This article first appeared in The McAlvany Intelligence Advisor on Monday, September 2nd, 3013:

When a copy of the “common exam” for 8th-graders given in Bullitt County, Kentucky, in 1912 was given to the local genealogical museum, it made the national news. The questions were so difficult that ABC News tried to deflect the obvious question: why don’t our kids know these things today? Instead, it quoted from volunteers at the museum who said that these questions “relate to what the children at the time would have been familiar with,” and that the test “should be not used to compare student knowledge then and now.”

Of course not. It shows how dumbed down the kids are today compared to a hundred years ago. Back then, the Bullitt County school district consisted mostly of one-room schools scattered throughout the rural county. Students came together at the county courthouse once or twice a year to take this exam. It was a big deal. Local papers urged the students to work hard in order to do well. Seventh-graders were urged to start studying now in order to be prepared to take the exam next year. Scholarships to high schools were awarded based upon performance on the exam.

There are questions covering eight subjects: spelling, reading, arithmetic, grammar, geography, physiology, civil government, and history. To see just how far down the educational scale the kids have descended, look at just a few of the questions on civil government and history:

Question: Define the following forms of government: Democracy, Limited Monarchy, Absolute Monarchy, Republic. Give examples of each.

Question: Name and define the three branches of the government of the United States.

Question: Give three duties of the President. What is meant by the veto power?

Question: Name three rights given Congress by the Constitution and two rights denied Congress.

Question: In the election of the president and vice-president, how many electoral votes is each state allowed?

Question: Give the eligibility of the president, vice-president, and Governor of Kentucky.

Question: Give the cause of the War of 1812 and name an important battle fought during that war.

Question: What president was impeached, and on what charge?

What is perhaps most unsettling is the attempt by the museum’s volunteers to answer those questions. Here are some choice examples:

Question: Define Democracy

Answer: [They quoted the entry from Wikipedia!] “Democracy is a form of government in which all eligible citizens participate equally – either directly or through elected representatives – in the proposal, development, and creation of laws.” Not one mention was made of the of democracy or how the Founders eschewed democracy.

Question: Define Republic

Answer: A government where the head of state is not a monarch. [I’m not making this up.]

Question: Give the cause of the war of 1812.

Answer: The Americans declared war in 1812 for several reasons, including trade restrictions due to Britain’s ongoing war with France, and the impressment of merchant sailors into the Royal Navy.

Once again this is taken directly from Wikipedia, and is a dreadfully incomplete answer as a result. In other words, the great scholars volunteering at the Bullitt County Genealogical Society, instead of doing their homework, went to Wiki, that great fount of complete and unimpeachable historical accuracy for their answers.

Nothing was said about the Chesapeake-Leopard affair in 1807 when the British warship HMS Leopard attacked and boarded the frigate USS Chesapeake, looking for deserters from the Royal Navy. This outraged Americans, setting in place the sentiment that ultimately led to the War of 1812.

Nothing was said about the great “war hawk” Henry Clay who nearly single-handedly pushed the Congress and President James Madison into declaring war against the British because he was tired of American “humiliation” at the hands of the British.

But the point is made: the kids were smarter back then. Even the teachers of today can’t match up with what the kids knew back then. Heaven knows what those teachers would do without Wikipedia!



1912 Eighth Grade Examination for Bullitt County Schools

1912 Eighth Grade Examination for Bullitt County Schools – Answers

ABC News: Can You Pass This 8th Grade Exam From 1912?

The Missoulian: Education: Dumbing down our kids

News with Views: How Public Schools Dumb Down our Children

Amazon: “Dumbing Down Our Kids: Why American Children Feel Good About Themselves But Can’t Read, Write, or Add”

Origins of the War of 1812 from Wikipedia

Chesapeake-Leopard Affair

Robert Remini’s “A Short History of the United States”

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