Thursday, April 26, 2018

Education in the late 1800s, #3, Math

The two previous blogs in this series, comparing education in the late 1800s with current  teaching standards, have shared the tests for spoken and written language.  Neither test evidenced an obvious distinction between a test intended for urban students versus rural students.  However, the 8th grade math final exam from 1895 given in Salina, Kansas does reveal an agricultural connection.  Although Salina was an urban community, the population of the state was primarily engaged in  farming related activities, and the test questions reveal that agricultural influence.

Arithmetic:  (Time in which to complete this examination is 1 hours, 15 minutes.)

1.  Name and define the Fundamental Rules of Arithmetic.
2.  A wagon box is 2 ft. deep, 10 ft. long, and 3 ft. wide.  How many bushels of wheat will it hold?
3.  If a load of wheat weighs 3,942 lbs., what is it worth at 50 cents a bushel, deducting 1,050 lbs. for tare?
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?
5.  Find the cost of 6,720 lbs. of coal at $6.00 per ton.
6.  Find the interest of $512.60 for 8 months and 18 days at 7%.
7.  What is the cost of 40 boards 12 inches wide and 16 feet long at $20 per metre?
8.  Find the bank discount of $300 for 90 days (no grace) at 10 percent.
9.  What is the cost of a square farm at $15 per acre, the distance of which is 640 rods?
10.  Write a Bank Check, a Promissory Note, and a Receipt.

I confess.  There would probably be no gold star on my exam paper had I taken that math test.  However, rather than my math skills, what I found intriguing was how closely the drafting of the questions related to the issues students of that time would have faced in their daily lives.  Remember, 8th grade would have been the final year of their formal educations for many of those students.  The futures of those making their homes in Kansas would likely have had a farming connection, as that was the primary occupation for men, and women were important partners.  If they did not farm, they would probably have been employed in some farm-related business. 

Having spent so much time researching Kansas during the late 1800s, I related the questions to Isaac and his community.  By 1895 the hardest times were lessening for farmers, but much of Isaac's journal relates to taking crops to town in his wagon for sale, paying taxes and school levies, buying lumber for building sheds and fencing, borrowing money, and renewing notes.  Those are precisely among the subjects utilized by the teacher drafting the 1895 arithmetic questions.   Isaac burned corn stalks and cobs in his stove, and he regarded the burning of coal as a luxury beyond his means; however, children in Salina might not have had corn stalks and cobs from their own fields to burn and coal may have been their families' best option.  It is apparent that the person who drafted the math test was aware of the future practical applications for which the students' knowledge of math would be needed.

Could an 8th grader today pass this math test, particularly converting rods to acres (after recovering from the shock of imagining farm land selling for $15 an acre?)  A look at the Common Core Standards for Mathematics helps answer that question.

The initiative for creating Common Core State Standards was begun in the 1990s and focused on two subjects--English Language Arts and Mathematics.  The Common Core Mathematics "Domains" begin in Kindergarten, with the focus on "Counting and Cardinality," which continues in grades 1-5, together with Algebraic thinking, Base 10, Measurement & Data, and Geometry.  At Grade 3-5 Fractions are added.  Grades 6-8 add Ratios & Proportional Relationships, the Number System, Expressions & Equations, and Statistics and Probability.  Grade 8 adds Functions.

The Mathematics "Domains" summarized above continue from Grade One, but add new standards with each advancing grade.  This building upon what is included within the standards continues in Grades 9-12.  Common Core does not specify content in grades 9-12, nor whether particular instruction in such courses as algebra and geometry should be year-long courses.  More flexibility for organizing content is left to the school, but math classes continue.

Comparing the 1895 Arithmetic examination prepared for Kansas 8th graders with the Common Core Mathematics Standards adopted for present-day Kansas public schools, it might be assumed that  today's students just might find a gold star on their exam papers if they took the 1895 test.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Education in the Late 1800s, #2, Writing

Past blogs have focused on cursive penmanship and written communication in general.  Last week's blog focused on speaking, but the blog also included a quote decrying the impact of texting on grammar.  This week's blog focuses on Orthography, the art of written words, using the proper letters according to the standard usage of the rules of English.  Orthography includes spelling, hyphenation, capitalization, word breaks, emphasis, and punctuation.

