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September 12, 2013

Education then and now ...

Cooperstown Crier

---- — Not long ago while discussing the state of education with a friend, she put forth the idea that her mother, who graduated from Cooperstown High School in 1903, received a better education than students do today. We have often heard the claim that students who graduated in the 1980s and 1990s received a better education than students do today. But this was the first time we had heard the claim made for the Class of 1903.

And while we have a general idea of what education was in the ‘80s and ‘90s, we willingly admit that we had not a clue what the Class of 1903 might have undertaken. Fortunately, in our collection of such things, we found the Catalogue of the Cooperstown High School 1903–1904. And, although it is in a rather fragile state, we did manage to read through it, making note of items that we found to be of interest.

Under the heading of “Announcement” we read: “The school believes that the end of school discipline is ‘to train pupils in habits of self-control and self-direction’ — to train pupils to be self-governing. Right conduct is to be obtained by forming right character. A school system that does not grow character is a failure, whatever else may be its excellence.”

This was followed, under “Duties of Pupils,” with: “Pupils shall be required to be regular and punctual in attendance, to conform to all the rules and regulations of the school and to obey promptly all the directions of the teachers. They shall be required to observe good order and propriety of deportment, to be diligent in study, respectful of teachers, and kind and courteous toward one another. Good behavior and movements shall always be observed.”

It would seem that the expectations for the pupils were rather straight forward, as was the explanation of the value of reading, which was found under “Course of Reading in the Grades.” It states: “The ability to read is the key that unlocks much knowledge, and a taste for the proper kind of reading will, in a large degree, shape the education that comes through reading after school life has ended.”

And then we got to the heart of the matter, namely what was required academically in the various grades. We must say, that as we plowed through the requirements, we were rather glad that we graduated from high school in a different time and a different place.

Under “Academic Courses,” we discovered that in high school, the pupils could focus on four distinct areas: English, Latin-Scientific, Classical and Modern Languages. As an example, we note that the requirements for English included in the first year, algebra, U.S. history, first year English, physiology and drawing; in the second year, geometry, physical geography, English history, botany, second year English and physics; in the third year, third year English, geology, civics and zoology; and in the fourth year, English reading, economics, book keeping, chemistry and astronomy. No wonder our friend thought her mother got an education that might be the equivalent of community college today. And we are suspicious it might even qualify for a bachelors degree.

We also found the list of “Texts for Close Study” to be interesting to say the least. For the English reading course, it was noted that the texts for general reading and composition work included: Shakespeare, Merchant of Venice and Julius Caesar; Addison, The Sir Roger de Coverly Papers; Goldsmith, The Vicar of Wakefield; Coleridge, Rime of the Ancient Mariner; Scott, Ivanhoe; Carlyle, Essay on Burns; Lowell, Vision of Sir Launfal; Tennyson, Princess; and George Eliot, Silas Marner. It would not seem to be a light course load to say the least.

Exactly how the education in 1903 compares to today’s eduction is probably up for debate. However, we are not particularly encouraged by articles we have read regarding the current push for schools to use the Common Core curriculum. Regarding mathematics an article titled, “Do the math — Common Core = a massive, risky experiment on your kids,” we read:

“One of Common Core’s most glaring deficiencies is its handling of adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing numbers.

“Remember ‘fuzzy math?’ It’s back with a vengeance under Common Core. The classic method of, for example, adding two-digit numbers is to add the digits in the ones’ column, carry the remainder to the tens column, and then add the tens digits. This ‘standard algorithm’ works first time, every time.”

This was certainly how we learned to add but we gather it is not part of the Common Core thinking. Instead students are expected to use number lines, estimate or something. And it seems the initial disastrous results in NYS were not alone. According to the article, “Classroom chaos? Critics blast new Common Core education standards,” problems arouse in Fairfield, Conn., where “... the school district last year adopted a new math curriculum for eighth- and ninth-graders called College Preparatory Math, with an eye toward the looming Common Core tests. But a year later, standardized test scores dipped and, according to one parent ... kids who had always done well in math were left disillusioned with the subject.”

And concern with the Common Core standards is not just limited to mathematics. According to the article, “Parents who home-school question Common Core’s reach,” it seems that:

“The Hunt Institute, which supports CCSS, said the new standards were created ‘through a voluntary, collective effort by states’ and serves as the ‘foundation for an education system that demands excellent teaching, high-quality professional development, rigorous curricula, and dynamic assessments.’

But home-schooling groups, like the HSLDA, claim the Common Core creates a “one-size-fits-all approach to education” that rests on the “assumption that every child must learn the same things at the same speed. We believe that the success of home schooling shows that the key to educational success is empowering parents and teachers, not educational bureaucrats,” the group said in a statement.

As we read this we were stuck by the fact that the statement in favor of Common Core does not seem to mention what we think is the basis for education, namely the students, while the statements against Common Core recognizes that the success of the students’ education rests with parents and teachers. As one home-schooling parent said in reference to education: “Each child learns differently. Each person dreams differently.” And now it seems each child can do math differently.

We rather doubt there would be much support for returning to the education of 1903. But from what we have read, we tend to be somewhat dubious as to the future of education as we firmly believe that what is important in any education is what happens between the teacher and the student. Everything else about education will either help or hinder that process.

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