Thursday, April 10, 2008

You Could Look It Up



Yesterday, while reading an Education blog sponsored by a progressive political action group, I was reminded how people perceive what they want to believe. I had contributed a post about how NCLB has as one of it's unwritten intentions the de-skilling of teachers. It's important to remember that one of the tenets of the law is directed at the manipulation and control of what passes as "enriched" curriculum.
These scripted elementary programs as well as computerized, anthologized, approaches to Language Arts and Humanities take all the joy out of teaching. Further, they severely limit the depth and breadth of what is covered or uncovered.
So here I am happily blogging along, making this point and inviting others to respond. By the end of the day I see another post under the heading of de-skilling teachers and students. The writer is making a case for rote memorization, harking back to the good old days, and even going so far as to include a 5 hour exam given in the 1880's in the state of Kansas. Students were tested on a variety of subjects including English usage and grammar, geography, U.S. History, Science. Apparently it was an 8th grade test. The guy's point being that the phrase "only an 8th grade education" really meant something then.
Now I'll concede a point or two about the value of memorizing a poem, and the importance of knowing Latin and Greek roots, and even the importance of explicit teaching when it comes to the structure of an essay or the "rules" of writing. I even enjoy diagramming a sentence when nobody's looking. But please. Most of the research about the teaching of grammar as drill/exercise is very conclusive. Like all quantifiable learning objectives it comes in one window and out the door.
As poet Barry Lopez recently told a group from the Oregon Writing Project, "YOU own the punctuation, the punctuation doesn't own you."
I also reminded this "good ol' days" advocate that the history questions he cited from that Kansas exam included the phrase "Columbus discovered America," conveniently left out anything about slavery or the genocide directed against Native Americans. Actually there was no sense that critical thought was any part of that curriculum.
I still have on my bookshelf a small collection of early U.S. Histories. In one of my favorite little public school volumes, after a discussion of the Battle of Little Big Horn, the text states that the victorious Indians, "returned to their tents to smoke their fifthly pipes." I kid you not.

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