Another education basher misses the mark
Joanne Jacobs did a piece the other day on another bashing of our education system. The bashing was a post by John Leo, and mercifully, this one seemed to focus more on college than it did in K-12. The post featured what was supposed to be a test for eighth graders in 1895, and it was compared to what today's college students don't know.
Here is some of what was on the "eighth grade" test:
Grammar (Time, one hour)
1. Give nine rules for the use of capital letters.
2. Name the parts of speech and define those that have no modifications.
3. Define verse, stanza and paragraph
4. What are the principal parts of a verb? Give principal parts of 'lie', 'play', and 'run.'
5. Define case; illustrate each case.
6. What is punctuation? Give rules for principal marks of punctuation.
7 - 10. Write a composition of about 150 words and show therein that you understand the practical use of the rules of grammar.
U.S. History (Time, 45 minutes)
1. Give the epochs into which U.S. History is divided
2. Give an account of the discovery of America by Columbus .
3. Relate the causes and results of the Revolutionary War.
4. Show the territorial growth of the United States
5. Tell what you can of the history of Kansas .
6. Describe three of the most prominent battles of the Rebellion.
7. Who were the following: Morse, Whitney, Fulton , Bell , Lincoln , Penn, and Howe?
8. Name events connected with the following dates: 1607, 1620, 1800, 1849, and 1865.
And here is how dumb young people are today: (This originally comes from an essay by Ted Gup in The Chronicle of Higher Education.)
"Nearly half of a recent class could not name a single country that bordered Israel. In an introductory journalism class, 11 of 18 students could not name what country Kabul was in, although we have been at war there for half a decade. Last fall only one in 21 students could name the U.S. secretary of defense. Given a list of four countries - China, Cuba, India, and Japan - not one of those same 21 students could identify India and Japan as democracies. Their grasp of history was little better. The question of when the Civil War was fought invited an array of responses - half a dozen were off by a decade or more. Some students thought that Islam was the principal religion of South America, that Roe v. Wade was about slavery, that 50 justices sit on the U.S. Supreme Court, that the atom bomb was dropped on Hiroshima in 1975."
There were a couple of problems with Leo's bashing attempts, however. First of all, the eighth grade test turned out to be either a complete hoax or just dishonest. (Joanne reported that it's a hoax; a commenter on Leo's post said that it really was an eighth grade test from 1895, but hardly any of the eighth graders passed it.) The other problem is that by comparing the lack of social studies knowledge the college students demonstrated with any test, real or imaginary, it's clear that he completely misses the point.
The problem is not that young people today can't do well on a particular social studies test that they can study for. The problem is that they can't answer the same questions just a few months, or even a few weeks, after they've taken that test. The reason? They don't care! They don't care what countries border Israel, they don't care about Afghanistan, and they don't about the Civil War.
Do I care that kids don't care? Absolutely. I do everything I can to try to get my kids to care about the stuff I teach, and I know I'm not alone. But let's face it; we are not living in a culture that is conducive to getting young people to care about what has happened in history and what is happening in societies outside their own. But give them a test on TV, DVDs, video games, how to text, or how to use any other of the latest high tech gadgets, and they will dazzle us.