Spouses provide correct answer to our Summer 2018 mystery photo!

Congratulations to both Liz and Mark Roberts, who (in a fun twist on the old “Battle of the Sexes” game show) both provided the correct answer to our mystery photo, including the bonus question! See the drama play out in the comments on the original post!

Indeed, it happened in 1934, a year to remember. The school children occupied Perry Hannah’s  home for the next school year. Imagine listening to the teacher in the same room Perry Hannah occupied thirty years before. Wild!

Congrats to the happy couple, virtual libations all around!

One-Room Schools a Hundred Years Ago: Of Study Time, Recitations, and Recess

In the early years of the twentieth century rural students attended one-room schools from kindergarten through eighth grade.   A single classroom teacher would teach as many as forty-five children beginning in September and extending until May or June, with only a few weeks of vacation at Christmas, spring break, and a few holidays such as Christmas and New Years.  Through the 1950’s such schools continued to educate children in this manner, and many persons remember them to this day, often with fond recollections of their school days.  Only after the passage of legislation to consolidate rural schools in 1965 did they disappear in Michigan—as they did nearly simultaneously elsewhere (with exceptions for isolated communities).  Now, as memorials to the past, they grace the countryside as unoccupied or transformed buildings, each with a school bell tower presiding over an abandoned schoolyard.

As a former secondary teacher, I became fascinated with the education conducted in one-room schools.   If I felt overwhelmed preparing lessons for five classes of 14-15 year-olds every day with only two different preparations, then how could a single teacher prepare lessons for eight different grades (plus kindergarten) for as many as six different subjects?  What magic would she–the feminine pronoun is intended since most primary teachers were young women–work to keep such a diverse group of children on task for six hours of instructional time every day?  Can modern teachers learn something from practices long abandoned and nearly forgotten?  I resolved to find out.

I identified sources that would help me learn about one-room schools. One of them–oral histories of both students and teachers preserved online–provided glimpses into the way distant memories were recorded and remembered today.  Students would remember the pot-bellied stove, the ringing of the school bell, the outhouses, the games played at recess, patriotic pictures that adorned the walls, and the teacher’s manner of dealing with students.  Teachers remembered starting the fire early in the morning, walking or riding to school on wintry days, the clean-up chores at the end of the day, and interactions with individual students.  Both groups felt a strong sense of belongingness, solidarity, a family-like atmosphere inside the classroom.  Older students would help younger ones, and the teacher as well when it came to doing school chores.  Certainly there were exceptions—it was not a perfect family after all, but in general, it worked: children received an education and the teacher administered the process.

What kind of education was it these children—our grandparents and great-grandparents—received?  In one-room schoolhouses, students were busy doing two things when they were not enjoying an hour’s lunch and two recesses, morning and afternoon: they studied at their desks or they were called forward to recite.  Recitation has a peculiar meaning in school jargon: it is not simply reciting something memorized (such as a poem), but has to do more with demonstrating proficiency in a task given by the teacher.  Recitations could involve reciting a poem, but more often they were about reading aloud, answering questions posed by the teacher or the textbook, working arithmetic problems, displaying an example of good penmanship, or copying out a list of state capitols from a geography book.  Study time was just that: the time spent between recitations in reading, working arithmetic problems, answering questions based on written passages, or practicing penmanship.  Classrooms, while not stony silent, were relatively quiet places with the teacher up front with a group that was doing their recitations, while the rest of the class engaged in the tasks laid out for them.

For the most part, those tasks depended on written passages in textbook readers as well as problems and drills given in arithmetic texts, one for each level.  Some schools were divided up into eight separate grades, a nightmare of organization for the teacher who had to keep each child busy during study time.  Other classes had three levels, beginners, middle, and high level, the highest being for older students who were preparing the eighth grade graduation examination that was required as a salutary end to one’s schooling or else for entry into high school.  For a time the eighth grade tests were written by officials at the county level, but later they came from the State Department of Education in Lansing.  By today’s standards, they were not easy.  Readers will find a comparison of modern and early eighth grade tests here.

How were recitations scheduled during the school day?  Albert Salisbury in his 1911 book School Management proposes 22 of them covering all subjects, each lasting ten minutes.   Beginners receive more recitations than older students because of the urgency of getting them up to speed in reading.  The most difficult subjects come early in the day when the mind is fresh, the less demanding ones later in the afternoon.  A regular tide-like alternation of recitation and study was preferred to create a sense of order.   So it was that groups of students circulated in the classroom, often in response to a verbal or nonverbal cue to call children up to the front for recitation.  It is a wonder that the system worked with such precision and military-like discipline.  Sometimes, no doubt, it did not.

Another source of information about teaching and learning in one-room schools comes from teacher grade books.  I have looked at two of them from Kingsley, Michigan, one recording student attendance and achievement between 1894 and 1902, and another containing records from 1908 to 1912.  In each of them, the elegant handwriting of several teachers tells of pupils’ names, ages, deportment (behavior), and attendance over the course of the year, sometimes giving the reasons for absence.  The later one gives the grade levels of each student as well as her/his academic achievement in each subject,  presented through monthly grades.  Teacher recommendations about promotion to the next grade are recorded in the last entry for the spring term.  These registers provide a rare glimpse into education conducted in one-room schools at the turn of the century.

