I walked into that exam cold. No test prep. I found it very difficult. I remember repeatedly reading three paragraphs on economics and trade that I twisted my brain to comprehend. I guessed at my multiple choice selections. I had very little prior knowledge about much of what was asked of me. I walked out thinking I had not done well. However, nothing ventured, nothing gained. I shrugged and didn’t spend much time dwelling on it. I had no fear of tests because through most of my educational experience I had not taken very many.
My elementary education, from kindergarten through sixth grade was at the Little Red School House, a private, progressive school in Greenwich Village. I LOVED school. I received no grades; twice a year my parents received written and oral reports on me. Learning was experiential as much as possible — we hunted arrowheads in Inwood Park, ate tacos (my first!) at a local Mexican restaurant, ground corn between stones, made soap and candles and made puppets and put on puppet shows. We read books, wrote poetry and did independent art projects. We also sang a lot..
In seventh grade my family moved to the suburbs and I went to public school where I received grades for the first time. I loved it because my grades were high. But my father was unimpressed. He didn’t see me doing much work. So the stakes were very low for me when I sat down to do my best on what is now known as a college entrance exam.
To my surprise, I was accepted by the Universities of Chicago and Wisconsin, Shimer College and Goucher College, four of the 12 institutions of higher learning involved in the Ford Foundation experiment. Now I had to make a decision. When I weighed what I might learn during the upcoming two years of high school against the possibilities offered by college, I decided to go. (I found high school boring.) So in September of 1954, two weeks after my 16th birthday I entered the University of Wisconsin, 1000 miles from home, as a Ford Foundation Early Admissions Scholar. By today’s standards I had been deemed “college and career ready.”
Obviously I lived. But with today’s brouhaha about high-stakes testing, I was curious about the outcome of the Ford Foundation Early Admissions program that lasted from 1951 to 1955. (I was in the penultimate group admitted). A little online research brought me to this study: They Went to College Early. There I was — a guinea pig data point in a five year study that ultimately involved about 1,300 students. I found the motivations and the outcomes very interesting, particularly in light of what is happening in schools today.
In the interests of keeping these posts short. I will give you the evidence in my next post. If you're impatient to know what they learned, please feel free to follow the link and make your comments.