Compare the Goals of English Classes in 1912 to Today’s if You Want to Understand Why Literacy Is Plummeting

We understood, more than 100 years ago, how to teach children so that they would become successful, well educated adults. Did we forget how to teach, or was a decision made to change curriculum to deliberately degrade the educational system? Take over your school boards. Change the curriculum back to what has been proven to work. These people are your employees. Demand results. To save America we must save one child at a time. ~ Rosemary Stein, MD

I recently spent an evening with a group of college students. Like most young people their age, they were engaged in their studies and eager to share about semesters spent abroad and future plans.

But then the topic changed. Instead of talking about pop culture or other common subjects, these young people started discussing… their favorite Shakespeare plays. And not just Romeo and Juliet, either. We’re talking lesser-known ones like Henry IV (part one and two) Julius Caesar, and others. Clearly, these students had received a well-rounded education, not only in college, but in high school as well.

That’s a bit unusual these days. But it wasn’t always that way. Consider, for example, the 1912 Course of Study for high schools in Oakland, California. A look at the English section reveals a hefty diet of Shakespeare both in primary and secondary readings:

* The Merchant of Venice

* Twelfth Night

* Midsummer Night’s Dream

* The Tempest

* As You Like It

* Julius Caesar

* Richard II and III

* Henry V

* Coriolanus

* Henry IV

* Macbeth

* King Lear, Hamlet, or Othello

Lest one think that Shakespeare was the only thing studied in 1912, it’s helpful to note that Homer, Longfellow, Euripides, Stevenson, Dickens, Tennyson, Thoreau, and Milton were a few of the many other authors included on the reading lists.

Furthermore, it’s interesting to note the goals of the Oakland public high school’s English course. They read as follows:

1. To arouse an interest in the best that has been written by making students enjoy their English work.

2. By means of this interest in the best, to help develop right ideals of thought and action.

3. To train in intelligent, appreciate reading; viz., to be able to get the writer’s thought and to acquire some standards of judgment as to what constitutes true literature.

Not bad, huh? These sound exactly like the type of goal every educational institution should have for its students: To become knowledgeable, but discerning, young people who understand how the thoughts of past thinkers apply today.

Unfortunately, such does not seem to be the goal of many modern schools. 2017 course catalog from Skyline High School, one of Oakland, California’s current public schools, demonstrates this. Although students are described as reading a “variety of texts,” classic, time-honored authors like Shakespeare aren’t mentioned until 12th grade, and then only in an AP class.

The goals of the English courses, although vague, are also telling, and focus more on instilling a social justice mindset in students, instead of teaching them to be clear, independent thinkers. The description from the English I course explains:

“In English I students will read a variety of texts… with a focus on analyzing the central themes of these texts in relation to issues of cultural diversity, and emphasis on social and personal meaning, and an analysis of the way in which a work of literature is related to the themes and issues of its historical context.”

Perhaps such information explains why only a third of the nation’s high school seniors are proficient in reading. Or why only six percent of them test at an advanced level. (Yes, you read that right. Only six percent.)

The question is, can we expect these statistics to improve if schools avoid teaching challenging material? Or if schools continue placing more emphasis on politically correct concepts like social justice and cultural diversity rather than the thoughtful accrual of knowledge?

Written by Annie Holmquist and published by Intellectual Takeout ~ June 7, 2018.

~ The Author ~
Annie is a senior writer with Intellectual Takeout. In her role, she assists with website content production and social media messaging.

Annie received a B.A. in Biblical Studies from the University of Northwestern-St. Paul. She also brings 20+ years of experience as a music educator and a volunteer teacher – particularly with inner city children – to the table in her research and writing.

In her spare time Annie enjoys the outdoors, gardening, reading, and events with family and friends.

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One thought on “Compare the Goals of English Classes in 1912 to Today’s if You Want to Understand Why Literacy Is Plummeting

  1. Jackie

    If you want to really see how DUMBED DOWN this nation’s education has become try this final exam for the 8th grade in Kansas in 1895. I sincerely doubt any of today’s teachers or professors could pass this test today.

    This is the eighth-grade final exam* from 1895 from Salina, Kansas. It was taken from the original document on file at the Smoky Valley Genealogical Society and Library in Salina, Kansas and reprinted by the Salina Journal.

    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 do, lie, lay and run.
    5. Define Case, Illustrate each Case.
    6. What is Punctuation? Give rules for principal marks of Punctuation.
    7-10. Write a composition of about 150 words and show therein that you understand the practical use of the rules of grammar.

    Arithmetic (Time, 1.25 hours)
    1. Name and define the Fundamental Rules of Arithmetic.
    2. A wagon box is 2 ft. deep, 10 feet long, and 3 ft. wide. How many bushels of wheat will it hold?
    3. If a load of wheat weighs 3942 lbs., what is it worth at 50cts. per bu, deducting 1050 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, and have $104 for incidentals?
    5. Find cost of 6720 lbs. coal at $6.00 per ton.
    6. Find the interest of $512.60 for 8 months and 18 days at 7 percent.
    7. What is the cost of 40 boards 12 inches wide and 16 ft. long at $.20 per inch?
    8. Find bank discount on $300 for 90 days (no grace) at 10 percent.
    9. What is the cost of a square farm at $15 per acre, the distance around which is 640 rods?
    10.Write a Bank Check, a Promissory Note, and a Receipt.

    U.S. History (Time, 45 minutes)
    1. Give the epochs into which U.S. History is divided.
    2. Give an account of the discovery of America by Columbus.
    3. Relate the causes and results of the Revolutionary War.
    4. Show the territorial growth of the United States.
    5. Tell what you can of the history of Kansas.
    6. Describe three of the most prominent battles of the Rebellion.
    7. Who were the following: Morse, Whitney, Fulton, Bell, Lincoln, Penn, and Howe?
    8. Name events connected with the following dates: 1607, 1620, 1800, 1849, and 1865?

    Orthography (Time, one 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, linguals?
    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, super.
    8. Mark diacritically and divide into syllables the following, and 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.

    Geography (Time, one hour)
    1. What is climate? Upon what does climate depend?
    2. How do you account for the extremes of climate in Kansas?
    3. Of what use are rivers? Of what use is the ocean?
    4. Describe the mountains of N.A.
    5. Name and describe the following: Monrovia, Odessa, Denver, Manitoba, Hecla, Yukon, St. Helena, Juan Fermandez, Aspinwall and Orinoco.
    6. Name and locate the principal trade centers of the U.S.
    7. Name all the republics of Europe and give capital of each.
    8. Why is the Atlantic Coast colder than the Pacific in the same latitude?
    9. Describe the process by which the water of the ocean returns to the sources of rivers.
    10.Describe the movements of the earth. Give inclination of the earth.

    April 13, 1895 J.W. Armstrong, County Superintendent.Examinations at Salina, New Cambria, Gypsum City, Assaria, Falun, Bavaria, and District No. 74 (in Glendale Twp.)”

    According to the Smoky Valley Genealogy Society, Salina, Kansas “this test is the original eighth-grade final exam for 1895 from Salina, KS. An interesting note is the fact that county students taking this test were allowed to take the test in the 7th grade, and if they did not pass the test at that time, they were allowed to re-take it again in the 8th grade.”


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