Examining them carefully, several facts stand out from the outset: students vary in age from 5 to as old as 18; age is not always connected to grade level as it is nowadays—a thirteen-year old can be working at a fifth or sixth grade level, for example; class sizes vary both from year to year and by time of the year; attendance can be erratic with some students missing many days over the course of the year.  With regard to the last point, October and the spring months had the most absences—perhaps because of harvest in the fall and planting duties in the spring.  Some students—especially those 14 and older–tended to leave school in April and May, sometimes never to return.  No doubt they were working, or else had given up on their plan to finish eighth grade.  At a time when work was plentiful for those who had not finished primary school, quitting school was a reasonable decision.

Academic information is not given in the traditional A-F format, but is displayed as monthly scores for each subject.  In general, they indicate fair to high achievement; it is nearly impossible to find scores less than 70.  Younger children—five and six years old—are given assessments through descriptions: “excellent,” “very good,” or “good.”  When deportment is noted in the registers, it is described similarly: it is very difficult to find deportment grades less than “good”—most were “excellent.”  Evidently, teachers were satisfied with the behavior of their students, though an occasional comment such as “Moved away—much to the relief of all” indicates that the children were not all perfect in deportment.

Other comments shine a light on what life in a one-room school was like at this time in our history: “Very bright and faithful student.”  “Exceptionally bright but irregular in attendance because of lameness.”  “Very slow to learn or do anything else.”  “A downright bad girl.”  “Quarantined –typhoid fever.”  “Has St. Vitus dance.”  “This boy was 16 years old the day school opened.  He does not need to go to school anymore.” “Will not come in cold weather—has to walk 3 ½ miles.”  The diversity of pupils stands out from this selection of comments.

What was taught in one-room schools?  For one thing, the curriculum depended on the age of the student—younger ones concentrating on the usual Reading, Spelling, Writing, and Arithmetic—with older ones adding Geography, Grammar, and Physiology to that list.   Physiology was not just about the human body: it discussed various topics relating to health, especially focusing on abstinence from alcohol, tobacco, and drugs.  Students preparing for the eighth grade examinations knew they would be tested on these subjects, and spent study time in class reading from appropriate textbooks. Their success on the examinations would be great source of pride for them and their parents.  In some schools, there were graduation ceremonies from eighth grade that underlined the importance of finishing primary school.

From a modern point of view, it is impossible to deny the advantages of one-room schools, just as it is impossible to deny their shortcomings.  Above all, school is a social enterprise: it informs children as to what things count the most in society, reinforces the socializing influences of the family, and teaches right and wrong.  Moral education, while sounding quaint in modern parlance, underlines the role of the school in this regard.  Even now, while often unexpressed in mission statements, it is seen as an important—some would say the most important function of schools.  For many citizens, it may overshadow the expressed mission of schools–which often has to with academic achievement.

Based upon the memories of those who experienced it, one-room schooling was extraordinarily successful in children’s moral education.  Former students remember older students helping younger ones, the strict rules laid down for conduct, the sharing of resources when resources were scarce, the fun times during recess and holiday celebrations, the strong arms of older boys in loading a potbelly stove that kept the room warm in winter.  The classroom was a family, not always perfect in conduct or in effort, but a family nevertheless, a body of individuals that cared about each other.   By contrast, modern elementary schools consist of a body of students brought by school buses to a location not necessarily close to where children live.  Parental contact is limited to occasional parent-teacher conferences, email exchanges, and rare phone calls.  Teachers do not know families in the same manner they did a hundred years ago.

This is not to say that one-room schooling is a good model for education.  A hundred years ago, academic training was largely built upon memorization and the mastery of skills.  Now we know that children can do more than write neatly, learn to spell correctly, read textbooks, and do arithmetic problems that do not require understanding of mathematical principles.  By eighth grade we ask students to answer questions inquiring about the evidence used to back up an argument, demonstrate the scientific method, and work math problems that go beyond rote performance of skills such as long division.  Schoolwork is not easier than it used to be—in some ways more demands are placed on young people.  Memorizing lists of spelling words during class time is an easier task than identifying the theme of a written passage.

One-room schooling placed inordinate demands on teachers.  Few of them stayed in a position for longer than two or three years.  Not only was the salary inadequate, but the work demanded a commitment to the job few people are able to give.  Relying on young, bright women to staff schools between their high school graduation and marriage was a practice that could not be sustained.  As soon as other jobs opened up for them, they took them, leaving the low salaries, lack of respect, and overwork behind.  In part, the era of one-room schooling ended because of this change in values in society.

