An 8th Grade Education

You have probably heard elderly family members or friends refer to having an 8th grade education. Going through grammar school, or 8th grade, without continuing on to high school was fairly common in the past. But what exactly was an 8th grade education? Genealogy blogger Randy Seaver posted an 1895 Salina, KS. 8th grade final exam. Here is an excerpt:

Grammar (Time, 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.

How would you do?

[tags]grammar, english, education[/tags]

6 thoughts on “An 8th Grade Education”

  1. I will be the one who speaks the English language blasphemy. Do the students really need to define each term and so on, or should we focus on the students being able to speak and to write correctly? I struggle with this because I have students who can get the correct answers to grammatical problems without being able to define the answer. "It just sounds right," to quote them.

    Granted, this is not a foolproof method and they do lack the intricate understanding of why it is so, but they do the basics well enough to meet the minimum expectations placed upon them.

    I can't believe I just wrote that, but I do wrestle with this from time to time.

  2. You know that I always think about? The test that Laura Ingalls had to take, to become a teacher, in Little House on The Prarie… I can't remember which book in the series it is, but the one where she marries Almanzo. That test asked her to diagram sentences and things like that. If I had to diagram sentences to become a teacher, well, I wouldn't be one…

  3. I just forwarded the original post to my coworkers (I teach at a high school in Florida [testing capital of the world]). I can understand Dr.Pezz's perspective. And like Nancy, I doubt I would be a teacher. It makes me realize just how much our profession has changed. I woder whether or not in 100 years we (well, not me) will be talking about "web2.0" this way…

    Thanks for your site, by the way.


  4. First, I loved diagramming sentences in school and feel that it really helped me be a better writer.

    Second, I understand how most people would be turned off by diagramming sentences (they are crazy, but I understand) and how one can become a perfectly good writer without the skill.

    Third, I would completely fail that test – except for the last question. That shows us that one can be a good writer and abide by all the rules without knowing what the rules are.

  5. I think I can use capital letters correctly, but frankly, I'm sure I have nine rules memorized. I can name the parts of speech, but to be honest, I'm not sure what they mean by "modifications." I can define verse, stanza, and paragraph with no problem. I'd be OK with the principle parts of verbs, too. I would be totally stumped on cases, despite the fact that I took two quarters of Latin in college. I seem to remember the nominative was the subject, the ablative was what we might call object of a preposition (but I'm fuzzy on that), the dative was the direct object (I think, and the genitive was possessive. I know there's another one, but I can't think of it. I would do fine on punctuation and the essay, too, I think, but frankly, I think this test is beyond the scope of many of our high school students and a great many of our college students. As Tim says, however, I think sometimes students intuit these rules without being able to articulate them. Is it really important that I know the term genitive case, or is it more important that I understand how to form possessives correctly? Connie Weaver makes interesting arguments for changing how we teach grammar in Teaching Grammar in Context. I recommend it for any English teacher.

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