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Sunday, November 04, 2007

Lessons learned in 1911

Jerry Bowen

How would today’s high school graduates compare?

In my last column we took a brief look at some of the 1911 requirements to graduate from grammar school (the eighth grade).  This week we will look at a brief summary of reading and literature and an example of part of an article written by a graduate of high school in 1912.


“Good reading requires knowledge of words, attention to the thought of the selection and proper vocal culture.

“A variety of reading exercises should be given. (1) Reading of lessons, which have been carefully prepared; (2) sight reading, in which the pupil is required to read something, which he has not prepared; (3) an exercise in silent reading - all the class being required to read a selection at the same time silently-after which individuals should be called upon to give the thought of what they have read.

“Special attention should be given to the meaning and use of words occurring in lessons. Clear articulation, proper expression and correct modulation of the voice should be secured by daily drill. Insist on correct manner of position while standing and correct manner of holding the book while reading.”


“The character of a pupil is greatly influenced by his reading. So the love of that which is best, of that which will awaken in him a desire for the wholesome and good should be developed in the school. It is not expected that pupils be confined to the mere work as outlined in the course of study. The teacher should direct the pupils in the selection of other works by these same authors so that they may feel at home with the writers and be filled with a desire to know and enjoy what is best in the language.

“In the higher grades pupils should be taught to outline the thought, to explain the words, to distinguish the common figures of speech as metaphor, simile, personification; to show the value of metaphors and similes; to expand a metaphor to a simile; to condense a simile to a metaphor; to point out the parts of a simile and to show the point of similitude.”

Ok, let’s take a look at how well a student learned the lessons as laid out by the course of study. One of the freshmen of 1909, Beulah Wheeler, graduated in 1912 and wrote a piece for the 1912 yearbook titled, “The Future of the Twentieth Century.”

“I was sitting under a large tree one day contemplating my diplomas on various courses in learning . We certainly had attained the zenith of knowledge, we of the Twentieth Century.

“While I was feeling all this pride of my age go coursing through my mind, I must have contentedly fallen asleep.

“When I came to consciousness I was walking about rather aimlessly and with no particular thought. But presently my interest was trapped and held by hearing the mention of “The Advancements of the Twentieth Century,” followed by discussions, which must have been carried on by some class of historians.

“At first it seemed hard to grasp their meaning, but gradually some fragments of intelligence lodged in my brain. There was some preposterous class hidden in the little bower and attempting with their strange ideas to reduce our scientific knowledge to theories. I was surprised at their audacity; they pretended to understand the great propositions of the day and to talk with ease on the subjects that our wise men looked upon with awe and no real understanding. They diagnosed our theories and even laughed at our conclusions, spoke lightly of our beliefs and wondered at our ignorance. They actually seemed to screw up their faces at our prophecies of a glorious future.

“Paying no attention to my surroundings, I strode on until interrupted by stumbling on a roll of newspapers. Ever fond of reading I gathered up several and sat down to look them over.

“I glanced in disgust at a page or so, thinking I had a glaring and imaginative Sunday paper; then my eye fell on the heading What! Oh, no, it must he printed by mistake. There before my eyes was not nineteen hundred and twelve but twenty-one hundred and twelve! I then gave the contents of the papers a careful perusal, vaguely gathering their import.

“Nearly every subject and picture was of strange tidings. Happenings written up like every day occurrences were of, my how my ears burned-things I had scoffed at and ridiculed as visionary and without foundation.

“For instance, it was plainly to be seen that horses were only kept in the parks, and autos were neither bought nor sold. Train schedules, and train accidents, were not mentioned, and steam vessels were out of date. Telephone wires had long been abandoned, and the art of writing letters had been lost, while messages were transmitted through space and thoughts were as legal as script. Distance was held no more as a bar to the sight than weight against scaling the air. Thus things we had had vague hints of, but dismissed as foolish were common, while the very things we had viewed with so much pride, were either not there at all, or else mentioned as the antique relics of a clumsy, superstitious age. However, to our credit, I must say that a few exceptions were made, as in an historic essay about several inventors. The paper spoke of Edison and Marconi, etc., as the promising heralds that carried their little stars of knowledge in advance of the stumbling multitude, but even they were said to be only reflections of an intellect just beyond their time.”

Well, how do you think she would rate when compared to today’s graduates?

The entire contents of the “rules for promotion and graduation” is posted on a new Vacaville Heritage Council web page designed to aid local history research at