Still, we think of the one-room school as a delightful artifact of a bygone age.  We imagine it reflected values that underlie a fair and decent society–caring for the young, fostering independence, sharing resources, accepting discipline, and mastering reading, writing, and arithmetic.  Indeed, in some ways it did, but at a cost of students filling countless hours with exercises in drudgery.  Harried teachers as young as eighteen or twenty rarely reached the high standards demanded today—a few months in normal school would qualify them to teach.  Shoddy buildings and poorly designed instructional materials were hardly sufficient for a fine education.  No provision was made for students that were different—physically, mentally, or emotionally.  Attendance could be sporadic due to the weather, work required at the farm, disinterest in studies, illness and disability.  The United States left one-room schools behind for good reason: they failed to satisfy the need of society for better-educated young people. We should look upon them as but one step along a pathway that leads to a well-educated citizenry, a pathway we are still following.

“Dockaquacology”: Or, the Short Lives of Inland Docks

by Stewart McFerran, Regular GTJ Contributor

Dockaquacology takes place in the anonymity of the cold Spring water of the lakes of Northern Michigan. The dockaquacologist drives the sections from stacks on the shore into place with waders on. The sections are manufactured with precision using exotic metals. They fit together and are leveled to within inches of the water’s surface, they run straight and true for hundreds of feet to that magic ski boat depth.

Worden’s crew assembling a dock in Long Lake, Long Lake Township, Grand Traverse County, Michigan, Spring 2018.

The docks are strong enough to hold the entire family and more. Strong enough to hold up to being beaten with a rock by the dockaquacologist when something gets stuck, but not strong enough to stand up to the crushing force of the Winter ice. That is why teams of dockaqucologists return in the Fall to remove sections and float the hosts. Everything is stacked back onto prime waterfront.

Docks and piers in Northern Michigan were once the center of commerce. Many ships tied up and were loaded and unload at these structures. The pilings that held these piers have been ground to nubs by the ice. Those nubs can still be seen at ghost town locations near Good Harbor, Otter Creek and Pierport.

Worden’s crew assembling a dock in Long Lake, Long Lake Township, Grand Traverse County, Michigan, Spring 2018.

Docks are now the center of recreational activities. All manner of shiny craft are loaded with coolers, water skies, dogs and children. Water fronts are readied for the recreational boaters after the ice melts and before Memorial Day. The dockaquacologist imagines all the activities at the dock as he assembles the family fun land. (I am sure there are lady dockaquacologists but I have yet to meet one.)

I recently interviewed Wes Worden and his crew as they installed a dock with three boat hoists on Long Lake. We met at the Crescent Shore boat launch and boarded the “barge” and took a short ride to the site where the dock was to be erected. Long Lake was quiet that morning and the shoreline had a pristine appearance with only a few docks.

Wes Worden and crew, placing a dock on Long Lake, Long Lake Township, Grand Traverse County, Michigan.

The barge was tied up next to the stack of dock sections and the crew of four: Wes and crew put on waders and got ready for the cold Long Lake water. The barge contained all the tools the crew would need. They started by fitting large wheels into the base of the huge boat lifts and rolling them into the shallow water. Then Wes artfully set the first section of dock into the real estate.

Each section was assembled and dropped into the water legs up to be floated into place. Wes used a level to make sure each section was true. Levy rolled the sections in chest deep water and in legs down position the sections were set in place and bolted. The legs were tamped into the sand and gravel of the lake bottom.

Once the dock was complete, large pieces of foam were tucked under the boat hoist. All four men guided this huge machine into chest deep water where the foam was kicked out and the hoist dropped into place right next to the dock.

“Old school dock” on Ford Island, ca. 1920s. Image from the Traverse Area District Library Local History Collection.

Imagine the shores in their pristine state without the vast array of equipment water front owners deploy with the help of dockaquacologists. Huge white pine and cedar overhanging the banks provided shade for fish to spawn, fur bearing creatures to hunt and fowl to nest. The shores are the most vital and productive areas for wildlife and the most pleasant for humans. We now dominate the shore for our own pleasure with a wild assortment of gadgets. Together these watercraft leak oil and gas into the water and have numerous other harmful effects on the shallow waters of our lakes. (1)

Worden’s crew assembling a dock in Long Lake, Long Lake Township, Grand Traverse County, Michigan, Spring 2018.

When I saw Dockaquacologist Gabe take a ride on a large chunk of foam back to shore I was reminded of Bruce Catton’s description of loggers. Note, Wes and crew were a fine group of men. They did not fight and clearly relished the work on the water.

“But hard living and hard fighting were not the whole story. There were easy stretches on every drive – times when the logs floated smoothly down a steady current, with no tangles, no jams and nothing to worry about. At such moments a riverman would jab the spike of his peavey into one end of the log, light his pipe, look up at the clouds, and let all of tomorrow’s problems take care of themselves. This is the time when he saw the glamor of his own existence, and reveled in it.”  (2)

Worden’s crew assembling a dock in Long Lake, Long Lake Township, Grand Traverse County, Michigan, Spring 2018.

The dockaquacologist has occasional easy stretches where the sections bolt together and level without problem. At such moments the dockaquacologist sees the glamor of his own existence and revels in it in a way that those with shiny toys tied up to the dock will not witness.

