As a child, I remember my mother making comments about so-and-so in the family having only graduated from 8th grade. Her obvious purpose was to solidify in my mind the importance of study and obtaining a good education as a foundation for my future.
The older gentleman in the family that she referred to appeared to me to be happy, intelligent, and quite successful in life and business. I used to think to myself, ‘wow, what could he have done with a high school or college degree’. In a way I felt sorry for my elder for having missed out on the benefits of the extra education that could have changed his life.
Forever embedded in my youthful mind was the fear of ending up living in a cardboard box under an overpass if I did not push forward in my education. The dichotomy of my elder’s success and his limited education was lost upon a youth lacking in the experiences of life.
Fast forward a few decades and my life experiences give me a whole new perspective on eduction and knowledge; the two not always related.
My relative with the limited education made wise decisions that stand in stark comparison with the decisions made by many highly educated people today. I realize that this comparison is unscientific and anecdotal at best, but it seems to me to be the norm and not an exception these days. What made him special?
Part of the answer to that question became so apparent this week when I opened a link to an 8th grade exit exam given in West Virginia way back in 1931. You may have seen it, or other like it in the past. If not, take a few minutes to read the test and try your hand at answering the questions. Here is the original test in pdf format.
It is no secret that the educational bar has been lowered continuously as the decades progressed. How much is really not evident until you step back far enough to see the contrast. Remember the concept of incrementalism that I note repeatedly in my articles? This is a glaring example of incrementalism over a long period of time.
Did you take the test? I dare you. Sure some of the concepts in the test are outdated or are specific to West Virginia, but there is one constant throughout the exam. The test required you to apply reason and logic along with basic knowledge.
How many high school seniors would pass this test today? Dare I ask, how many college seniors could ace this exam? And current 8th graders? Maybe 10% on a good day.
As I read this exam and pondered the questions myself, I began to understand what made my older relative so special; he was educated at a time when an 8th grade education required you to learn how to think. Based upon that one skill, he figured out everything else on his own.
by Jack Woodward 6/17/12