Ladies and Gentlemen:
Below is a synopsis of my friend, David Barton and his analysis of early education and the degree of academic rigor involved. While I have never met Mr. Barton, I consider him a friend. He speaks academic truth in this synopsis. Carefully read his thoughts about education in the 1800’s and see how tests from those days had much more academic rigor than we currently have. jim
Four Centuries of American Education by David Barton
America is now entering its fifth century of educating students. For every generation throughout the 17th, 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries, providing and obtaining a good education has been a major emphasis; it was that way when the first colonists arrived here four centuries ago, and that goal remains unchanged today in the 21st century. But by what standard should a good education be measured? While some would measure it only by technological advances, it should also be measured by the content a student has learned and by how well that student has been taught to think and to reason. Unfortunately, although the technological advances over the past fifty years have been significant, there is abundant evidence that the cognitive advances have lagged far behind.
Early Academic Standards
Consider, for example, some of the fourth grade questions from an 1862 geography test in Chicago public schools:
How many degrees of longitude are there?
How many degrees wide are the temperate zones?
What is a watershed?
While these questions were reflective of basic fourth grade knowledge in 1862, today this material is studied only in much higher grades, if at all. Consider also the basic math content of previous generations. Arithmetic was one of the most popular elementary math texts in early American schools; notice some of its questions:
I insured 2/3 of a shop worth $3600, and 4/5 of a house worth $6000, paying $126: what was the rate of insurance?
How much money must be given with nine $100 shares at 15% discount, in exchange for eight $100 bonds at 2% discount? 2
These were elementary math problems during the 1860s!
Consider also the math problems from an 1877 mental math text (that is, a text in which students solved the problems mentally no pencil or paper allowed):
A boat worth $864 of which 1/8 belonged to A, 1/4 to B, and the rest to C was lost; what loss did each sustain, it having been insured for $500?
On a farm, there are 60 animals horses, cows, and sheep; for each horse there are 3 cows, and for each cow there are 2 sheep: how many animals of each kind? 3
If 7 men can do a piece of work in 4 days, in what time can it be done if 3 of the men leave when the work is half completed? 4
These were mental math problems for elementary students in 1877!
Consider the questions in an 1882 history text:
What is a writ of habeas corpus?
What is a bill of attainder?
What is an ex-post-facto law?
Enumerate the powers denied to the several States.
What are bills of credit?
How many of today’s elementary students or, for that matter, how many adults in this so-called modern and advanced age could answer these questions from a century ago?
One final example of the educational rigor of previous generations is illustrated by the Federalist Papers.
Written in 1787-1788 by three prominent Founding Fathers (James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay) to explain why a federal Constitution was needed, even today this work is still considered the single most authoritative source on the intent of the Constitution.
A law professor in Alabama 7 currently requires his law students to read the Federalist Papers. And why not? Before those students can become attorneys, they will swear an oath to uphold the Constitution; so why not learn about the intent of the document they will swear to uphold? Those law students enrolled in graduate level studies regularly complain to him about the difficulty of reading that work.
He nods sympathetically and responds: “I understand. This book was not written for someone at your educational level; this book was written for the common, average, upstate New York farmer of 1787. Perhaps some day you will attain the educational level of those early New York farmers!”