I Didn’t Learn That in High School

April 12, 2012

Remember that time you were talking with your friends at work about the Boston Tea Party? You know that time, your one friend was saying how much she sympathized with the Occupy Wall Street protesters. Your other friend said she admired their ideals, but felt the Tea Partiers had a better grasp on practical ideas that could help our country. And then you said, “Yeah and speaking of the Tea Party, I didn’t get the importance of the Boston Tea Party in High School, but gosh, it seems so relevant now….”

You don’t remember saying that? Oh, you don’t actually know anything about the Boston Tea Party? How is that possible; American History is required in school?! Oh wait… yeah, no. I don’t remember either. I had to Google it just now to see what year it took place and my guess wasn’t even in the right century.
 
Well probably we were sick that day. Let’s talk instead about how Oliver Cromwell overthrew the monarchy. How this “hero of liberty” turned into a despised despot.  How is that champions of “hope and change” can become so reviled for their attempts to bring reform?

That doesn’t ring a bell either? Missed that day too? What’s my point? I am not trying to make anyone feel bad. I am trying to make people feel mad. I didn’t know who Oliver Cromwell was either until some vague reference made me Google him the other day. Dude was so hated, he was dug up after he was buried and strung-up for all to see because he wasn’t executed properly the first time.

I used to be embarrassed by what I didn’t know. I guess I still am. But at least I can feel better by comparing myself to modern kids. They don’t just suck at history, most American 18 year olds today can’t find Japan, France, or the UK on a map! A third can’t even find the Pacific Ocean!! I am sure you all know by know that we barely rank in the middle and sometimes even at the bottom in international surveys, but here’s the government report just in case you want to see it in writing.

Why is this bad? We are an ignorant people and only getting more so. We can’t engage in meaningful discussions. We certainly can’t engage in a rational debate that doesn’t deteriorate into name-calling and mud-slinging. What’s the saying? If we forget our history then we are doomed to repeat it? We can’t keep taking away liberties and spending out of control and expect it won’t lead to our downfall.

If 90% of children can’t find Iran on a map, how are they going to form an opinion on whether or not Iran is a threat to Israel? Okay maybe you think it’s about time we got out of the middle of that conflict anyway. Fine. If we don’t care if the middle east blows itself off the map (solving a part of that whole geography ignorance problem BTW), then should we care that Iran and Venezuela are building a joint base that will allow Tehran to deal with “Iran’s enemies“? Care to guess who Iran considers its enemies?

So do I think my homeschooled kids going to retain historical facts because they are reading about them at the kitchen table instead of at a school desk? No, actually, I don’t. My point is that none of us remembers those things because we didn’t care. Nobody bothered talking to us about these concepts. They made us read dry textbooks then lectured at us.

My sons and I talk about these issues. We don’t use textbooks. I don’t lecture. Why waste time on textbooks and lectures when we know kids won’t retain the information or learn to do anything with it beyond test day? We aren’t even testing well!! 

I don’t mean to harp, so here’s my suggestion. Lets just sit the kids down into small groups, give them a short lesson to read on Oliver Cromwell, the Boston Tea Party, or whatever, and have them discuss how the events relate to what’s going on today. Whatever they get from that will stick with them much longer than those notes copied off the overheads.

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