(1) The Effects of Motorized Watercraft on Aquatic Ecosystems. Timothy R. Asplund, University of Wisconsin

(2) Waiting for the Morning Train. Bruce Catton

Stewart A. McFerran is a former deck hand with Lang fisheries in Leland MI. Leader of the Antioch College Great Lakes Environmental Field Program and Innisfree Naturalist.

Professional Wrestling Arrives in Traverse City, 1908

What follows is an account of professional wrestling and boxing arriving in Traverse City in 1908 from the Traverse City Evening Record.  At that time,  150 pound wrestlers had a place in the sport!:

Frank Burns, champion welterweight wrestler of the south, won the contest with Joe Burns, champion welterweight wrestler of Detroit, in a pretty contest last night in the Grand opera house in two rounds.  Times, 16 minutes and 55 seconds.

As the men stepped into the mat and touched hands, almost immediately they were locked in a full nelson, which Frank Burns gradually worked into a half nelson.  This round lasted 14 minutes and 50 seconds.  Frank Burns dropped to his knees and Joe Burns clinching him four times with his famous crotch and wrist hold, which, however, he was unable to continue, his opponent wriggling out of his grip.  The men gradually worked to the edge of the mat and Referee Henry forced them to take the center of the mat each time, taking the same positions.  Each man seemed to think the other one responsible for the working toward the mat, but they willingly obeyed the referee.

Olympics Wrestling, 1912 Sweden. Finnish wrestler Alfred Johan Asikainen and Russian wrestler Martin Klein. Image courtesy of Dave Taylor’s Michigan Wolverine Athletics website, original image not attributed, http://mwolverine.com/.

A little sparring was indulged in during this round, which seemed to the spectators an attempt to each man to bring on an attack by the other. Watching his game and a chance to grapple his opponent.  Although it is almost impossible in a well-matched team to foretell the outcome of a wrestling match, it looked at first as though Joe Burns might win with his wrist and crotch hold.  Frank Burns, however, gradually worked his man into a half nelson, and assisted by a combined roll and barlock held him down to the floor and time was called.

End Came Soon.

After an intermission of 10 minutes the men again met, but this round was finished in 2 minutes and 5 seconds, Joe Burns showing fatigue and Frank Burns seemingly good for twice the work he had already accomplished.  Frank had Joe in a half nelson and body hold, which he worked into a double nelson from the front, and gradually bore him to the mat, amid the loud applause of the spectators.

Referee Earl Henry, in introducing the wrestlers, stated that in professional wrestling no strangle holds were allowed and in the contest none were attempted.  It was good clean sport throughout, and the contest was watched with intense interest, even the gallery gods being too much interested in the outcome to show any uneasiness or disorder whatever.  There were times when the dropping of a pin could have been heard in the house.

Joe Was Heavier.

When interviewed after the contest for a Record reporter, Joe Burns stated that he was not in condition to win, although he had been sanguine of the outcome being in his favor had he been able to have worked his famous wrist and crotch hold on his opponent.  Both men were weighted before stepping onto the mat.  Frank Burns tipping the scales at 150 pounds and Joe weighing 162.5.

“My weight was against me, “ said Joe Burns.  “My normal weight is 145, but I had not been able to reduce to normal weight.  Consequently I tired easier than I would had I been to proper condition.”

Bulgarian-born Turkish wrestler Kızılcıklı Mahmut a.k.a. Youssouf Mahmout. October 1908. Image made available from Library of Congress.

When asked what the hold was that Frank had won from him the championship, he said: “I don’t know what he calls it.  I have been in the business for 14 years and have never yet been in a grip like that.”  When told that it was called a double nelson from the front, he acknowledged that it might have been that from the front, but he was not in a position to see what it was.

However he was well satisfied with Referee Henry and believed that everything was clear and above ground.  He had no complaint to make whatever.  Before the game he stated that he would either win or lose in 5 minutes as he realized his overweight would not permit him to continue the contest much longer.

Accepted Challenge.

Previous in the contest,  Manager John Blacken read a letter from Ed Conley of Napoleon, Ohio, in which he challenged the winner of the Frank Burns-Joe Burns contest agreeing to throw the winner two falls in one hour for any amount of money they would put up.  Conley stated that a traveling man had given him the names.

Preliminaries

Two boxing contests were put on as preliminaries, the first being between Fred Gokeu, the “Cuban Wonder,” and Bluy Griffin, “The Stockyards Champion,”  the Cuban Wonder winning the honors of this bout.

Gokey was not at all aggressive and was content to let the other fellow make the attacks, which he succeeded in staving off, giving Griff a bloody nose.  Gokey was free and easy throughout the contest, and swatted his opponent apparently with little effort, but with effect.

The second contest was between Lou Harkness and Billy Floyd, in which the honors went to Harkness., Floyd receiving a bloody nose in this contest.  Harkness had the advantage in being the taller of the two, but his opponent was adept in dodging , but could not escape the long arms of Harkness who landed a few on his nose, which bled profusely.

Both these contests were watched with interest by the spectators and their efforts were received with hearty applause.

