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A different time

Test from 1924 shows what schools once accomplished—with a lot less money


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This is the 21st in a series of classic columns (edited for space) by Joel Belz. Joel wrote this column for the Feb. 4, 2006, issue of WORLD.

The next time you hear a plea for a tax increase in your area to enhance the quality of education, be bold to ask the people in charge: “What enhancements have you achieved with the money you already have?”

I couldn’t help thinking about that a few days ago when my wife, a favorite aunt, and I spent most of a week emptying the home of Henrietta Abels, a devoted 99-year-old Christian woman who had died not long before. In the process, we ran across a little booklet called Stephenson’s Iowa State Eighth Grade Examination Question Book. The pamphlet, published in 1924, was to help eighth graders take the test that would qualify them to move on into high school.

The bottom line is that most high school seniors today would find the eighth grade guide of 1924 quite a challenge. The questions covered 10 subject areas—and you might enjoy (or you might not) matching your wits against those of a typical Iowa eighth grader in 1924.

Arithmetic. A wall 77 feet long, 6½ feet high, and 14 inches thick is built of bricks costing $9.00 per M. What was the entire cost of the bricks if 22 bricks were sufficient to make a cubic foot of wall?

Geography. What waters would a ship pass through in going from Duluth to Buffalo? With what would the boat be apt to be loaded? What, probably, would it be loaded with on a return trip?

Grammar. Define five of the following terms: antecedent, tense, object, conjugation, auxiliary verb, expletive, reflexive pronoun.

Physiology. (a) Beginning with food in the mouth, trace the course of digestion, naming the juices with which the food is mixed and the results. (b) What is the reason that spitting on the street is dangerous to the health of a community?

Spelling and Orthography. Select the proper prefix and place before each word in the following list (up, under, out, fore, over): Spread, balance, hold, sight, ground, shine, current, brush, roar, burst.

Writing. Give five movements to develop accuracy in penmanship. Tell what you seek to do in using each movement.

History. (a) What colonies were founded in America because of religious reasons? By whom was each founded? (b) Give the cause, time, and result of each of the wars in which the United States has been involved.

Civil Government. Name three township, three county, and three state officers and state what office each person holds. Why do so many men dislike holding township offices?

Music. Draw a staff. Place on it the scale in half notes in the keys of G, D, and F. Write the scale that has a sharp on the fifth line and another sharp on the third space.

Reading. Who were Hamlet? Lochinvar? Naomi? Socrates? Gathergold? What are the three most impor­tant topics now being discussed in the newspapers? State two reasons for reading a newspaper. Give five uses of the dictionary.

All this, mind you, was accomplished in the context of almost overly disciplined patriotism. The same booklet suggests proper decorum during the daily salute to the flag: “Raise the right hand smartly till the tip of the forefinger touches the forehead above the right eye, thumb and fingers extended and joined, palm to the left, forearm inclined at about 45 degrees, hand and wrist straight; while thus standing, with the forefinger touching the forehead in attitude of salute, all the pupils repeat together slowly and distinctly the following pledge: I pledge allegiance to the flag and the republic for which it stands; one country; one language; one flag. At the words, To the flag, each one extends the right hand gracefully, palm upward, toward the flag, until the end of the pledge or affirmation. Then all hands drop to the side.”

It was, to be sure, an altogether different time. We shouldn’t overromanticize it. But neither should we miss the point that it produced a remarkably educated society—without bankrupting taxpayers in the process.


Joel Belz

Joel Belz (1941–2024) was WORLD’s founder and a regular contributor of commentary for WORLD Magazine and WORLD Radio. He served as editor, publisher, and CEO for more than three decades at WORLD and was the author of Consider These Things.

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