Sometimes, the tried and true study methods really are the best ways to learn.  One of the those studying tools is flashcards.  Flashcards have helped me learn vocabulary (in both English and Spanish), practice simple math calculations, and memorize information.  I can use them by myself or with a classmate/friend.  The only problem with flashcards is the lengthy time it takes to make them.

Quizlet solves that problem.  Quizlet is a free website the allows users to create electronic flashcards and share them (if they want) with anyone. This means that a flashcards deck only needs to be created once, by one person.  How does it save time?  A teacher can create flashcards for the entire class provide the link to all the students.  One student can a deck for the entire study group with only the amount of time that it takes to make one deck.  You can even have each group member contribute to creating the flashcards deck (and it’s typed – no handwriting issues!).  A flashcards deck can be downloaded an infinite number of times—for free.  Additionally, if the document is already electronic, the user can copy and paste the information onto their electronic flashcards which can save some time.

However, it’s not just the sharing with group members that is helpful—it’s the ability to “publish” the flashcards deck so anyone can download and use the deck.  For instance, anyone who has studied French, Spanish, German, Italian, Arabic, Hebrew, Latin, or nearly any major language, has heard of the the 501 Verbs book for that language.  Each book contains the conjugations (and meanings) of 501 verbs.  How long do you think it would take you to make a flashcards deck for 501 infinitive verbs and their translated meanings?  Hours.  But with Quizlet, only one person has to invest the time to make the deck.  And let me tell you, it’s already been done.  You can go download a flashcards deck for the Spanish 501 verbs, right now.  In fact, I embedded one in the post.

Creating the electronic flashcards is easy.  In fact, you can even start creating flashcards before you even make an account with Quizlet.  Click the “create” button and you’ll be taken to a screen where you just need to fill in the information.  Name the flashcards set, pick the subject, decide who is allowed to view and/or edit the cards, and then input the data.  You can fill in the cards simply by typing and hitting the tab button (fingers don’t even need to leave the keyboard!) or by copying and pasting information.  Want pictures?  Just click the “add images” selection.  Have all the data in an Excel or other database file?  You can import it.

The Quizlet Dashboard keeps track of all the flashcards decks you’ve ever looked at.  So don’t worry if you saw this really cool deck but you can’t remember the title of it or the username of the person who uploaded it.  Quizlet’s got your back.  You can even link your account with (or create an account using) Facebook.  How can that help you?  Let’s say you’re classmate and you are friends on Facebook and both of you use Quizlet but you have no idea that each other use it.  Quizlet will tell you “hey, your friend just viewed this deck” or “your friend just made this deck”.  You won’t even need to remember to send the link to your classmate…Facebook and Quizlet will do it for you.  Or, you can create a deck and publish an announcement to Facebook and all your friends can click on the link and use the deck.  Again, Facebook and Quizlet, doing the work for you.

But wait!  There’s more!  Quizlet has an iPhone app.  You can download the electronic flashcards to your iPhone and take them wherever you go to study.  You can study on the commuter train or bus, while waiting in line, or waiting at an appointment, etc. Now I know you don’t want to use every minute to study, but the important thing isn’t so much where and when you can study, but that you have options.  You don’t have to invest hours into making the flashcards, worry about losing a card when you’re using them, or sit at the computer to study.  Don’t have an iPhone?  No worries – the mobile website works well on any device.

I’ve embedded a flashcards deck of Spanish 501 infinitive verbs and their English translations.  You can also see it on Quizlet’s website.

Quizlet also goes beyond just flashcards.  They have six different ways you can use the data to study.  So now you really have no excuse…go study!

The Evolution of Language

I am fascinated by human language.  One species has developed over 7000 languages (that we know of).  However, as of 2012, 99% of world speaks about 650-700 of those 7000.  There are stark differences between Asian languages and European languages, ancient and modern languages, and local and standard languages.  The diversity is astounding, yet each language has some characteristic that identifies it as human.

I am also fascinated by the evolution of a single language over time.  English, for example, has evolved drastically.  Chaucer wrote The Canterbury Tales in the English of his time period—which we now call Old English.  It barely resembles Modern English.  Grammatical structures have evolved as well as vocabulary.

How does vocabulary evolve?  I don’t think its purposeful.  We don’t set out to change the language; it just happens.  American English and British English diverged for geographic reasons.  Once here, the colonists had to invent words for things that they had never seen before.  Words were needed where there were no words before.

