Yet Another Journal

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» Saturday, February 07, 2009
Whaddaya Know?
Every once in a while you will read a blog or an article that poses questions that children were supposed to answer in school 100 years ago. They are posted to show how terrible the state of education is today; that children in the late 1800s/early 1900s received a much better education. Then along comes someone who pooh-poohs the questions. Schoolchildren couldn't possibly answer these detailed, technical questions! They say these are actually questions asked of teachers to determine them fit to instruct.

Well, while wandering about Google Books again, I found copies of a publication called "The Rhode Island Schoolmaster," a periodical for...guess who!...schoolteachers. The one I found was for 1865 and contains articles about teaching of various subjects, minutes of school board meetings, stories from teachers, book and magazine reviews, and advertisements for textbooks, schooldesks, and other things of interest to teachers.

I noted with some interest that a regular feature in the magazine was a list of sample questions to pose in various classes. Please note that this magazine was for public school teachers. In 1865, public schooling consisted of grammar schools, which ended in what we would call eighth grade. Children who completed all eight grades were considered well-educated for life. Well-to-do and rich boys frequently continued on to boarding or preparatory schools; girls might attend a finishing school where they would learn to be ladies—occasionally they did attend schools where they might learn higher mathematics or Latin and Greek, but that was usually considered "unladylike" and unnecessary for a woman, whose job it was to get married, have children, and run a household. Later in the 1800s (the earliest reference I can find is to 1873), high schools came along, but, like prep and finishing schools, you originally had to pay to attend them, so most children did not go.

So the point is that any questions "set" for the students of the instructors who read this magazine would be for children no older than fourteen or perhaps fifteen. (The notation for these questions says "The following questions were given to the scholars in the First Grammar School, Bristol, R. I., in a recent examination." This would lead me to believe they were for the eighth grade class. Perhaps it was part of their "finals.")

Can you answer all the questions these eighth graders were expected to answer? I'll admit I can't! (I'm sure some of the answers for question 8 have changed, too!)

1. In what latitude is the Tropic of Capricorn? How many degrees wide is the Torrid Zone? What large islands does the equator cross? At what latitude would ship enter the South Temperate Zone in sailing from the equator? Where is the Isle of Man ?

2. Where is the city of Singapore? In what latitude is Havana? Canton? Pemambuco? Mobile? Sidney? What mountains in Austria? Where is the town of Nassau? What does the Strait of Bonifacio separate? Where is the Isle of Wight?

3. Through what bodies of water would a vessel pass, in sailing from Liverpool, (England), to Calcutta? Name the capital of Dutch Guiana. Which is the higher above the level of the sea, the city of Washington or the city of Mexico? Name a country from which we obtain prunes? Name the largest city in South America.

4. Where is Chattanooga? Name five of the largest rivers in North Carolina, and the bodies of water into which they flow. Name an island from which dried currants are exported. Where is Cape Flattery? Name all the bodies of water through which a vessel would pass, in sailing from the greatest grain port in the world, to the nearest grain port in Europe.

6. Where is the city of Callao? Where are the Snow Mountains? What does Bass Strait separate? Where is Lake Baikal? Through what bodies of water would a vessel pass in sailing from the capital of Louisiana to the capital of the British Empire?

6. Name the capital of Victoria. When does the wet season occur in that part of the Torrid Zone south of the equator? What season is it now at Cape Town? What season is it now on the Island of Tasmania? Through what bodies of water would a vessel pass in sailing from the largest city in Pennsylvania, to Mocha?

7. In what direction would a boat float on the Niagara river? Two persons start from Bristol [R.I.], at the same time, and each travels at the rate of eight miles an hour, one to visit a place five degrees to the north, and the other a place five degrees to the west; which would reach his journey's' end the first? What is caoutchouc, and from what port is it principally shipped? Mention five of the largest cities in the United States, in the order of their size. Through what bodies of water must a vessel pass, in sailing from Bristol, R. I., to Bristol, England?

8. How many towns are there in Rhode Island? Which is the most southerly? Where is Jamestown? What town is the island of Prudence in? In what town is Point Judith? Name the counties in Rhode Island. What rivers flow into Mount Hope Bay? Bound Bristol. What is the population of Bristol? Name the county that Westerly is in.

9. What does the Strait of Belliale connect? Which is the farther west from Greenwich, Boston or Washington? Name the largest city in Oceanica. Where is Lake Ngami? Through what bodies of water must a vessel pass, in sailing from the largest city in Massachusetts, to the largest city in Africa?

10. How many degrees wide are each of the Temperate Zones? In which of the United States are there no counties? Where is Lake Tchad? Name the capital of Sardinia. Mention the names of two rivers that flow into the sea of Aral. What does the Strait of Sunda separate? Name the capital of New South Wales. What are the exports of Turkey in Asia? Name the capital of Honduras. Through what bodies of water must a vessel pass, in sailing from the largest city in the United States, to the capital of Turkey?
1865 issues of "The Rhode Island Schoolmaster"

1873 issues of "The Rhode Island Schoolmaster". If you type "69" in the blank next to "page" and hit enter, you will find a high school entrance exam from 1873. This later issue also has exams given to people wanting to attend the state "Normal School" (the 19th and early 20th century equivalent of getting a degree in education).