Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Flunking civics

class outImage by dcJohn via FlickrSome of this is overblown . . . we compare today, where virtually all kids are expected to be schooled, to the past when it was widespread for kids to leave school at 14 or even earlier. It's easy to romanticize some mythical golden past when "everyone knew this stuff." That's simply not the case.

But it is certainly true that the mania for standardized testing has caused a huge wrong turn in the curriculum -- we've removed a great deal of emphasis on the subjects for which one would most want to (or be enticed to) read.

The bottom line is that we seem to be asking schools to produce a class of people different from their parents, and that is never going to happen. And since Americans are, on the whole, far too allergic to math, scientific reasoning, and critical thinking about social issues and history, we've painted ourselves into a box; we cut, cut, and cut the classes most likely to be successful in helping kids see why they might want to know more math than arithmetic or actually study difficult questions in history, claiming that we have to "get back to the basics."

But "teaching the basics" is like making blind people memorize the eye chart -- sure, you can beat them and bore them and berate them enough that some will do it, and if you make a big enough deal about it, some will feel good about having done it. But it's essentially useless. If you want to succeed in teaching "the basics" then you need to be teaching something that's inherently interesting and that relies on those "basics" -- history without all the interest removed, for example, history taught as if kids were going to take their place in society as voters rather than take their place in SAT prep courses.
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