Invention in one way language evolves; however, that type of evolution seems logical.  What doesn’t seem as logical is multiple meanings for a single word.  Today’s Word of the Day on Merriam-Webster.com is hagiography.  Hagiography has two entries in the dictionary: (1) Biography of saints or venerated persons, (2) idealizing or idolizing biography.  With so many languages, do we really need to have words with multiple meanings?  No, we don’t, but we do.  My questions are why and how?  I shall ponder these some more and follow-up with another blog post.

My inspiration for this today was an article I read on Google News from New York Magazine titled “Every Single Woman in America Is Now Curvy“.  The author explains that celebrities of all sizes have been described as curvy.  She also tells a story about her selecting “curvy” under Body Size on OKCupid and having an unsolicited message that she should change that because otherwise guys will think she’s fat.  Fat?  “Curves” are part of the human skeleton…the hips and shoulders are typically the widest parts of the female body.  Boobs will stick out and so will some healthy fat on the buttocks.  Curves should mean what it really means – not a straight line.  Curvy shouldn’t be a euphemism for fat, just like gay shouldn’t be a euphemism for stupid/dumb.

Euphemisms and metaphors are so common in daily conversation.  No wonder it’s so hard to teach English!  Need another example?  Nuts.  Balls.

The beauty of language is that it will never stop evolving as long as it is still written and spoken.  Eventually words unused and undesirable words will fade away into obscurity in favor of new words.  Old words will resurface with new meanings.  English will continue to “borrow” words from other languages.

I wonder what 2013’s Word of the Year will be.

Master the Basics: English

Learning a foreign language has been common in American high schools for quite some time.  I had always been drawn to the Spanish language.  But then again, I’m drawn to all languages as well as the concept of language itself.

When I was in middle school, many of my fellow students did not see the value in learning a foreign language.  We were suburban, middle-class Americans in the Midwest, specifically, suburban Detroit.  There was zero need for Spanish.  And while Canada was so close that we’d forget it was foreign country, Québec was too far away for French to be of any value.  So, people flipped a coin to decide if they should take two years of French or two years of Spanish.  But little did they know that among the “bonjour”s and “hola”s, they would end up learning about their own native American English.

That’s right; I’ve learned more about my own native language by studying a foreign language.  The first thing that smacked me over the head was tenses.  I thought there were three: past, present and future.  Turns out there are actually about 15 of the them and those so-called helping verbs and modals (could, would, should…) are actually changing the tense.  I had no idea just how many irregular, past tense verbs we had in English until one student complained of having to memorize 15 irregulars and the teacher demonstrated that English had over 200.

Plurals!  Spanish has two rules either add an “s” to a consonant or add an “es” to vowels.  This is the opposite of English.  English also has 8 or so rules, and rarely do they make any sense.

American English is a hybrid language.  We’ve stolen words from other languages.  We’ve changed the spelling or meaning of stolen words.  We’ve applied our own plural rules.  We’ve kept their plural rules.  We don’t pluralize “fish”.  The plural of box is boxes; however, the plural of ox is oxen.  Media and data are actually plural words— the singular forms are medium and datum.  And don’t even get me started on pronunciation…

How in the world do you even begin to explain this insanely complicated language to someone who can maybe sing along to the latest pop song or can watch a Hollywood movie in the theater with subtitles?  You can’t, at least, not without help.

Enter in Master the Basics: English (For students of English as a Second Language).  Although the term English as a Second Language (ESL) has become out-of-date in favor of the more accurate English Language Learner (ELL), the book will work for anyone studying English.  English is my native language and I still find it helpful.  Master the Basics: English is written by Jean Yates and published by Barron’s.  It retails for $14.99.  It is also available on Google Books for free.

I could go on and on about how well-written it is for ELL learners.  Several tutoring students I’ve taught who were at varying degrees of English proficiency could read and understand this book.  It is simplistic.  There aren’t colorful, distracting boxes and pictures competing for your attention.  There is one accent color—red—to aid in comprehension.  There are two tests, a pre-and post-test that are aligned with section numbers and skills to help the student know what particular grammar areas need to be focused on.

