7a History, 5th Period, May 1937

To set the stage, I bought a 1931 edition of a US history book online, one of Scott Powell's recommendations. It arrived, last week, and I haven't had time to do more that a quick flip through. This morning I picked it up just to flip through it again, deciding if I should read it at lunch, and I found a yellowed sheet of paper in it.

Turns out it was a little history lesson in and of itself.

On May 19, 1937, Julia Claire S_______ had a pop history quiz in 5th Period. I'm assuming, because it was "7a History", that she was in 7th grade. Based on the answers given, the questions centered around the issue of slavery. Her answers prove that in the average American education, not much has changed in 71 years.

Here's the transcription of her answers:

1) They said it was a insult because the felt no guilt in holding slave.

2) A teacher in Connecticut had her school broken up, her school house stone and set on fire because she let a colored girl go to school.

3) Because the Abolitionists sent there papers to the government.

4) They said "it would stir up the slaves and make them run away".

5) Don't know.

6) Don't know.

The grammar is bad, the analysis is poor, and two out of six questions were just skipped. This, but for a reference to "a colored girl", could easily be a pop quiz from today's crop of 7th graders. One thing to note is that despite one there/their mix up, the spelling is pretty good.

Still, this type of thing is really fascinating, getting a direct, tactile glimpse into life 71 years ago. I don't know what school Julia Claire was in, where she lived, or if she's still alive. I wonder how much this book cost her back then? I assume it was hers, because her name is typed on a sticker in the front of the book. How many hands has this book passed through over the years, or did it sit in a box in her basement for decades?

Fun stuff. And in this history lesson there is a funny twist, though Julia Claire probably didn't think it was so funny at the time. While it seems like some things in public education haven't changed since the 1930s, some certainly have. Based on a quick handwriting analysis, I can make an educated guess that the writing on the front of the folded paper is not Julia Claire's. It's probably her teacher's, and she had a rather blunt grading system, it seems.

1 comment:

Monica said...

Interesting stuff.

It's hard for me to judge without a bigger sample size of these decades-old student papers, but I have some insight into this, having just graded about 5000 10th grade Massachusetts state reading comprehension essays in the past 3 weeks.

Many of the current students have better grammar than this example you've provided (keep in mind they are three years older), but a surprising and significantly disappointing number have extremely bad penmanship, grammar, and spelling -- not to mention an inability to comprehend a simple passage. In some school districts (you can tell, as they come in by district) most of the papers are blank. There appears to be a significant difference in quality by school district. This is in no way a defense of public schools -- just an observation.

Getting back to the bad papers... some of the answers look like they've been written by a first grader. Seriously, they are so terrible and I don't even know how those kids got to 10th grade. They cannot comprehend a simple passage or even write in what looks like the English language. Some students have a paragraph of writing that is completely undecipherable and we have to give them a 0. It is literally jibberish. Hopefully they will not pass high school with such deficiencies, but I am not optimistic. These are not students with special learning disabilities, either, as those students get to explain their answer orally and have it typed by a teacher.

As for spelling, don't even get me started on the way students are taught to spell now. I posted on this awhile back, here:


However -- there are a minority of students -- less than 5% is my estimate -- with not only excellent conventions but very good thinking and writing skills on the level of a college student. These essays are heartening. You can click my link above for some modern 5th grade essay excerpts. :)