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Friday, March 20, 2009

Lamar Alexander fails to save the day (again)

I happened on C-SPAN yesterday and there was Lamar Alexander, former Secretary of Education and now a US Senator, speaking in the Senate on restoring teaching history to it "rightful place" and making sure that history was part of the NCLB act. Since he says this same stuff all the time, here is a quote from him from 2006 taken from what was pretty much the same speech:

"Just one example of how far we are from helping our children learn what they need to know. The fourth grade national report card test asked students to identify the following passage, quote, "We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness." Students were given four choices: Constitution, Mayflower Compact, Declaration of Independence, Articles of Confederation. Less than half the students answered correctly that that came from the Declaration of Independence. Another question said, "Imagine that you landed in Philadelphia in the summer of 1776. Describe an important event that is happening there." Nearly half the students couldn't answer the question correctly that the Declaration of Independence was being signed."

Of course, since science and math is so very important as we all know, one wonders what history being restored to its importance does to STEM. When something comes in, something has to go out, in education. But this is not my point.

My point is that politicians never seem to get it about education. What history do students "need to know?" None actually, unless they plan on being historians or maybe senators. Now I realize this is a radical point of view, but just like math and science, history is not something anyone needs to know.

Why not?

Because knowing what happened in Philadelphia in 1776 does not in fact make you a better citizen, no matter what Alexander says. A good citizen would be one who carefully considered the issues when voting. That would mean being able to think critically and ask hard questions of politicians.

In 1776 we had a bunch of politicians who, if the present is any example, were surely voting for their own special interests. The fact that we, as a country, feel the need to make them into folk heroes does not make it one bit more likely they they were any better or worse than the current people who govern us. What Alexander is really arguing for is more indoctrination - more informing students what to think instead of teaching them how to think.

Students don't need to know any official facts. They need to know how to live their lives intelligently. It is quite obvious that schools and school reform movements do not have this as an item on their agenda. Just more cramming for tests.

1 comment:

Chip said...

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.
- George Santayana

While inert facts do have a low utility, understand past itneractions can be quite useful.

Shall we talk S&L bailout?