What I really, really love about this book is how helpful it can be to struggling students who natively speak English.  Master the Basics is a reference guide.  Pages 30-31 have all 8 plural rules together in a quick reference format.  There is a list of why the rules are what they are and how to apply them.  The book has a lot of why explanations.  Many students who struggle in school don’t struggle because they do not know how do something, rather they don’t know why.  Some people need that “why?” answer in order to engage certain sections of their brain.

The book’s preposition section contains graphical representations for common prepositions.  How do you explain what “behind” means?  The book shows the explanation with two simple chairs, ABC labels and arrows.  It also writes a sentence next to the graphic to help further understanding.  There are pages and pages of definitions for verbs with prepositions.  For example, what is the difference between “listening to” and “listening with?”  This book can explain that.

What is the difference between “say” and “tell?”  How do you know when you use “say” and when you use “tell”?  For many native English speakers, the answer is, “I just know.”  What’s even more problematic is that many native speakers cannot explain the difference to an ELL student.  For example, when Pedro says, “…and he says me…” and his new friend Johnny corrects him, “No no, it’s ‘..and he tells me’…”.  Pedro wants to know why he made the mistake.  Unfortunately, Johnny has no idea why it’s “tell” instead of “say”.  He just knows it’s wrong.

This book gives native speakers the quick answers to explain to ELL friends why their grammar is wrong.  This book gives teachers quick answers to explain to their diverse learners (thus, increasing classroom efficiency).  This book is cost-effective.  This book doesn’t look like an English textbook, nor does it look like English for Dummies®.  It’s a quick-reference, to-the-point, English essentials book that will teach anyone something he or she did not know about English.

If you haven’t guessed already, I HIGHLY recommend this book.

Is Black English or Ebonics a Language?

I am fascinated by languages, whether they be written, spoken, or gestures.  They can be dead, alive, common, rare, invented, unknown, or a mix of known languages.  The key point is that we can communicate.  I can send a signal and then receive a signal back.

We’re not sure at what point homo sapiens or their ancestors developed language, probably around the time a mutation allowed the larynx to descend.  What we do know is that language evolves as it comes in contact with other languages or items and actions that previously had no “assigned” word now need one.

There has been plenty of debates circling Black English or Ebonics and whether or not the grammar structures and words that are referenced as such are a language.  As an English teacher, I feel I should definitely explore this topic, but in no way am I an expert on linguistics or current research.  So let’s explore…

First point I want to make:validation of existence.  I do not dispute the fact that there are set of grammar structures and words that are different from Standard American English.  I acknowledge they exist and are often referred to as “Black English” or “Ebonics” (they are in quotations because I am referring to them as titles).  I do not think many people doubt the existence of these words.

But is it a language?  This is a matter of terminology.  Is Ebonics being classified correctly?  I think this is where people struggle.  Terminology is important, so let’s examine Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary Definitions.

Language – 1 a : the words, their pronunciation, and the methods of combining them used and understood by a community b (1) : audible, articulate, meaningful sound as produced by the action of the vocal organs (2) : a systematic means of communicating ideas or feelings by the use of conventionalized signs, sounds, gestures, or marks having understood meanings

Dialecta : a regional variety of language distinguished by features of vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation from other regional varieties and constituting together with them a single language <the Doric dialect of ancient Greek> b : one of two or more cognate languages <French and Italian are Romance dialects> c : a variety of a language used by the members of a group <such dialects as politics and advertising — Philip Howard> d : a variety of language whose identity is fixed by a factor other than geography (as social class) <spoke a rough peasant dialect>

Pidgin – a simplified speech used for communication between people with different languages

creole not capitalized : a language that has evolved from a pidgin but serves as the native language of a speech community [SIDE NOTE: Look up the full definition of Creole.  It first applied to white people born in the colonies.]

Gullah – an English-based creole spoken by the Gullahs that is marked by vocabulary and grammatical elements from various African languages

Accent a : to pronounce with accent : stress b : to mark with a written or printed accent

Ebonics is definitely not an accent.  Perhaps it started out as a pidgin – during the times of colonialism and the slave trade in America there were many languages spoken and it was important for many slaves to communicate with one another in languages the slave masters could not understand.  Some of those pidgins led to several types of creoles and gullahs.  But Ebonics is much more than a gullah, as the full definition restricts it to only a few Southern states in the US.  A creole is also somewhat distinct to an area, Louisiana, and Ebonics is spoken in a larger area than that.

