Virginia Real magazine
The real  Virginia, old and new
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Are You Smarter Than....

Are you smarter than …

a non-English-speaking junior high student?

In which George Washington calls out the Virginia Militia, the British Navy and some French guys from Up North to test your knowledge of Southern history. 

                                                            by Mary Combrink


 You think you’re pretty smart, don’t you?  You’ve made it to adulthood, have a job that affords you some sense of security, and you live in a state which is pretty much the birthplace of the United States, if not the center of the whole fracking civilized world.  But, how much do you know, really?  Can you keep up with the youth of today, who can text, talk, watch cable, drive and eat potato chips while simultaneously cursing out the driver in the next lane AND filling out college scholarship applications?

Maybe you can’t do all those things.  Maybe you’re even smart enough to not want to do all those things.  So, let’s ratchet down the stakes a little, shall we?  How about a little cabeza a cabeza competition with some seventh- and eighth-graders?   Here are some Virginia or Virginian-related questions that I recently gave my ESL Newcomers on their history final.  Keep in mind that these ESL Newcomers are kids who have just arrived in the United States speaking little or no English.

Oh, yeah – and most of them made over 90%.

  1. Why did George Washington begin his military career?
  2. Who was the first person to offer George Washington a surveying job?
  3. How was this person related to George?
  4. When was Jamestown founded?
  5. What is the difference in the soils between Jamestown and Plymouth?
  6. George Washington fought in the first battle of which war?
  7. Is Virginia among the New England colonies, Middle colonies, or Southern colonies?
  8. Which ocean is closest to the original colonies?
  9. Who settled Jamestown?
  10. Why was Jamestown founded?


Pretty easy, right?  Let’s see how you did . . .


  1. George’s favorite relative was his older half-brother Lawrence.  Lawrence served in the British Navy.  When he died (George was a young man by this time), George decided to honor his memory by pursuing a military career.
  2. Colonel Fairfax encouraged George’s talent for surveying and was the first to hire him, when George was still a teenager.
  3. Colonel Fairfax was Lawrence’s father-in-law.
  4. Jamestown was founded in 1607.  If you didn’t know this one, go rent Pocahontas and listen to the first song over and over.  (“In Sixteen hundred seven, we sailed the open seas.  For GLOry, God and GOLD and the Virginia COMpany.”)  It’s a catchy little tune, especially if you sing it every time the word Jamestown is mentioned.
  5. Jamestown had rich soil, Plymouth had rocky soil.  (When I first moved to New England and decided to have a vegetable garden, it took me two days to clear out enough rocks to have a five foot by five foot plot.)
  6. Did you say the American Revolution?  Then you’re wrong.  Wrong, wrong, WRONG.  In 1753, George had been dispatched to the French fort, Fort Le Bouef, to ask the French to depart from their spot on the Ohio River.  (Side note:  Asking your Spanish-speaking students,  “What did George Washington say to Christopher Gist as they made their way through the wilderness?” and then snickering, “Where’s the beef?”  will not elicit laughter, since 1.  None of them speak French,  2.  None of them is old enough to remember that commercial, and 3.  It is, admittedly, a stupid joke.)  A few months after the French politely declined the request (I like to imagine Saint Pierre reading the letter from Dinwiddie and thinking, “Oh, snap!  Hell to the no!”  Except, you know, in French), Washington returned to the area with a force of Virginia militia to check on the progress of a new British fort.  They stumbled across a small French detachment and either killed or took all but one of the French prisoner.  This became the first battle of the French and Indian War.
  7. Yeah, so you got this one.  It was only the easiest one in the bunch.  SOUTHERN.
  8. Did you get this one, too?  Do I even need to tell you the answer?
  9. Let’s sing the song again:  The Virginia Company of London.  "English entrepreneurs" is also an acceptable answer.  And, okay, I’ll give partial credit for “John Smith”.
  10. For some it may have been for God and glory, but for most it was the hope of gold.  Unfortunately, many only found death and mosquitoes.

How did you do? 

0 – 2:  Seriously?  The only things you knew were that the original colonies were founded along the Atlantic Ocean, and that Virginia is in the South?  Epic fail.

3 - 7:  Hey, you were paying attention for at least some part of U.S. history.

8 – 9:  Since my students had a multiple-choice test, I will allow you to pump your fist and shout, “I’m smarter than a non-English-speaking junior high student in Texas!”  I bet you’re feeling really good about yourself right now.

10 correct:  Impressive.  Start boning up for next week’s quiz, “Things I Think You Should Know about Thomas Jefferson, but I’m Afraid to Ask.”

Mary Combrink is a writer and teacher in Burleson, Texas.


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