As the wrestling match is the first professional match that has been carried off in this city for about 10 years, it was not expected that the interest manifested by those who were present is indicative of the character of the performance.  The sporting blood of Traverse City received a quickening, and it is probable that this is the beginning of a revival of similar affairs.  Frank Burns is planning to remain in the city this winter and no doubt there will be many such contests during the coming year.

A number of ladies in the audience last night watched the performance with interest, and had it been more generally known that ladies would be present, there would have been many more in attendance.  There was nothing in the affair to offend the most refined tastes, and the few ladies who attended evinced as much pleasure as their gentlemen friend.

Council Oak Tree, a deteriorating mystery

Image courtesy of the author, May 2018.

These photographs show a mystery that is disappearing into the abyss of past time.  On Old Mission peninsula along East Bay old records indicate the existence of a Council Oak, a tree used as a gathering place for Native Americans.  It was situated just south of Archie township park and north of Wilson Road, perhaps a hundred yards from the water’s edge.  Now, a subdivision occupies the area around the site, appropriately named “Council Oak.”  The tree is mostly gone with only a rotten stump remaining–and one more thing.  A shoot grows from its base, a shoot of black oak, the same species as its grandparent tree.  Is it a symbol of the resilience of the Odawa tribe that used to inhabit these lands?

Image courtesy of the author, May 2018.

Schools of the Past and Schools of Today: Which is Better? Comparing old and modern eighth grade tests

Looking at examinations given a hundred years ago or more, most people gasp at the complexity of the questions and wonder how present-day students would do if presented with the same challenges.  At the same time, they wonder how children a hundred years ago would fare on modern assessments.  Below are samples of test items from eighth grade tests in mathematics and reading, the questions taken from a graduation test administered in 1919 and from a recent set of practice questions offered by the Michigan Department of Education in the second decade of the 21st century.

Here is a segment of a test in 8th grade arithmetic, given to all eighth graders in Michigan in 1919.


Here are three sample items from the current Michigan Department of Education (MDE) assessment in 8th grade mathematics.

  1. Joe solved this linear system correctly.
    6x +3y = 6
    y = -2x + 2
    These are the last two steps of his work.
    6x – 6x + 6 = 6
    6 = 6
    Which statement about this linear system must be true?
    A. x must equal 6
    B. y must equal 6
    C. There is no solution to this system.
    D. There are infinitely many solutions to this system.
  2. Write one number on each space to create an equation that has no solution.

8x – 3x + 22  –  x =  ___x + ___

  1. Segment FG begins at point F (-2, 4) and ends at point G (-2, -3). The segment is translated by <x – 3, y + 2).> and then reflected across the y axis to form a segment F’G’.
    How many units long is segment F’G’?
    A. 0
    B. 2
    C. 3
    D. 7

What follows is the 1919 test in reading given to all Michigan eighth graders.

Columbus
by Joaquin Miller

Behind him lay the gray Azores,
Behind the Gates of Hercules;
Before him not the ghost of shores,
Before him only shoreless seas.

The good mate said: “Now we must pray,
For lo! the very stars are gone.
Brave Admiral, speak, what shall I say?”
“Why, say, ‘Sail on! sail on! and on!’ ”

“My men grow mutinous day by day;
My men grow ghastly wan and weak.”
The stout mate thought of home; a spray
Of salt wave washed his swarthy cheek.

“What shall I say, brave Admiral, say,
If we sight naught but seas at dawn?”
“Why, you shall say at break of day,
‘Sail on! sail on! and on!’ ”

They sailed and sailed, as winds might blow,
Until at last the blanched mate said:
“Why, now not even God would know
Should I and all my men fall dead.

These very winds forget their way,
For God from these dead seas is gone.
Now speak, brave Admiral, speak and say” —
He said, “Sail on! sail on! and on!”

They sailed. They sailed. Then spake the mate:
“This mad sea shows his teeth tonight.
He curls his lip, he lies in wait,
With lifted teeth, as if to bite!

Brave Admiral, say but one good word:
What shall we do when hope is gone?”
The words leapt like a leaping sword:
“Sail on! sail on! sail on! and on!”

Then pale and worn, he kept his deck,
And peered through darkness. Ah, that night
Of all dark nights! And then a speck —
A light! a light! at last a light!

It grew, a starlit flag unfurled!
It grew to be Time’s burst of dawn.
He gained a world; he gave that world
Its grandest lesson: “On! sail on!”

Below is a sample item from the current MDE test in reading, given to all Michigan eighth graders .

One obvious difference between old and modern tests is the format.  Older tests ask students to write out answers, while modern ones ask them to choose the right answer from four choices.   A hundred years ago, students were asked to write and calculate on test paper, while today they are primarily tasked with filling in bubbles on machine-graded tests.

Another difference, not apparent here, is the way the tests are administered.  Until recently, students had to give answers with pencils and on paper.  Now, they do the tests online, though they are allowed paper for figuring and planning.  In a recent year, ninety-eight percent of students taking Michigan assessments read items on screens rather than on paper.  The change-over from paper-and-pencil is nearly complete.