So it’s really down to dialect or language.  A dialect is a subset of a language.  A language is specific, yet quite broad.  Ebonics does fit the definition of language, but I’m still hesitant.  I’m leaning towards dialect.  It’s really the last part of the definition that is tipping the scale, “a variety of language whose identity is fixed by a factor other than geography (as social class)”.  I certainly do not mean to equate Merriam-Webster’s example of a peasant dialect to Ebonics or that Ebonics and those who speak it are somehow considered to be a lower class.  I mean to say that Ebonics is unrestricted by geography, instead, its identity is fixed to “race”.

I’m not completely convinced that just anyone can speak Ebonics, which is why I still think of it more of a dialect than a language right now.  Dialects are the local languages.  The languages of the people.  And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with Ebonics.

There has always been a societal difference in the common dialects spoken in the small villages and the standard languages in the big cities or at universities.  As a teacher, it’s my job to teach you the standard language.  I’m here to help you understand the lessons written in literature and give you a proper education.  You pay enough in taxes or tuition, let me teach it to you.

Language is constantly evolving and perhaps one day the dialect known as Ebonics will become a full-fledged language.  It happened to Cape Dutch, I mean, Afrikaans.

For more information, please read the article that inspired my post: Is Black English a dialect or a language?

Do You Have Typoglycemia?

Have you heard of typoglycemia?

No?  You sure?  Have you every read this….

“Aoccdrnig to a rseearch taem at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn’t mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoatnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be in the rghit pclae. The rset can be a taotl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit a porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe.

If you can’t read that it says:

According to a research team at Cambridge University, it doesn’t matter in what order the letters in a word are, the only important thing is that the first and last letter be in the right place. The rest can be a total mess and you can still read it without a problem. This is because the human mind does not read every letter by itself, but the word as a whole.

Wikipedia explains that typoglycemia is a neologism (a word that means a coined term) “given to a purported recent discovery about the cognitive processes behind reading written text….It is an urban legend/Internet meme that appears to have an element of truth to it.”

But Wikipedia points out that although the research is true, it wasn’t Cambridge University.  It was started by a letter written by a guy named Graham Rawlinson from Nottingham University to the New Scientist magazine.  It’s actually his Ph.D thesis – but Rawlinson states you should keep the first two letters and the final two letters of the word.  I tried to read the letter, but I can’t read much without subscribing to the magazine with my credit card.  But there is enough there to legitimize it.  According to the site, the letter was published in the magazine on May 29, 1999.

Unfortunately, as cool as the internet meme and urban legend is, it isn’t actually “true”.  The brain does read words in chunks and recognizes word shapes, which allows people to “speed-read”.  Matt Davis at the MRC Cognition and Brain Science Unit in Cambridge, UK, wrote about the meme and points out several cases in which the rules of the meme are followed, but it is difficult for the brain to decode the word.  Also interesting, Davis has the meme in several different languages.

There’s also some websites that scramble text for you.  Josh Nimroy created “The Cambridge Study Word Scrambler” and several sites use his Creative Common licensed work to create a derivative of the same idea.

So does this mean spelling is important?  Many young people do not think so, thanks in part to instant messengers and text message-speak.  I did not win any spelling bee contests in elementary school – I was the kid who debated whether or not I should purposely misspell the word just so I could sit down and be done with the torturous thing.  I still can’t spell aloud; I need to write it down.  Spell-checkers save me often.  But I would never turn in a final, printed copy of an assignment without looking over it myself for errors.  Spelling correctly is important; there even is a blog dedicated to it, SpellingCity.com.

Update: 1895 8th Grade Exam: True or False

My posts about the validity of the 1895 8th grade exam have become quite popular, in fact the original post 1895 8th Grade Exam: True or False? is the most popular post and second most visited page (Home page is first) on my blog. The subsequent Answers to the 1895 8th Grade Exam is in the top ten posts as well.

With such popularity, I thought I’d dig deeper and find more sources to corroborate the exam.  Additionally, the Tallgrass National Prairie Reserve has restructured their website and the .gov link is no longer valid.

