The Harvard entrance exam…and Common Core



I want to talk about specific questions on the Harvard entrance examination, which reveals what an 18-year-old could do, in the 19th century. Yes, the successful applicant probably came from the best prep schools, but no, this is not sufficient to explain the failure of our modern education system…we’ve had over a century to match the teaching skills that were “the best” we could offer back then. Keep in mind, back then a teacher was anybody that wanted to call himself a teacher…you didn’t need years of training and an Education degree to teach kids (truth is, you still don’t, but that laws make it so).

All those years of “teacher training” and the highfalutin’ Education degree should produce results; our 21st century students are the products of Educationist research, they should be way better than 19th century students.

completely Education has failed as a field.

To put this failure in comparison, imagine if the field of Aeronautics, flying machines, was started in the 19th century, when the best we had were hot air balloons. In order for this field to have failed as badly as Education, our best 21st century flying machines would be hot air balloons that can’t even stay aloft, and must be released at the top a cliff, to glide down, crashing in flames about half the time…

And that’s what we have now, right? Oh, no we don’t. We even have space rockets that land by themselves nowadays. So, Aeronautics is apparently a legitimate field with much success to be proud of. Education? Obviously not. Obviously, obviously, obviously.

So, the test. It begins with an extensive and detailed list of questions involving translation into Latin and Greek, with hints for obscure vocabulary words. I concede Greek and Latin aren’t as important to the 21st century as the 19th, but now our high school graduates can’t answer many of the test questions in proper English, much less any non-English language, even more much less do so with precision like “form a noun denoting the masculine agent from” and “Give the rules for the Subjunctive…”

And the Harvard applicant, 90% of the time, can answer these questions in two different languages, in addition to English. Educationists have removed foreign language from our childhood education, as well as English, and replaced this knowledge with…nothing.

There’s more to the test than language skills, however.

Bound the basin of the Po, the Mississippi, of the St. Lawrence. –yes, that’s a question from the exam. Try phrasing that as a “fill in the bubble” question, which is how our students demonstrate knowledge today.

Next comes some history and geography. Again, there’s a focus on ancient history, and I’ll concede perhaps this isn’t as important now as then. But, “man on the street” interviews reveal most college students are deeply, deeply, ignorant of basic current events, rudimentary geography, or even recent history. Our Educationists have removed the old material of history and geography and replaced it with…nothing.

Ok, so Education with its highfalutin’ “new ways of learning” gobbledigoop has removed iffy stuff like language skills, history, and current events. Maybe it covers the other topics on the test?

Half the Harvard test is mathematically related, knowledge that I firmly believe is worth knowing because it stands the test of time. Again, Educationists have eliminated this sort of knowledge in our public schools (I often dealt with students who, in their first year of college, hadn’t taken a math class in 3 or more years), and on our campuses (where degree programs often require 5% or less of the coursework to be mathematically related).

One more time, it’s very clear: Educationists have removed this material, mathematics, and replaced it with…nothing.

I’m pleased to say that most of my third year mathematics students—i.e., specialized students who are dedicated–would do well on these mathematical “entrance exam” questions…but I probably should point out about half of those students were born in a different country than here (mathematical knowledge is universal, after all).

Let’s look at some specific questions:

“One meter is 39.37 inches. Compute from this datum the value of 4 miles in kilometers.”

Some questions, like the above, do require some local knowledge (not everyone on the planet knows how many feet are in a mile), but most of the questions really are what used to be high school level material, at least with a calculator. Granted, the Harvard students didn’t have calculators…but 90% of them could answer the questions all the same. Today’s students can’t answer those questions even with a calculator. That sort of mathematical knowledge has been removed from the curriculum, and replaced with—you guessed it!—nothing.

The next question really caught my eye:

“Prove the formula for the cosine of the sum of two angles.”

Some questions, like the above, require a level of sophistication that simply no longer exists in our kids. I had a “Prove this” question on a recent final exam, a far simpler proof than the above, one I went over the day before the test. While I grant not all my foreign students can prove things, not one “native born” American could this year, and that’s a typical year. I catch heat for asking students, advanced students, to prove things, but there really was a time when an 18 year old could think clearly enough to do that sort of thing, right out of high school. You can’t do that anymore, not even when tossing in two years of college.

It is clear that following Educationist ideas has led to the intellectual castration of our children. They are no longer capable of reproducing rational thought.

“Find (a – b)6 by the Binomial Theorem.”

The above question really is high school level algebra (because I remember doing it in 10th grade, and I wasn’t in an AP class)…but I wouldn’t dare ask that in a so-called “College Algebra” course today. I do ask something comparable in a 3000 level course, however, and most students can do it. Thanks to all that Educationist teaching, it takes two years of specialized coursework in higher education to match what a general high school graduate could do in the 19th century.

Does this really sound like we’ve improved our teaching methods? Let me state clearly the takeaway from the Harvard entrance exam of over 150 years go:

Education as a field has devoted over a century to the study of teaching human beings. We’ve applied the methods of Education to our kids, and now we’re much, much, worse off than if we had done nothing.

Two questions keep coming up as I look at this 19th century test, and consider tests of today. How much evidence do we need to understand that Educationists have done absolutely nothing to improve the education of our children despite decades of their “research”? How much evidence do we need to understand that Education as a field of study has made education worse?

For me, the evidence is very clear that Education departments of all forms should be shut down, Education as a field should be reduced to the status of Phrenology, and Educationists should be viewed with all the scorn of TV Preachers.

As a final shot: with the Educationist track record of complete failure, why does anyone suspect Common Core will really be an improvement? The Harvard test makes it very clear that if we simply abandoned everything Education as a field has taught us and reverted to 19th century teaching methods—including using teachers completely untrained in Education–we’d be far better off.

I’ve been remiss in asking a question of my gentle readers. Allow me to do so now:

Outside of Education, what other field of knowledge has gone so far wrong that it’s obvious, if we reverted to our 19th century level of understanding, we’d be much better off? I’m hard pressed to come up with an answer, although Economics (at least, Keynesian Economics) is a possibility.