates of the High School -- that I was sorry for them. I had no idea that graduates could be so ignorant.'"


So, a professor and a newspaper publish an article of dubious authenticity. So what? As snopes.com writes, "it's supposed to be documentary evidence of how shockingly our educations have declined over the last century or so. Why, most adults couldn't muster a passing score on this test today, people think; that mere schoolkids were expected to pass it is proof that the typical school curriculum has been steeply "dumbed down" over the years, pundits claim."

It's just not true.

According to snopes.com, this exam has been circulating via email since 1999, plenty of time for people to evaluate its authenticity. A cursory search on Google would have cast doubt on the exam's authenticity. Maybe next issue, the Inlander will publish a groundbreaking story about how to get rich allowing Nigerians to use your bank account to transfer money.

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