On the restructured Tallgrass National Prairie Reserve’s website, there is more information about the Lower Fox Creek School and the 1895 8th Grade exam.  In fact, the national park has posted the 8th grade exam on their website.  The page even includes the Rules for Teachers and cites it has been “taken from The Country Schools of Kansas, by Bill Samuelson”).  The national park cites the exam “was taken from the original document on file at the Smokey Valley Genealogical Society and Library in Salina, KS,” and it was “reprinted by the Salina Journal.”

The Tallgrass National Prairie Reserve’s website also has a page with more information about the Lower Fox Creek School.  Although there is no expressed link between the 1895 8th grade exam and the Lower Fox Creek School, the link to the 8th grade exam is at the bottom of the page for Lower Fox Creek School, leading me to believe the connection is still being made.  As stated on the national park’s website, the school is a historic landmark – a one room schoolhouse near Strong City, KS.  The 1895 exam was given in a one-room schoolhouse in Salinas, KS.  The two cities are close to one another.  You can also learn more about the students and teachers (including their salaries!) of the Lower Fox Creek School from another link on the national park’s website.

But amongst all this proof of existence of the exam, one fact is actually missing.  The exam does not specifically state “8th Grade exam”.  The 1895 8th grade exam page on TruthOrFiction.com points out this very important fact.  The exam exists and the time period is correct, but the site points out that the exam could have been for adults or more specifically, for teachers.  Take a look at the following pictures from TruthOrFiction.com.

photograph of exam title

Actual Photograph of the Title of the Exam


document administered to applicants

From TruthOrFiction.com, “The document describes itself as being administered orally and for “applicants.” Unless eight graders were described as “applicants,” it makes one wonder if the exam was actually for newly graduated teachers”


So what does this all mean? Is it true or false?

Well, I would call it somewhat true.  The exam exists.  There are more than enough credible sources that authentic the existence of the exam.  The date of 1895 is correct, in fact, we can be even more specific with the images from TruthOrFiction.com and state it was given on April 13, 1895.  But as to whether or not it was given to 8th graders, that cannot be confirmed as the grade level is not listed on the exam.  We can deduce that in 1895, most students did not make it past the primary school and many graduated after the 8th grade since compulsory education ended at 14 (8th year) at that time [For more history on the US Education system, read its Wikipedia page].

In other words, the exam says “Examination Graduation” and since graduation occurred at the end of the 7th or 8th grade years in 1895, we could deduce that this exam is completely, 100% true.

Homonyms and Homographs

This was forwarded to me, so sadly, I do not take credit for it, nor do I know who wrote it.  Nevertheless, it is funny to share some examples of homonyms and homographs (words that sound the same but have different meanings that may or may not be spelled different).


You think English is easy??

1) The bandage was wound around the wound.

2) The farm was used to produce produce.

3) The dump was so full that it had to refuse more refuse.

4) We must polish the Polish furniture.

5) He could lead if he would get the lead out.

6) The soldier decided to desert his dessert in the desert.

7) Since there is no time like the present, he thought it was time to present the present.

8 ) A bass was painted on the head of the bass drum.

9) When shot at, the dove dove into the bushes.

10) I did not object to the object.

11) The insurance was invalid for the invalid.

12) There was a row among the oarsmen about how to row.

13) They were too close to the door to close it.

14) The buck does funny things when the does are present.

15) A seamstress and a sewer fell down into a sewer line.

16) To help with planting, the farmer taught his sow to sow.

17) The wind was too strong to wind the sail.

18) Upon seeing the tear in the painting I shed a tear.

19) I had to subject the subject to a series of tests.

20) How can I intimate this to my most intimate friend?

Let’s face it – English is a crazy language. There is no egg in eggplant, nor ham in hamburger; neither apple nor pine in pineapple. English muffins weren’t invented in England or French fries in France . Sweetmeats are candies while sweetbreads, which aren’t sweet, are meat. We take English for granted. But if we explore its paradoxes, we find that quicksand can work slowly, boxing rings are square and a guinea pig is neither from Guinea nor is it a pig.

And why is it that writers write but fingers don’t fing, grocers don’t groce and hammers don’t ham? If the plural of tooth is teeth, why isn’t the plural of booth, beeth? One goose, 2 geese. So one moose, 2 meese? One index, 2 indices? Doesn’t it seem crazy that you can make amends but not one amend? If you have a bunch of odds and ends and get rid of all but one of them, what do you call it?

