Now that I am “retired” from teaching, I think it proper to do what retired teachers do- complain about education.
And it’s fitting that what irks me most about public school at the moment just happens to also be at the top of recent headlines. If you’ve been living under a rock, let me first get you up to par. The Texas Board of Education is currently embroiled in disputes over what should be taught in their Social Studies classrooms.
“What’s this have to do with the price of tea in China?” you might ask.
Well, it’s a snowball effect that ends up impacting us all. Texas first decides what will be taught in their classrooms, and then Texas textbook companies write textbooks to reflect those demands. The catch here is that the Texas textbook companies
sort of have a monopoly on textbooks. So whatever these companies ultimately print in their books end up in classrooms all across America. In a nut shell, we should care what the Texas Board of Education wants taught in their schools, because what they want taught WILL be taught in most other schools across our Nation, especially now that Common Core is alive and well.
Still wondering about tea in China, aren’t you?
See, history is a funny thing. It’s one of the few subjects that is mostly interpretive. It’s a story told by many people, from many perspectives, woven with truths, half- truths and outright lies. It’s up to people in the present to decide, based on all the stories together, what might have really happened in the past. It’s a fun subject in that regard, because it’s a constant mystery yearning to be solved. But, when you mix in political leaders shouting their interpretations about what should go in the curriculums, you have, well, a bit of a mess.
Unlike science (the scientific method doesn’t really change), or English (conjugating a verb stinks, period) or math (1 plus 1 always equals 2, unless Common Core says it doesn’t, but that’s for a different day), history is rather cluttered. It’s blurry, hazy, like a foggy fall morning. As such, it’s the perfect arena to push present day political agendas.
But for me, the real issue IS the price of tea in China. In other words, while the politicians continue to argue over who started the Civil War, or whether our Founding Fathers had any Christian values to speak of, or whether Native Americans were passive sitting ducks, or whether women are marginalized, etc. etc. etc., our American children are suffering though years of education that includes little, if any, historical perspectives at all. Yes, while Texas is spending millions rewriting their curriculum to cave to the current politicians bending their ears, little kids across our nation don’t now the basics of our nation’s history.
The difference between the DOA (that’s the Declaration of Independence, folks) and the Constitution
Why the American Revolution started, or from whom we even gained our independence (my son said France, when asked. And he’s 12 folks)
That we actually HAD a Civil War
The political process (you know, like how a judge is appointed, or how many representatives we have in Congress, and why)
Freedoms given to us in the Constitution (how will we know we’re being robbed of a freedom, if we don’t know what our freedoms are?)
Our economic system (it’s still a market economy, last time I checked. But that’s debatable)
How to vote or why we SHOULD vote
How and why laws were and are made (the President doesn’t make laws, although he’d like us all to think that)
How to be a United States citizen
Why we have traditions and customs
Why people came here in the first place
Ask any kid on the street, at the playground, in your backyard, at your dinner table- the fact is, our kids know little about our Nation’s past, and as such, have little to no pride in or sense of belonging to their own country. Because we lag behind in math and science, because we have overriding national standards that are too detailed and too extensive, because there’s a general consensus among Americans that history doesn’t matter anymore, because there’s only 24 hours in a day, yadda, yadda, yadda, we are right in the middle of a national identity crisis that starts in our history classrooms. It’s not about WHAT should be taught (sorry Texas), it’s about the fact that NOTHING is being taught.
Sure schools spend a pretty penny on the newest, best Social Studies textbooks, and Texas textbook companies love that the media is talking about their latest debacle (because any coverage is good coverage when you’ve got something to sell), but go into any school, and chances are you’ll see Social Studies treated much like a red-headed step child. Social Studies classes are shortened, become part of “the wheel” (meaning kids meet for Social Studies on a rotation along with gym and art), or Social Studies content is thrown into the English classroom, OR, worst of all, it doesn’t even exist. It’s the first class skipped by “gifted” kids, ESL kids, learning support kids or any kid with any label, so that they can go to remediation or seminar or [insert acronym here] class. And the “regular” kids left in the Social Studies classrooms are all sitting there wondering why they don’t get to skip, too.
Why is teaching history important anyway? If we can’t answer that question, then WHAT we teach becomes a moot point, doesn’t it?
I personally believe (and it’s backed up here) that learning about our collective past gives each of us an individual identity. In a time when we are all collectively going through an identity crisis (are we a market economy or command? are we a Christian society, or something else? Are we proud to be American, or ashamed? Do I know where my parents’ parents even came from? Do I know who my daddy is?), this sort of background is crucial. History places each of us in a specific time and place, and provides a point from which to draw real, human emotions. The fact that history can never really be told truthfully is an asset, not a burden. It provides individuals with talking points, gives students lessons in problem solving and critical thinking, and provides an arena to wonder and dream and think.
This lack of historical perspective has far reaching consequences beyond the fact that little Johnnie doesn’t know who we fought in World War II. Because the next step out of high school for most kids is either college or the work place, and when they step into this new world with no real basic understanding of the past, they are ripe for radical grooming from any and all radical, multicultural perspectives. It’s the precise population that will read and hear about the so-called “radicalization” of American textbooks and jump right on board (having no real basis from which to form their own opinion in the first place). Worst yet, these are the kids who will one day rule our nation, and wonder why Jews deserve a country in the first place, or why terrorists ought to be punished or why the President shouldn’t be allowed to usurp his/her powers (because they don’t know what his/her powers are anyway).
The threat to our Nation isn’t about what is and is not being taught in textbooks, or what slant might or might not be used to deliver the content. It’s that we are raising a nation of ignorant, young adults who call themselves citizens (or worse yet, ex-patriots), who don’t see the need to vote, who don’t understand basic rights and freedoms, who don’t possess a knowledge of what went into building this Nation nor what it’s going to take to keep this Nation alive, who are identity-void, compassionless, selfish and unable to solve basic real-life problems without turning to the radical fringe for advice and guidance.
Parents, if you care at all about your kids or grandkids, teach them history (your history, if you know it, local history, our nation’s history, world history), even if you teach them the wrong history or the non-politically correct history. Go ahead and admit that you aren’t quite sure if Andrew Jackson was good or evil (newsflash, even he didn’t know), or whether Civil Rights laws actually worked to curb racism or if women had bigger roles in shaping United State’s history than we are led to believe. The fact is, nobody really knows, but we all MUST be aware that history happened. Teach them that we don’t know and we won’t ever know the real truth in history, but we can make some educated guesses. Teach them that the real point of learning about our past is so we know we had one in the first place, and that real people, with real convictions, solved real problems through hard work, constructive debate and educated minds. That those people serve as examples, good and bad, of what we must strive to become if we are to ever invoke meaningful change in our present and for our future. And for God’s sake, don’t think your school is going to do it for you!