As the various forms of social media have impacted letter writing and have reduced communication to phrases, "likes," and thumbs-ups, both spoken and written language have changed.  If you thought last week's grammar test for 8th graders in Salina, Kansas in 1895 was difficult, you may not be prepared for the Orthography Test those 8th graders were given!

Orthography  (Time limit for examination:  1 hour)

1.  What is meant by the following:  alphabet, phonetic, orthography, etymology, syllabication?
2.  What are elementary sounds?  How classified?
3.  What are the following, and give examples of each:  trigraph, subvocals, diphthong, cognate letters, lingual?
4.  Give four substitutes for caret 'U'.
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.
7.  Define the following prefixes and use in connection with a word:  bi-, dis-, mis-, pre-, semi-, post-, non-, inter-, mono-, sup-.
8.  Mark diacritically and divide into syllables the following, the name, the sign that indicates the sound:  card, ball, mercy, sir, odd, cell, rise, blood, fare, last.
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.

St. John, KS School, late 1800s
Oh my gosh!  How did you do with this test?  Granted, if the 8th graders of 1895 were to come back to life today and were to be handed a laptop or a smart phone, they would surely need instruction, but how do you think today's students would do taking the orthography test above?

One of the ideas advanced by the Populist Movement in the late 1800s was using phonetic spelling in the newspapers and pamphlets they produced to make reading easier for emigrants just learning to speak English.  The idea was that they could sound out words they did not know how to spell.  Isaac Werner wrote an article for the populist newspaper, The County Capital, in which he used phonetic spelling.  I struggled to read it, and apparently other readers during the 1890s struggled as well, for his experiment in the newspaper was not repeated.

Robert S. McNamara wrote, "A computer does not substitute for judgment any more than a pencil substitutes for literacy."  Just because a computer is more legible and has spell check does not make us wiser nor elevate our thinking.  It makes writing easier and quicker, but not necessarily better.

In past blogs about penmanship, I have quoted authors who reject composing on their computers, believing that writing by hand forces them to be more thoughtful about what they are writing, more selective in the words they are choosing to express their thoughts.  Even before people were using computers, Anne Morrow Lindbergh wrote, "I must write it all out, at any cost.  Writing is thinking."

As a student, I prepared for exams by hand writing an outline.  I might never look at the outline again once it was written, but the act of writing forced me to distill the content and understand what was important about the text or my notes from class.  "Writing was thinking," just as Lindbergh believed.

A too hasty romantic breakup reclaimed; Photo credit:  Lyn Fenwick
A wise friend in high school told me that when she was very angry with someone, she wrote them a letter, pouring out her anger and describing all the things they had done to make her so angry.  When she had finished carefully composing the letter, she tore it into pieces and threw it away.  Just as McNamara said, "A computer does not substitute for judgment," and a great deal of what is quickly typed on a computer or smart phone would be better torn into tiny pieces and thrown into the trash, I fear.

Classes in orthography in 1895 might not have taught students those wise lessons; however, perhaps reflecting more on the words we use might help us pause before flinging them beyond our ability to recall them later.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Education in the late 1800s, #1, English

Emerson School, Stafford County, Ks, about 1920
As a former English teacher and an author, I have paid particular attention to the writing skills of Isaac B. Werner, and his reputation in the community as a learned man to whom neighbors went when they needed a contract drafted or an important letter written.  Unlike many people of Isaac's time, Isaac remained in school through the age of 17.  For many children in the late 1800s, schooling ended at the 8th grade, particularly in rural communities.

The Kansas prairie had many former Union soldier homesteaders, but there were also emigrants from other nations, for whom English was a second language.  Rural schools had limited terms because children were needed as help during the planting and harvesting seasons.  The fall term did not begin until November or December, and the spring term ended by March or April.  Teachers were often as young as today's high school students.  Yet, those children received remarkable educations, and schools were considered so important that they were often constructed while families were living in very humble homes.