If teachers taught, why didn’t preachers praught? If a vegetarian eats vegetables, what does a humanitarian eat? Sometimes I think all the English speakers should be committed to an asylum for the verbally insane. In what language do people recite at a play and play at a recital? Ship by truck and send cargo by ship? Have noses that run and feet that smell?

How can a slim chance and a fat chance be the same, while a wise man and a wise guy are opposites? You have to marvel at the unique lunacy of a language in which your house can burn up as it burns down, in which you fill in a form by filling it out and in which, an alarm goes off by going on.

English was invented by people, not computers, and it reflects the creativity of the human race, which, of course, is not a race at all. That is why, when the stars are out, they are visible, but when the lights are out, they are invisible.

PS. – Why doesn’t ‘Buick’ rhyme with ‘quick’ ?

Judgement Day: MTTC Exams

The new semester began last Tuesday.  I am looking forward to some of the projects and readings this semester.  A bit intense, but not as much as the previous semester.  I have enough  reading and writing in both languages to keep my busy.  Freelance work too.

So here is how it all went down:

6am – Crawl out of bed.  Notice the sun is not up yet.  This is a depressing start.

7am – Arrive at Hart Middle School.  English exam up first.

7:15am – Find classroom. Two pieces of ID checked, signature, and a thumbprint to prove I’m me.

8am – “You may begin now”

8:20am – Nearly fall asleep at desk.  This is going to be a long day.  Take a min to rest, then continued with renewed alertness.

10:34am – 100 multiple choice questions mostly centered on writing, some on literature and I’m done.  Freezing and starving, I head out to lunch.

10:45am – Arrive at Panera.  Broccoli and cheddar soup, hot chocolate.  Mmm

11:15am – iPad studying the history and culture of Spain.

12:45pm – Head back to Hart.  Not looking forward to this Spanish exam.

1pm – Two pieces of ID checked (again), signature (again), and a thumbprint to prove I’m me (again).

1:05pm – Notice I know a few people from school – go over to chat about classes.  Overhear that many people are taking this test for the second or third time.  Say it’s rare for someone to pass on their first try.  I hear it has nearly nothing to do with Spanish language and all about minor cultural details that are not taught in any Spanish program.  I get discouraged, head to my desk.  Begin to freeze.

1:45pm – “You may begin now” (again).  Taped recording won’t start.  Confusion lasts a minute, then it’s on.  I have trouble hearing words in the passages and am not entirely sure I’m answering the questions correctly.

2:05pm – Commence multiple choice section.  Very confused – I didn’t know I had to memorize the dictionary, what are these words?

3pm – Very frustrated.  I have never learned this stuff about foreign language standards, which period did Person X write in, or which countries Spanish is an official language (apparently it is not in Belize).

3:15pm – Begin to doubt 3/4 of the Spanish department at the local high school could pass this test.  So random and obscure facts that are not needed to teach intro to Spanish.  Recall hearing that most schools in MI won’t let you teach in your minor – not qualified enough.  Very frustrated I’m torturing myself for nothing.

4pm – Realize my neck is not sore for sitting here for hours taking a test, instead, I’ve got a migraine.  Great.  Just peachy.

5:12pm – Done.  Spent nearly 7 hours (not including breaks) on testing today.  Way too cold, head throbs way too much, and blood sugar is dropping fast.

5:30pm – Startbucks.  Venti hot chocolate, no whip, slice of banana bread.  Munch in car while waiting for the hot chocolate to melt the ice chunks in my blood.

5:45pm – Home.  Frustrated and angry that I don’t believe I passed the Spanish exam, but happy I think I passed the English.  Homework will have to wait, I am exhausted.

Here’s to hoping I’m an insanely good player of eeny-meany-miney- mo with a side of educated guess.  Will know my scores on February 4.

Sleep, homework all day Sunday, then its time for more class on Monday.

1895 8th Grade Exam: True or False?

**Update** For updated links and more information, see the post Update: 1895 8th Grade Exam: True or False.

**Update** Answers to the 1895 8th Grade Exam can be found on the post Answers to the 1895 8th Grade Exam.

I received an email today forwarded from a friend about the 1895 8th grade exam.  I thought it ironic I should receive it this week as my basic skills test is on Saturday.  I wanted to share my opinion of it, but first like any good teacher – I researched its validity (for anyone who has not read the 1885 8th grade exam, I have copied it at the end of this post).  I found many claims of it being false or being true.  I found the Smokey Valley Genealogical Society’s website with a simple page with the exam information on it.  However, the plainness of the website, coupled with the “home” link invalid, lead me to believe this may be a false website. Check it out for yourself.

