While perhaps not applicable in all situations (many early 20th century farmers and factory workers were still dressed in uniforms or work clothes during their shifts), it was a sign of the times. Having not been alive for any of the first 87 years of the last century, I can't say for sure the reason for this trend, but many claim it comes down to respect and gratitude. People tend to dress up for things they respect. There was a time when flying on a plane, driving to the city, going to work, seeing a show, dining out, and even going to church demanded respect. These were cherished times, be it spiritually, financially, or merely socially and people showed the their reverence.
I'm sure I don't need to explain how different things are now. I've flow on planes and seen plenty of people in pajamas, I've gone grocery shopping in sweatpants, and when I would wear jeans to dinner at Duquesne, I was easily the best dressed person in the room. With familiarity and with expectation, respect has been lost. In some areas, this is probably a good thing (it's much more comfortable to wear shorts to PNC Park than a coat and tie ala Connie Mack managing the Philadelphia A's) but in other areas it's disturbing. Steelers' jerseys at church, t-shirts at work (on non-casual days), and yoga pants as, well, actual pants. With the abundance of technology, information, and wealth in the country, there's little left in our daily lives that people have respect for.
I was reminded of this while the students took the Keystone exams today. Despite only being a ninety minute test, students were asking to go the bathroom after ten minutes, some were asleep after ten, and everyone was "bored" by the end of the morning session. Behavior like this makes sense in the first grade, but it's as if students never sat in a movie theater before without the urge to go. Of course, as teachers all know, it's not about having to use the bathroom, or needing to sleep. It's all about effort, and by extension, it's all about respect. We only show homage to things we respect and care about, and these tests lack both.
But what's the solution? Do we give the tests more fear and more power? That may awaken some respect in a few students, but really, the tests aren't the issue. Any individual who respects themselves will want to succeed in an exam, be it a math exam, an eye exam, a round of twenty-questions, or a Keystone exam. Students who respect themselves, their ego, their reputation, and their family are certainly going to show reverence when they write their name on those tests. In an ideal world, there'd be no Keystones, but until we reach that day, let's work on getting some respect back into the school and the world in general. We might be surprised as the skills that have always been there.