A sample 8th Grade Final Exam from 1895 in Salina, KS, that was published from an original document on file at the Smokey Valley Genealogical Society and Library in Salina offers an example of what students were expected to have learned by the age when many of them would receive no further formal instruction.  Below are the requirements for the Grammar examination which students had one hour to complete.

8th Grade Final Examination from 1895, Salina, KS:

Grammar  (To be completed in one hour)
1.  Give nine rules for the use of capital letters.
2.  Name the parts of speech and define those that have no modifications.
3.  Define verse, stanza and paragraph.
4.  What are the principal parts of a verb?  Give principal parts of 'lie,' 'play,' and 'run.'
5.  Define case; illustrate each case.
6.  What is punctuation?  Give rules for principal marks of punctuation.
7.  Write a composition of about 150 words and show therein that you understand the practical use of the rules of grammar.

Stafford County, Kansas 8th Grade Graduates
As you read those examination requirements, were you mentally answering them?  How did you do?  Do you believe students today would do well on this test?

Online I found a chart showing the requirements for a standard diploma from each state, including Kansas, the state in which Isaac B. Werner homesteaded.  Under the section labeled "English units (Std.") I found the following notes, effective beginning with the Class of 2009: "4 units of English language arts must include reading, writing, literature, communication, and grammar."  

In recent years some regions have adopted Common Core State Standards, and under the category of English Language Arts are 1.  listening and speaking; 2.  reading; 3.  writing; and 4.  language, focusing on grammar and conventions.  At the recognition that grammar has been neglected for decades was acknowledged, concluding that renewed emphasis on the importance of grammar is essential.

In a nation in which millions of dollars are spent on plastic surgery, cosmetics, hair products, and clothing, we may be neglecting something far more important.  As Jeffery Gitmoer, an author and business trainer says, "Your grammar is a reflection of your image.  Good or bad, you have made an impression.  And like all impressions, you are in total control."

The impression Isaac Werner made on his community was positive, for he was chosen Secretary of every organization in which he participated.  His neighbors respected his skill with words.  He was chosen as a lecturer for the Farmers' Alliance and was published in journals and newspapers.

Richard Corliss, film critic and magazine editor, speaks to what is happening today when he writes, "Texting has reduced the number of waste words, but it has also exposed a back hole of ignorance about traditional--what a cranky guy would call correct--grammar."  I guess I belong in the ranks of "cranky guys," for I believe grammar remains essential for the sharing of ideas.  Sloppy grammar and immature vocabulary reveals, in my opinion, disrespect for serious thought.  I'm glad to see a renewed emphasis on grammar, and I hope that emphasis makes a difference for future generations.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Our own Kansas Botanist and Inventor

In my search for scientists working during the late 1800s, when Isaac Werner lived in Kansas and participated in the Populist Movement, I noticed a Kansan who deserves to be mentioned for his personal, as well as his professional achievements.  George Washington Carver was a botanist and an inventor, but perhaps as important as his professional achievements are the nearly impossible personal obstacles he overcame.

This stone marks the NE corner of the homestead Carver filed in 1886
Yes, he was the first black student to study at Iowa State Agricultural College in Ames, and after receiving his master's degree there, he became the first black faculty member (1891-1896).  In 1896 he was invited to head the Agricultural Department at Tuskegee Institute, where he remained for 47 years.  The focus of his adult life was returning Southern soils depleted by years of growing cotton to land capable of renewed production.  In addition to restoring the land, he sought to improve the lives of the poor farmers trying to eke out a living on the exhausted soil.  He taught them about raising crops like sweet potatoes, peanuts, soybeans, and cowpeas to restore nitrogen to the soil while also providing healthful food for their diets.  These are the achievements for which most people know him.

