Wednesday, June 15, 2011

American Kids Bomb Out on History....AGAIN!

"Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it." - George Santayana

If George Santayana's famous quote is for real then we are all in big trouble! At least as Americans. Evidently, our illustrious school kids bombed out once more in a test of American history. Overall, 20% of 4th graders, 17% of 8th graders and 12% of high school SENIORS (that is, about 1 in ever 8) demonstrated proficiency on the exam: The National Assessment of Educational Progress.

This is pathetic! Especially for 12th graders who are mere short years from becoming voters! If they don't know their history how in hell will they know enough to make judicious choices at the ballot box, and realize that (historically) the "Tea Party" is nothing new but merely the resuscitation of the Liberty Lobby and related right wing enclaves with a new name. I worry, because I believe the balance of a nation's status and its security are diminished if vast segments of the populace don't know much about their past. This also explains why so many adults, even today, daftly call Obama a "Socialist" - showing they have no remote clue of Socialism in history! (They also conflate Nazism with Socialism which is even worse, given the Nazis persecuted the German Socialists along with Communists, and Jews!)

Anyway, these recent tests were given to a representative sample of 7,000 fourth graders, 11,800 eighth graders and 12,400 twelfth graders nationwide. Three achievement levels are identified for the test: basic - meaning only partial mastery of a subject, proficient - which means solid academic performance and a demonstration of competency over challenging subject matter, and advanced - which means superior performance.

Many history mavens and educators contended in the wake of these results that the dismal showings evoked their worst fears: that because of the misplaced 2002 'No Child Left Behind' Act, the schools have been dominated by teaching to the test - leaving little time for real learning.

They may have a point. In Barbados, where school assessment tests have also taken off, performance has also declined though typically Barbadian students have excelled over their U.S. counterparts, especially in math and science. The reason is evident when one teaches in their system. While the typical U.S. student takes one year of history, one year of physics, one year of chemistry, one year of advanced math - the Barbadian takes at least FIVE YEARS of each in a progressive format (i.e. each year the student is doing more advanced work.) By the end of his schooling, the Barbadian student can then do calculus physics, while nearly all U.S. physics students must still rely on algebra - if that! Meanwhile, SAT scores - the one basis on which the two nations can easily be compared on the basis of median scores (since they are standardized). The results show Barbadian students outperform U.S. counterparts at same ages when all segments are median-totalled. So much for the nonsensical claim of "voodoo countries" and voodoo education! (Conflating all Caribbean countries with Haiti!)

History, as author James Loewen has noted (Lies My Teacher Told Me)needs to be taught as a dynamic process, with forces arrayed against each other, not merely as a series of disconnected rote dates and events. Thus, the emergence of civil rights wasn't simply based on an isolated event or series thereof, but the final outcome of a fierce, decades long struggle between segregationists and integrationists. Meanwhile, as Loewen notes, Indian lands weren't simply "occupied" by new settlers they were forcibly taken- seized and often with genocide committed in the process. Making light of these facts does a disservice to history. The same goes with the ancestral class struggle in the U.S., a battle finally (partially) won when Social Security was implemented, then Medicare some 30 years later. (Though we must be prepared to continue to wage this battle, as the descendants of the reactionary forces - which originally sought to prevent any social safety nets - have taken to their battlements again and we must guard against a reversion to the days before FDR.)

History, when taught properly, as a series of conflicts, is interesting and compelling. The problem is that too many politicized school boards have turned it into a snooze fest by removing all the conflicts, battles and infighting. Little wonder our students are so dopey by the end of it, only 3 in 10 recognize Abraham Lincoln!

Let's hope we can change this soon!

A few sample questions from the test:

1) An important result of the building of canals in the U.S. was:

A. Slavery spread to the Western States.

B. People stopped building railroads.

C. More people traveled to California to farm.

D. Trade increased among the states.

2) At the 1787 Constitutional Convention, northern and southern delegates debated whether or not slaves would be allowed as part of a state's population. Disagreement over this question led to bitter tensions among delegates. To resolve the question delegates eventually agreed to:

A. Include all male slaves in population totals.

B. Include no slaves in population totals.

C. Count each slave as three-fifths of a person in population totals.

D. Count slaves only in the Southern states but not in the Northern states.

3) During the Korean War, United Nations forces made up largely of troops from the United States and South Korea fought against troops from North Korea and:

A. The Soviet Union

B. Japan

C. China

D. Vietnam

Only 44% of 4th graders got (1) correct. 59% of 8th graders got (2) correct, and only 22% of 8th graders gor (3) correct. If you answered D, C, C then you got all three correct!

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