A little more digging led me to a creditable domain: .gov.  The Tallgrass Prairie National Reserve (www.nps.gov) details the history behind Lower Fox Creek Schoolhouse in Kansas.  The 1895 8th grade exam is on their website with the attribution of it being copied by the Smokey Valley Genealogical Society and reprinted in the Salina Journal.  It confirms verbatim what is on the Smokey Valley Genealogical Society’s website.  Unable to find a picture of the actual exam means the exam contents cannot be confirmed, but with the existence of the information on a government website, I acknowledge some truth in the exam.  So as the Mythbusters say when they cannot confirm or bust a myth, it’s plausible.

The information on the Tallgrass Prairie National Reserve is quite interesting about education in 1895 in Kansas.  There is a virtual tour with photos from the 1880s as well as modern day photos of the restoration of the schoolhouse to its time period.  There is a long list of the names of the teachers who taught there and their salaries.  In 1884, the first year the school opened, Dora Peer was paid $35 per month.  One heartfelt picture is of two elderly women who attended the school in the 1920s.  “Ann and Josephine remember most about their school days was the strict discipline. There was no giggling, whispering, or talking out loud unless the teacher spoke to you.”

According to NPS’s records:

* Marry or engage in other unseemly conduct during their contract.
* Keep company with men.
* Be away from their domicile between the hours of 8 p.m. and 6 a.m. unless attending a school function.
* Loiter in town ice cream stores.
* Dye their hair.
* Wear face powder, mascara, or lip paint.
* Wear bright colored dresses more than two inches above the ankle.


* Frequent pool halls, public halls, saloons, or taverns.
* Get shaved in a barber shop.
* Take more than one evening per week for courting (unless attending church regularly – in which case two evenings may be used).
Failure to abide by these rules will give reason to suspect one’s worth, intention, honesty, integrity. Faithful performances will result in an increase of twenty-five cents per period providing the board of trustees approves.

Male teachers were allowed to date and females could not? Ouch.  But I do not understand how loitering in the town’s ice cream stores affects one’s intention, honesty, or integrity.  Could have been in that time and place it was suspect to loiter near ice cream.  NPS also has sketched the layout of the schoolroom, of course the girls and boys had their own entrances.

Even more interesting in my research was the comments made in forums – many people believed, based upon this exam, the current education system has been “dumbed down”.  To a point I agree and to another I disagree.  In 1885 there were few (if any) regulations on education as the country was beginning to see a need to set standards.  Teachers taught what they knew and students learned what was necessary for their farming and everyday life.  A basic education was just that: basic.  But one cannot use this 8th grade exam as proof that our education system has been dumbed down.  Many people do not know the answers to the questions as the questions are outdated and people have not recently studied the material.  The brain only retains what it needs to, many memorized facts from high school and college are forgotten in favor of newer knowledge.  The same principle applies to my need to review mathematics for my MTTC exam – I haven’t used some of it in 7 years.  Additionally, some people used the example of the McGuffey readers to show our learning pace has slowed.  The readers are levels, not indicative of grades but rather where the student is in his or her education.  Grade levels were important, but children began and ended their schooling based upon their maturity level and comprehension level, not simply because they reached a certain age.  Diplomas should be awarded on merit not simply passing with 60% or to avoid any notice by the state.  Too many people graduate high school in urban communities and are unable to read their diploma.  Too many students graduate knowing calculus, physics, every detail of American history, but have no idea how to write a check or bake a cake.  High school education has pushed basic life skills aside in favor of a stricter math, physics, and ap courses, which is a shame.  Education should be well rounded and that is what I plan to do – not simply teach To Kill a Mockingbird or Shakespeare, but to see and apply the lessons in the stories to everyday life and to the future.  Break the cycle of history repeating itself.

My grandmother gave me a McGuffey reader, when I have time I’ll read through it and give my review on it.


Smokey Valley Genealogical Society. 13 April, 2010. Web.

Tallgrass National Prairie Reserve. 13 April, 2010. http://www.nps.gov.

Read the 1895 8th Grade Exam:   Curious as to its answers?  I have them right here. Continue reading