Credit: Frances Benjamin Johnston
However, his first college endeavors were at Simpson College in Indianola, Iowa in 1890, where he pursued art and piano.  It was his art teacher who suggested that he use his gift for painting flowers and plants in the study of botany.  For the remainder of his life he continued painting, and one of his paintings, depicting yucca and cactus plants, was shown at the World's Columbian Exposition, better known as the 1893 Chicago World's Fair.  A fire in 1947 at the museum where his paintings were displayed destroyed all but three of them, the yucca and cactus painting being one of the three saved.

Achieving academic respect and international fame was quite remarkable for a black man of his time, yet that is what he did.  He met with three American presidents--Teddy Roosevelt, Calvin Coolidge, and FDR.  Carver became friends with the son of one of the  professors with whom he had studied, and that professor, Henry Cantwell Wallace, served as Secretary of Agriculture from 1921 to 1924, as had Carver's former dean and professor, James Wilson, from 1897 to 1913.  However, it was his young friend and the son of Professor Wallace, Henry A. Wallace, who served as U.S. Secretary of Agriculture from 1933 to 1940, then became Franklin Delano Roosevelt's vice president from 1941 to 1945.  Obviously, George Washington Carver had friends in high places.

W. W. II Poster, circa 1943
All of those achievements are things you may have learned at some point in school, and they are surely why his name was included among the other scientists of the late 1800s and early 1900s on the references I consulted.  But for me the most amazing things he did happened earlier, for the beginning of his life offered no clues of the achievements to come.

He was born into slavery some time in the early 1860s and was owned by Moses Carver, a German American immigrant.  His parents, whose names were Mary and Giles, were purchased in 1855 for $700, and baby George, joined an older sister and brother.  A few days after his birth, night raiders from Arkansas kidnapped his mother, his sister, and him.  Although Moses Carver sought their return, only George was found, and it is said that a horse was traded for the infant's return.  Moses and his wife Susan raised George and his older brother James as their own, with Susan teaching them the basics of reading and writing.

1948 US Postage Stamp
Black children in Diamond, Missouri where the Carver's lived, were not allowed to go to public school, and George's pilgrimage for additional education began at a school for black children 10 miles away.  When he rented a room from a woman named Mariah Watkins, he introduced himself as "Carver's George," as a slave would have done using his master's name showing ownership, but she corrected him, saying that he should use the name George Carver.

His next destination at the age of 13 was Fort Scott, Kansas to attend an academy there.  After seeing a black man killed by white men, he left Fort Scott for a series of schools, but eventually he earned his diploma from Minneapolis High School in Kansas.  Eager for college, he was accepted at Highland University in Kansas, but they revoked his acceptance when he arrived because of his race.  Deferring college, he claimed a homestead in Ness County, Kansas, in 1886, where he built a sod house with a small conservatory for plants and flowers.  He raised corn, garden produce, cotton, shrubbery and trees, including fruit trees.  To earn cash, he did odd jobs in town and worked as a ranch hand.  In early 1888, he borrowed $300 from the Bank of Ness City in order to resume his education. 

This summary brings us back to the part of his story with which I began this blog, the part which most people have heard before.  However, it is his birth and his youth that I find so amazing--how he somehow survived a kidnapping when he was so young, how he was fortunate to be owned by a couple willing to rescue and raise him, and how he struck out on his own, determined to get an education.

US Farm Security Adm. 1942
Isaac Werner resumed writing in his journal in 1884, having come to Kansas about 1878.  From the summary of Carver's years in Kansas, it would seem that George Washington Carver may have arrived a bit ahead of Isaac, but he left Kansas around the summer of 1888 or slightly later.  The testing of different crops and seed varities Isaac described in his journal may have been similar to George Carver's plant experiments  in Ness County, although that tall grass prairie is north and west of Stafford County where Isaac staked his claim, and the soils and weather would have been different.  Both men certainly had in common a desire to study what crops would do well in Kansas, and they would both have approached their farming efforts in a similar, more scientific way.

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Ks Historical Marker on Hwy K-96 just west of Beeler, KS