The thought process and memory allocations were sparked by a conversation with a Delaware High School Student….
It started with the words… “I had a great class today….”….
It went on, “Oh my gosh, you wouldn’t believe the class we had today, We didn’t do any projects and Mr. _____ just stood up and talked to as the whole class. .. He told us how the Depression came about, how it was just like now, how our politics were just like they were in the 20’s, how Roosevelt changed everything, and how because of the depression, we couldn’t do anything to stop Hitler of Japan because we had too many problems of our own, and how big business had a monopoly on things, and they fought FDR because they wanted business to get all the resources, but he chose to share them among all the people and if we would only do that today, because our corporate profits are record high, and our wages based on what they buy are record low… and oh, my, gosh, it was so clear and it made so much sense and we all could see how everything was about money and who had what, and oh, it made me so mad i never knew anything about this before, all we talked about was dumb America stuff and patriotism and freedom,and stuff and … oh my gosh, it makes sense now and we didn’t have to read a book or anything, he just explained everything to us and it was so awesome.. I want to take world history next year because it dawned on me how I don’t know anything about world history and I graduate next year. No wonder foreigners think Americans are dumb. We never get taught anything and it was so awesome today. And did you know that Americans didn’t want to fight Germany and thought that if Europe became German it was none of our business, just like today people don’t want to stop Putin, and did you know he is doing exactly what Hitler did in WWII.. take little bits and say you don’t want more then do the same until all you have everything you can get for free and then you take with a war… And did you know that we made the Japanese angry because we wouldn’t give them any metal or coal, and that is why they had to attack China to get raw materials? Oh my it was so interesting… I wish they had told us all this before……. ”
My guess was that the teacher was told his contract would not be renewed and so he said fvck the curriculum, I’m just going to teach…Something happened… and to this kid, it was wonderful….
And something else: … that was how I was taught too….
So are we using the wrong approach?
Let us explore. Today’s curriculum is like a giant smörgåsbord and each student is given a plate…. Whereas smörgåsbord are about eating and really cool, high school eduction is about work, and is not really cool… how would you and I feel if our work-alcoholic bosses held us highly accountable but only told us tantalizing bits and pieces of our directions as we went along, and maybe they do. But as employees, we wish to have a roadmap so the daily jaunts at least has some destination targeted in our sights.
In piecemeal fashion, we offer topics without providing any continuity between them. It is as if someone said, oh my goodness, we have to teach black history, and so a vignette about Fredrick Douglas is inserted. The next grade level it will be about Harriet Tubman… But at no point will their be a connection made between the two… And in a way, that is what is missing from education. Connections. Most textbooks are written with Texas in mind, and if Texas objects to something, it is easier to leave it out to keep selling books.
What we are teaching are points of light with no structure, and asking our children to make up constellations to explain their meaning.. None will be the same.
Take Geography. Our curriculum is designed to visit a country in depths. So upon graduation a child knows about Belgium but knows nothing about France to the south, Holland to the north, Germany to the East, and across the English Channel, Britain.
When we learned history as did our fore-bearers, one started from a beginning and traversed to an end. Egypt flowed to Mesopotamia, with hints about the Indus and Yellow River civilizations, then to Greece, Rome, and up through Europe. We kind of only learned the basics, but those basics we knew. We had a template to attach movies, books, and courses to which we’d cover later.
Those fortunate to have had what was called Sunday School, also had history reinforced by teachings of happenings over 2000 years ago. Put in story fashion, the joy of learning was very similar to what the above Delaware High School student learned for the first time….
As I look back, if our generation hadn’t had that discipline of being taught along the structure of beginning, middle, end, in todays world we’d be lost.
I use Wikipedia all the time. When I need refreshed, I click, it is right there… Anything. But what if my life existed as do our children’s, only in starbursts? For example should I need to know about Malaysian Airlines, Kuala Lumpur, Southern Indian Ocean to name a few. With today’s tools I could still write a story, even , if I didn’t know the location of all earth’s oceans… What if I didn’t know the Southern Indian Ocean because of its location, is our last least explored area on our planet? What if I didn’t know Malaysia was the name of a country? What if I didn’t know that airplanes flew on auto pilots?
Our world is connected and sometimes the best way to teach is stream of consciousness, where one idea flows into another and the giant net of inter-connectivity is woven and the large picture suddenly becomes clear and focused… That is how you give hope to a generation.
Common Core is intent on dissolving those interconnections. Spending 3 days on the Gettysburg Address as Coleman stresses. or 21 days on one letter written from a Birmingham jail… as he is so fond of telling teachers for his $100,000 consultation fee…. But how will everything else get taught if you just focus on one speech a month? “Gee, child what do you know after 12 years of school “… “A lot Mom, I know 120 different speeches… “(Fox News covers that in one hour). “Great, can you run to the store and pick up some pads? What are those mom?”
Other nations with which we compete, all use this connective approach. Those who found the atom, all came from this connective approach…
To get a grasp on how we are teaching our kids, (trust me, most of their knowledge is entirely from the background of television programs) try picking up the News Journal ( I know, unfair) or my column (very fair) and pretend that you just came out of a coma, in a strange place, and are cognatively now fully functional, except you have zero memory of anythign in your past… Everything you get, has to come straight from the text you read… Now read….. with your mind completely blank, and only pulling out what the information in front is telling you. Ask the questions you would ask to yourself at those places where the writer assumes you have prior background knowledge….
Our children do pretty well with the little we have given them,…. huh? It’s quite a challenge….
Now try to imagine living that way as an adult….