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"If You Think the MCAS History Test is Relevant, Try This Exam,"

by Derrick Z. Jackson September/October 2000 issue of Poverty & Race

Recently I published questions from the MCAS 10th-grade history test, criticizing them as being grossly Eurocentric and of questionable relevance for today’s job-seekers.

Of course, many readers saw nothing wrong with the questions. One wrote that surgeons, construction workers and software designers may not need to know about the Edict of Nantes or the Treaty of Tordesillas at work but that such events “are not trivia - they are part of the framework within which we try to evaluate our own nation’s attempts to shape the world.”

Let us be nice and assume the reader is correct. But if you are going to be correct about how our own nation shaped itself, you have to have other questions that are not on the MCAS tests:

1. According to Goree Island’s slave museum, the number of stolen Africans is the equivalent of emptying out the current metropolitan areas of:
(a) Milwaukee
(b) Tokyo
(c) Los Angeles
(d) New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Washington, San
Francisco and Philadelphia combined

2. According to most histories, the number of stolen Africans who actually made it alive to the Americas is the equivalent of:
(a) New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Washington, San
Francisco and Philadelphia combined
(b) New York, Los Angeles and Chicago combined
(c) Los Angeles and Chicago combined
(d) just San Francisco and Philadelphia

3. The conservative value of slave labor to the American economy, when it was analyzed in 1983, is nearly the equivalent of the 1999 spending budget for:
(a) Wisconsin
(b) The Rolling Stones Tour
(c) The New York Yankees
(d) The United States

4. The World War II generation will bequeath $8 trillion to its children. In the years 1929 to 1969, wages lost by African-Americans to discrimination were:
(a) nothing, because we are now a color-blind society
(b) $1.6 billion
(c) irrelevant because Michael Jordan owns part of the
Washington Wizards and Magic Johnson owns part of the Los Angeles Lakers
(d) $1.6 trillion, nearly equal to 1999 federal budget of
$1.7 trillion

5. One result of post-slavery discrimination is that the average white baby boomer and the average black baby boomer will respectively inherit:
(a) $50,000 and $42,000
(b) $80,000 and $50,000
(c) $20,000 and $15,000
(d) $65,000 and $8,000

6. Under “40 Acres and a Mule,” about 40,000 newly freed slaves were given Southern coastal land that had been abandoned by unpardoned Confederate families. These black people held the land for two years before angry white people stole it through beatings, torture and legal chicanery. During those two years, the black occupants were known for:
(a) being lazy and shiftless
(b) being top local athletes
(c) wanting back the good old days, where you could depend on a bowl of gruel and a watermelon from massa
(d) fine crops and self-governance

7. New England is far from cotton fields and sugar plantations. Thus it is interesting that Brown University:
(a) created a chair in honor of abolitionist John Brown
(b) named its music department after James Brown
(c) named its graduate school of business after Ron Brown
(d) was founded by the Browns of Rhode Island, who profited from the triangular slave trade

8. In Lowell, Mass., in 1835, politicians, law enforcement, lawyers, doctors and shopkeepers signed petitions to:
(a) call for the end of slavery
(b) volunteer to go south for a Freedom Summer to understand the plight of the slaves
(c) build a new Fenway Park for the Red Sox
(d) oppose abolition because the textile mills depended on slave-picked cotton

9. African-Americans fought in every US war, hoping their participation would result in equality. After the Civil War, World War I and World War II, black sacrifice for America and the world was rewarded with:
(a) full voting rights
(b) free tickets to Jack Johnson and Joe Louis fights
(c) free coupons for watermelon
(d) lynchings and white race riots

By the way, the answer is (d) on all questions.


This column, slightly shortened here, first appeared in the June 30, 2000 issue of The Boston Globe and is used with permission of the author, a Globe columnist. MCAS (the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System) is a test (in English, math, science and social studies) given to all 4th, 8th and 10th graders in the state’s public and charter schools (including special education students and students whose first language is not English). A passing grade now is required for graduation. Fifty percent of the 10th graders failed the math test.


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