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Illiterate Teachers

Updated: Apr 15, 2023

I have been teaching middle school and high school students for almost a decade now, but this week came with a startling revelation, I am not smarter than a fifth grader. Now, I didn't go on Jeff Foxworthy's television show to prove this, but according to the literacy test formerly used by the state of Louisiana as a voting requirement, I'm largely inept.

Anyone who wanted to vote in Louisiana who could not prove they had finished the fifth grade had to take this test (until the Voting Rights Act of 1965 declared these to be illegal). You would have ten minutes to complete this thirty question test, and missing even one problem would result in failure. You were instructed to do no more and no less than what each question asked of you (which caused me to miss at least one question). I did not finish the test on time; even if I answered every question correctly (I didn't), I would've failed because it took me twenty-seven seconds too long to complete the thirty questions. I was not alone though; I gave the same test to my student teacher, another history teacher, two assistant principals, and our school principal (who was my English III teacher).

After experiencing this failure, it seemed there was only one logical thing to do... force my students to experience it too. I know, I know, forcing failure on students is a horrible thing and we should be pushing them for success... blah, blah, blah. Forget that! I wanted them to feel frustrated. I wanted them, for ten minutes, to feel like they faced the impossible, but that this was no David/Goliath scenario where they could snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. I enjoyed hearing their groans of frustration and anger at the unclear directions, heck, I even smiled when a few students muttered words under their breath (that I know their parents would not have approved of) on the trick questions. When students would ask for help or clarification, I just smiled and walked away denying them any assistance or guidance.

Why would I do such terrible things? Why didn't I just tell them that these literacy tests were hard? Because doing is learning. By taking and failing this literacy test, these students were learning what it was like for real people in our nation's history who just wanted to be able to vote. I did it because I needed my students to know that American citizens were denied the right to vote, not because they were stupid or illiterate, but because there was a system that was designed to make them fail and to keep them from the polls.

They may not have realized it at the time, maybe they still don't realize what happened... but they were learning, they were learning with empathy, and it's a lesson that I doubt they will forget (especially the kids that took a copy home to give it to their "know-it-all parents").

If you're interested in seeing how'd you measure up, grab a timer and take the test.

You can use this Answer Key to check it, but I'm not 100% of its accuracy (it's from taking the best answers from my test, the tests other teachers at my school, my students, and answer keys from two other teachers that I found online).

If you disagree with an answer or think you have a better one, comment below because there are still a few that I'm unsure about.

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