Could you pass the 50 state capitals and map test?

Rick Wagner • Jan 31, 2020 at 10:00 PM

Quick question: How many of you have named or still can name all 50 states and their capital cities while pointing out each state on a map?

By the way, you would have to do all that in 60 seconds in front of a group of 30 or more peers.

I have done that and might be able to again with some refresher work, thanks to Inez Arnott, my fifth grade social studies teacher at Surgoinsville Elementary School in Hawkins County. She died Jan. 28 at age 91.


I first learned of Mrs. Arnott’s passing via a Facebook post by Lucia Carrico, the former Lucia Linkous, my fifth grade homeroom and English teacher. How times have changed. I read about Mrs. Arnott’s death via social media accessed on the internet via a smart phone, three things that didn’t exist when I was in fifth grade during the 1974-75 school year.

However, I never had realized Mrs. Arnott was a mentor for Miss Linkous, or that Mrs. Arnott grew up in Newport, as Carrico pointed out in her Facebook post. I also found out from the obituary that Mrs. Arnott retired from Hawkins County Schools after 42 years as a teacher, and I learned she had been living in Morristown with her daughter and family but formerly lived in Rogersville and is to be buried Saturday, Feb. 1 in the Highland Cemetery in Rogersville.

Of those 42 years, 41 were at Surgoinsville Elementary and Surgoinsville Middle schools. Imagine staying with the same employer and doing the same job more than 40 years like Mrs. Arnott.

Others have gone before Mrs. Arnott, and I’ve written about some of them. They include former and longtime Surgoinsville Elementary Principal Carroll Raines, who operated the “electric paddle;” third grade teacher Garnett Allen, who over 40 years taught  (and had a documented list) of 1,490 students; and fourth grade teacher Blanche Mabe, who loved the song “Red River Valley” and once told our class her husband took apart a clock and couldn’t put it back together, something I had done myself. (She also was the grandmother of a classmate, Carmen Mabe, now Carmen Harold.)

Yet another was my mother, Mary Elizabeth Wagner, “Mrs. Swagner,” as many called her, a kindergarten aide, assistant secretary, secretary and bookkeeper at the elementary school over the years.


I remember well taking the 50 states and their capitals map test, even if I can’t quite perform it again at age 55. Everybody who was in Mrs. Arnott’s fifth grade social studies class did. It was a rite of passage at Surgoinsville Elementary during my time there.

I still remember snippets like “Vermont, Montpelier,” as my fifth grade self would start on the east coast and work my way southward, then westward to California and finally Hawaii. Of course, we all pretty much knew “Tennessee, Nashville,” but I remember giving Mrs. Arnott a laugh when during an early effort at the test I pronounced Lincoln, the capital of Nebraska as “Lynn-koln.” And of course President Lincoln’s first name was Abraham, which I teasingly pronounced “A-bar-ham.”

(Apparently my memories are not entirely accurate because in the original online version of this column I put the capital of Illinois as Lincoln, as in Illinois is the Land of Lincoln, so why not make that the capital? I hope this does not affect my graduation from fifth grade retroactively. I apologize to online readers for this incorrect information.)

Also during that 1974-75 school year, when we were asked by Mrs. Arnott about future career aspirations, I somehow came up with humorist. That in and of itself was funny because it was the closest thing I could think of to describe becoming a comedian since I couldn’t remember the word comedian. She said that would be a good career for me since I could be funny. Go figure.

Other former students on Facebook and other online comments recalled her putting on red lipstick after lunch and tapping a ring on her desk to get the attention of a classroom full of unruly fifth graders.


I don’t know that fifth graders or students in any grade take the state capitals test anywhere. Such things may have gone out of fashion like the multiplication tables. We had to do up to 10 times 10, although classes earlier than mine went up to 12 times 12. I understand now that the tide has turned and some multiplication table memorization has come back to give students a better grounding in math.

It was hands-on, minds-on education, a type of project-based learning in today’s education language. It used that big U.S. map at the front of the room, required us to get up out of our seats and present in front of the whole class, sort of like public speaking, geography and a little physical activity rolled into one.

OK, so maybe the state capitals test in 60 seconds is old school and will never return. However, I can’t help but wonder if students are missing out on some basic geographical knowledge about the United States, part of a broader lack of knowledge Jay Leno used to show in his people-on-the-street quiz segment on “The Tonight Show.”

Maybe, however, I missed my calling as a humorist. Have you ever heard the one about A-bar-ham Lynn-koln? Folks in Illinois named their state capital after him, you know.

Rest in peace, Mrs. Arnott. Tell Miss Allen, Mrs. Mabe, Mr. Raines and Mom I said hello if you run into them.

Rick Wagner is an education writer for the Kingsport Times News can be reached at (423) 392-1381 or [email protected]