Lest we imagine that modern tests demand less in thinking and reasoning, it is the older tests that require students to memorize such facts as the number of yards in rod, for example.  Memorization plays a small role in modern mathematics tests.

Both mathematics tests are skills-based: that is, they both ask students to DO something, rather than produce a right answer through memorization.  The skills required are different, however.  The early test asks students to demonstrate mastery of practical problems through calculation and reasoning, while the later test asks them to demonstrate a mastery of mathematical principles together with the jargon associated with them: a system of linear equations, translation and reflection, an infinite number of solutions.  Modern mathematics education is about addressing the foundations of mathematics with a certain amount of rigor.

A modern reading test shows a similar emphasis on mastering reading skills that go beyond understanding basic content.  Not reprinted here, one example set of questions begins with a 1000 word excerpt from a published biography of Ansel Adams, the photographer.  After reading it, students are asked broad questions about the theme of the piece and the author’s purpose, asking them to supply evidence to support their answer choices.  In the question printed above, students are not simply asked to define words, but are required to insert rough synonyms into a sentence to see if they express the same meaning.  Always, an effort is made to avoid memorization.

By contrast, the old reading test, requires less reading in the first place.  It apparently allows students to work on questions on their own, since they are told to give a biographical sketch of the author of the poem, Columbus, and to locate geographical places mentioned in the poem.  Such a thing would not be permitted in a modern test.

Subjects tested in eighth grade have changed, too.  The Michigan Department of Education tests mathematics and reading every year, and science and social studies on alternate years.  Unlike in former times, an emphasis is placed on extracting information from graphs, interpreting text, identifying supporting evidence for conclusions, and applying concepts to new situations.  Older tests value content and memorization: the directive to write from memory a stanza of the poem Columbus reminds us of this fact.

A class at the old Central Grade School ca. 1911. Louis Petertyl is identified on the back of the image as being the second boy from the left.

The 1919 test administered to eighth graders in Michigan examined far more areas than modern tests do. Sections of the test included agriculture, arithmetic, mental arithmetic, civil government (county, state, and local), geography (world and national), grammar, orthography (word usage), spelling, penmanship, physiology (mostly health and the human body), and history (national).  To be fair, modern reading tests do not neglect grammar, orthography, or spelling, though less emphasis may be placed on any of these areas.  Also, a section of the present MDE assessment includes a writing sample to be graded on elements of style, grammar, spelling, and composition.

In recent years the writing portion has been greatly reduced in an effort to shorten the time spent in testing.   Teachers felt the test took too much time to administer, five and three-quarters hours.  We do not know how long it took for students in 1919 to finish all components of their exam, but it is likely it took considerably more time than that.  Then as now, questions would be asked over the course of several days.

In summary, what are the fundamental differences between the tests of today and those of a hundred years ago?  First, older tests emphasized practical learning—learning that helped students get along in the world they occupied.  For the majority, eighth would be the last grade they would complete.  They needed to know how to grow carrots, how to find percentages, how to do mental math, how to participate in local, state, and national government.  At the same time, they were tasked with memorizing the nations that bordered the Atlantic Ocean, the bad effects of brushing your teeth in the wrong way, and identifying parts of speech in complex sentences.  The curriculum was a tangle of questions that prepared students for the “real world” to come as well as those that had little discernable value in later life.

Modern tests in both English and Mathematics focus on skills that are supposed to be related to those asked for in the “real world”, though students may rightfully ask whose “real world” they are being prepared for.  Tests with questions about solving equations with an infinite number of solutions do not connect with the lived experience of most people.  Analysis of a reading passage designed to get students to provide evidence that the author was attempting to accomplish a certain goal in her writing does not connect to the reading many of them will do in their lives.  An investigation in science could have “real world” relevance to students, but the jargon that accompanies it—testing hypotheses, forming models—may not be necessary for explorations they engage in later on in life.

Which test is harder?  It is impossible to say.  Today’s students would not be prepared to memorize items that everyone years ago expected them to know.  On the other hand, students from long ago would be confused by the questions asked now and by the way tests are administered.  A modern test requires hours of work teaching children how to take the test.  Indeed, state assessments have been criticized for the reason that they warp the educational process such that schools end up serving assessment goals, rather than providing learning experiences that broaden and enrich the lives of students.   What gets tested gets done in the classroom; what is not—often those enriching experiences that exist outside of formal instruction and textbooks—is sacrificed on the altar of higher test scores.

That is not to say we should return to testing as it was done in 1919.  Neither students nor educators were entirely pleased with that program—witness the move to make changes in the decades to come.  For a time, beginning in the thirties and continuing through the nineties, summative testing, the kind that makes final judgments about how much a student has learned, fell out of favor.  The purpose of testing was primarily to help teachers and schools figure out how to educate students better.  It was not used as a means to rank students, teacher performance, schools, districts, states or countries.  Perhaps that is the biggest change in school testing: the purpose of testing has changed.  It is still a question whether that change has been good for students, schools, and the wider community.


