Education, common sense, and respect: The 8th grade view from 1895

Education, common sense, and respect: The 8th grade view from 1895

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Are you smarter than an 1895 8th grader?

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ST. LOUIS, Aug. 31, 2015 – Common Core dominates the discussion on the current state of education, but many are shocked at the stringent education requirements of the past.

I grew up in a rural area in Missouri and spent much of my youth on farms. My grandfather was a blacksmith.

None of the people I grew up with had a college education, but they did have an eighth-grade education and plenty of common sense.

For farm children, the number one priority was their work on the farm. The school calendar was set up around the work schedule, which required kids to be home before and after school to work on the farm. They also had to take time off school for harvest and other important farm events.

As important as farm work and practical education were to these children, their second priority was to get some book learning.

Why? Because their learning was directly related to their success on the farm. They needed to know subjects such as arithmetic and writing in their daily lives. The other subjects were needed to increase their ability to communicate and learn about our wonderful country.

But just how difficult was the education at the time?

Below are some sample questions from the eighth-grade final exam from 1895 in Salina, Kan. It was taken from the original document on file at the Smokey Valley Genealogical Society and Library in Salina and reprinted by the Salina Journal.  Students were given five hours to complete the test.

I recently attended an event and passed out this test to the attendees that included college graduates, and you know what? none could answer the questions.

Take it yourself and see how you do.


Grammar (Time, one hour)
7. Write a composition of about 150 words and show therein that you understand the practical use of the rules of grammar.

Arithmetic (Time, 1.25 hours)
4. 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?
56. Find the interest of $512.60 for 8 months and 18 days at 7 percent.
8 Find bank discount on $300 for 90 days (no grace) at 10 percent.
10. Write a Bank Check, a Promissory Note, and a Receipt.

U. S. History (Time, 45 minutes)
1. Give the epochs into which U. S. History is divided.
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.

Orthography (Time, one hour)
3. What are the following, and give examples of each: Trigraph, sub vocals, diphthong, cognate letters, linguals?

5. Give two rules for spelling words with final ‘e.’ Name two exceptions under each rule.
6. Give two uses of silent letters in spelling. Illustrate each.
9. Use the following correctly in sentences: cite, site, sight, fane,
fain, feign, vane, vain, vein, raze, raise, rays.
10. Write 10 words frequently mispronounced and indicate pronunciation by use of diacritical marks and by syllabication.

Geography (Time, one hour)

1. What is climate? Upon what does climate depend?
3. Of what use are rivers? Of what use is the ocean?
4. Describe the mountains of North America.
5. Name and describe the following: Monrovia, Odessa, Denver, Manitoba, Hecla, Yukon, St. Helena, Juan Fernandez, Aspinwall & Orinoco.
6. Name and locate the principal trade centers of the U.S.
7. Name all the republics of Europe and give the capital of each.
8. Why is the Atlantic Coast colder than the Pacific in the same latitude?

This type of exam was pretty standard for eighth-grade graduation, even in the 1930s and 1940s. I attended a two-room school house, where one room had grades one through four and one room had grades five through eight.

There was no place for disrespect or for not paying attention. I remember getting a “whippin’” with a switch for talking while the teacher was giving the lesson. My parents didn’t rush in to defend me or excuse my behavior. Instead, when I got home, I was taken to the wood shed and got another “whippin’.” Why? Because I disgraced the family name.

Now at my current age of 85, I am glad I got that “whippin’” because it was just another case of teaching me respect.

However, that’s a time and place I am from.

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