18-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today:
Tuesday, April 15, 1913: Tomorrow witnesses the beginnings of our final examinations. I do hope that I’ll pass.
Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:
Hang in there Grandma—you’re almost there. Your graduation invitations have been mailed. You’ll navigate your way through this final hurdle.
The way students are tested today is controversial. I was amazed to discover that people also had concerns about exams a hundred years ago.
Here is an excerpt from an article in the October 1912 issue of Ladies Home Journal called “The Black Beast in Every Child’s School Life”:
No evil in the present American public-school system is, to my mind so great and so manifestly unjust to the pupil as what may very aptly be called “the black beast of every child’s school life”: examinations, as they for the most part now are conducted. .
Examinations, as they are now almost universally conducted in our schools, are a memory extortion pure and simple. An examination is supposed to be a final twist which will forever fix in the memory as a whole the items that have been put into it one at a time.
Why should we longer put our children to these terrible strains as we do now? I have tried to think out a good reason and I am unable to do so.
The dictionary is always at hand when the pupil is studying his lesson, and so can be referred to at will. Besides this the grammar is always accessible, to explain new an unusual forms and phrases that appear in it.
But when examination day s comes every one of these rightful and useful helps in his work is taken away from him, and arm’s length of memory alone if he is asked to translate, give forms of words and account for constructions, without any assistance from the tools that he ordinarily has been permitted to use.
Memory-test examinations must be abolished. Time was when the word “scholar” meant a wailing dictionary. There are too many words now, and knowledge has too vast a reach, to be compressed into any one single head. Besides, what’s the use? Dictionaries are cheap. The missions can have cyclopedias now; and things are so much easier to get at, so much more reliable withal so much more liable to keep in any climate when preserved for ruse in this way.