Take the full 1919 8th grade examination, just download the document here: 1919 8th Grade Exam

Nello Valentine’s Planting Crew: A brief history of reforesting Leelanau County, ca. 1974

by Stewart A. McFerran, Regular GTJ Contributor

When Nello Valentine left Chicago in his VW Van his destination was not Leelanau County. He passed through Leelanau on his tour of the Nation. After travelling the Nation’s highways and scenic byways the journey was complete with a stroll on Haight Ashbury Street in the other Bay Area. He traded the van for a houseboat that was docked near the Jack London Square in Oakland, California. His son was born there before he and his wife Margie decided to move to Leelanau.

They bought a Rambler and arrived at the Candle Light Inn outside of Suttons Bay in December of 1968. “I had long hair, a mustache and no idea there would be such prejudice against hippies.” Nello and Margie bought 100 acres outside of Cedar. Many of the farms of Leelanau County had soil that did not react as expected when deforested and grazed. Erosion cut into the sandy hillsides of cut rate acreage.

Nello decided to plant trees on his property. Ellsworth Esch had been planting trees in the county for many years. He worked with the soil conservation district programs that targeted timber stand improvement, soil erosion and wildlife. “Ellsworth hired Indians to plant the trees”, said Nello.

“Nello Treeplanters,” ca. 1974. Image provided by the author.

Nello hired his own crew and started planting trees in 1974. As an occasional member of the crew I recall that we mostly planted white pine, red pine and Norway spruce. At that time the DNR wildlife experts were recommending that autumn olive be planted for “food plots”. Nello sometimes took his crew to remote two acre oil well sites that had been abandoned. These areas were slated to be covered with autumn olive. Autumn olive is now considered an invasive species by experts.

Nello recalls the giant hemlocks that once covered Leelanau. He rues the days those giants were cut just for bark and left to rot on the sandy soil.  Elms were dying or dead county-wide when Nello first moved to Leelanau. He said they made good fire wood. The ash trees have gone the way of the elm and are now providing firewood.

At this moment in time when so many kinds of trees are threatened by invasive species, disease, and climate change, Nello calls on his degree in comparative religion. Today a walk in the woods can be dangerous due to falling timber, says forester Kama Ross.

At the time Nello began planting there were many large farms in Leelanau. Those farmers could take advantage of the programs though the soil conservation service and work with Nello to have trees planted on their sandy hillsides. We would walk together with canvas bags on our hips and plant trees every eight or ten feet. The federal government dictated the spacing of the trees. It was always important to slot the root of the tree straight into the earth and avoid having a “J Root”. We could carry fifty trees on our hips and plant thousands of trees a day.

Spring was the best time to plant and Nello’s crew often planted 80,000 trees during those cool months. The Fall planting time was shorter but often the crew accomplished the rooting of 50,000 trees. The survival rate of the trees we planted was 80%. Nello has seen that reduced due to hotter weather and longer droughts. He has resorted to watering trees on his farm.

The author with Nello and crew, all with Old Burdickville home brew! Image courtesy of Bob DeKorn, brother of John.

I recently met John DeKorn at the Lake Ann Brewery. John was one of Nello’s best tree planters. His home brewed beer “Old Burdickville” was sometimes provided to the crew at lunch in the field. I recall that on those days the rows of trees became serpentine after lunch.

Many of the farms of Leelanau have been subdivided. The soil conservation district still offers trees. Nello and crew of hippies planted trees from 1974 to 2004.  His conservative estimate is that we planted 2 million trees in Leelanau, Benzie and Grand Traverse counties, an accomplishment that I for one am proud of.

Stewart A. McFerran is a former deck hand with Lang fisheries in Leland MI. Leader of the Antioch College Great Lakes Environmental Field Program and Innisfree Naturalist.

Sustainable Fish Farming: A conversation with Dan Vogler of Harietta Hills Trout Farm

by Stewart A. McFerran  GTJ Contributor

Image taken by the author on the day of the Monster Fishing Tournament near Manistee, Michigan, 2017.

September 2017: The Aisling (the author’s own boat, whose reintroduction to the water after a long absence was detailed in a previous article) approached the Manistee light from the deep water of Lake Michigan under sail. We encountered the sports fishing fleet trolling the waters for some of the 25,470,199  fish that were raised in DNR fish farms and released into the rivers and open waters around the State. The inner harbor was busy with large boats hauling complex arrays of bait. The Aisling, with a weight of over two tons pushed by the wind, was dogged by fishers with powerful engines, diesel and gas. No expense was spared to transport clients from the Manistee dock to fishing grounds miles out in Lake Michigan.

Large trophies at the Monster Fishing Tournament, Manistee, Michigan, 2017. Image taken by the author.

Once at dock in the Manistee River we learned a fishing tournament was taking place on the big lake. The fishing was not good and the sporting men were grumpy but still purchasing rivers of fuel. Many of the crews were catching nothing. The fish that were caught were small. But the trophies were large. They were chasing the non-native, farm raised creatures released into the open water. I wonder if this scheme is sustainable?

Fish farming is practiced by the State of Michigan in service of the sports fishing industry. The ecological changes in the big lakes have put that industry on shaky ground. If big fish are not displayed and celebrated at tournaments one has to wonder what the future holds for the sports fishing fleet.

Historic image of the Trout Project, Mancelona, Michigan, undated. Image courtesy of the author.

Fish farming by the commercial fish farmer is sustainable.  I have been in contact with Dan Vogler of Harietta Hills Trout Farm about fishery management and asked his professional opinion on matter fishery practices in Michigan. During our conversation, as you will see, we often came back to the conundrum, ‘What is native, what are we protecting’.

A Conversation with Fish Farmer Dan Vogler:

D.V. That’s an interesting read (referring to a previous article published in Grand Traverse Journal). Fishery management is certainly not something that draws unanimous consent in most proceedings.

S.A.M.  The DNR has the funds and is pushing forward with the Fish Pass project on the Boardman River. But just what fish are going to pass?   Northern Michigan Environmental Action Council, The Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians and the Adams Chapter of Trout Unlimited, feel that the “Fish Pass” is a dubious proposition.

D.V. In my opinion, having open river systems with 100% passage would be great…if we were still dealing with native systems…but we aren’t.  We now have fish in the Great Lakes that will exploit passage to the detriment of many species upstream.  Sometimes “natural” isn’t as natural as it might first appear.

S.A.M. Yes. Bill Scharf (Professor Emeritus at Northwestern Michigan College; Professor of Biology at Lake Superior State University) shared an article with me that documents how the lake-run trout (steelhead) can contaminate the upper reaches of streams that have been isolated for many years and effect areas managed as separate units. I will send you that link . . . (Notre Dame University; Janetski et al. 2012)

D.V. Imagine also runs of Pacific salmon and Steelhead up the Boardman….some folks would be enthusiastic, but probably not good for our native species.

D.V. Not only that, but much higher predation rates by huge lake run piscivores!

S.A.M. But you have to ask, what native species remain in streams? The Boardman was stocked with 294,000 trout, of which 112,000 were brook and 182,000 were Liberty Brown in 1913. (https://gtjournal.tadl.org/2018/restoring-fish-populations-on-the-boardman-1920-to-the-present/)

D.V.  So, not all desirable natives are trout….although I have to admit that these come to mind first….and Brookies are arguably in that category.

S.A.M.  Maybe it is cynical, but if you accept that there are no native species of fish left (except for Coregonids) you can say: Why not have commercial aquaculture?

Charter Boats at the Traverse City Pier, 1936. Image courtesy of Traverse Area District Library.

D.V. The reality is that we already have large-scale aquaculture in the Lakes.  State hatcheries propagate and stock huge number of non-native fish that are essentially “ranched” on the “open range” of the Lakes, then “rounded up” by a fleet of fish cowboys.  Why not have aquaculture that can feed lots of people?

S.A.M. Yes.

D.V. Imagine a Fish Town in Leland that actually featured locally grown whitefish, and that it could actually support itself as a commercial enterprise again.  It is possible.

S.A.M. I know Bill Carlson (commercial fisherman and owner of Carlson Fisheries in Leland) wanted that.

D.V. Unfortunately, only fish heretics talk about this type of thing nowadays…..The mythology that has been developed to discount aquaculture has the mainstream and most of the fish community running scared.

S.A.M. I would like to see a study comparing the pollution from a dock with motor boats to a small aquaculture operation.

D.V. So the studies on the aquaculture side have all been done up in Canada in the Georgian Bay and the Experimental Lakes region….Real science…peer-reviewed science.  As for studies on marinas…I’m quite certain that they can’t possibly have any negative environmental impacts…otherwise everyone would be up in arms to make sure that they were banned.


Northern Michigan Environmental Action Council, in a resolution recently stated: “If a chosen fish is a species currently raised in a hatchery, then passage up the Boardman River is tantamount to aiding and abetting aquaculture.”

Historic image of a State fish hatchery in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, undated. Image courtesy of the author.

There is a long history of aquaculture in all the Great Lakes States. It is not a crime. As we approach the “paradigm shift” that many fisheries biologists refer to we need to consider ending the State-run monopoly on fish farming. Decriminalizing private aquaculture operations is the least that can be done.

(BTW, an epic quest for Moby Dick does not have to be a part of every boat ride on the big lake. A sailboat ride is much more sustainable.)

Stewart A. McFerran is a former deck hand with Lang fisheries in Leland MI. Leader of the Antioch College Great Lakes Environmental Field Program and Innisfree Naturalist.

Scrips Kept the Money Moving

For this month’s Mystery Photo, we show you two sides of scrip, a currency Traverse City city leaders issued in 1934, the height of the Great Depression.  This money could be redeemed at many Traverse City businesses in exchange for goods.  At one point teachers were paid in scrip since there was no other money available to them.  The question is—why is the back filled with stamps?  What goal did that accomplish?  Good luck, history buffs!

The stamps were placed on the back on a weekly basis to ensure wide distribution. Every merchant supplied a stamp and after twenty stamps, the scrip could be turned in for a real dollar!

A quote from the Traverse City Record-Eagle at the time indicated there were problems with stamps falling off, but the system worked reasonably well.