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Why American Kids Don’t Know History

Doug Mataconis wrote about a depressing poll earlier today which noted that  26% of Americans don’t know that the US declared independence from Great Britain on July 4, 1776.  Worse, it showed that “40% of the people polled between the ages of 18 and 29 could not identify Great Britain as the nation that the United States won it’s independence from.”

The comment section contains a number of theories as to why this may be case including a number which assert an ideological explanation, i.e., that liberal public education has downplayed our national history and that this is all proof of the failures of public education especially of the federally-funded variety.

Let me offer some alternative thoughts on the subject.  And I will say as a bit of stipulation that I can agree with the general notion American education is far from perfect. However, the degree to which we can see a massive manifestation of ideologically-driven outcomes as the culprit here is problematic (to put it mildly).

First, let me offer a basic (and likely the best) explanation for the numbers in question:  it represents a mix of people who don’t care, weren’t good students, aren’t very smart and/or had a poor education.

Really, on this topic, the more I think about it, the more it occurs to me that if one is a citizen of the United States who doesn’t know from whom the US declared independence on July 4th, then that means that said citizen must be a fundamentally uncurious person/the type of person utterly apathetic to history (and a lot people fall into either or both camps).  Seriously:  this is information that one could acquire if one didn’t have it, even if one had the worst caricature of public education that one could muster.   Indeed, shouldn’t an appropriately conservative critique here be placed on the individuals who have failed to personally acquire such basic knowledge?

Second, there are any number of structural problems with American education, and they are not ideological.   I, personally, believe that a lot of them spring from the nature of teacher training.  To wit:  teachers tend to take a lot of classes about teaching and a lot less about the subject matter that they are going to teach.  This is problematic and is especially true in subjects like civics/social science/history/etc.  We do tend to do a better job in the hard sciences.

On that last count, I can provide direct evidence from Alabama.  In my state of residence it is the norm that a coach teaches high school government and/or history.  There are a number of reasons for this, but I won’t get into them (and, I think, this is not uncommon across the country).  As such, most kids who want to be coaches are really more focused on the athletic side than the polisci/history side.  I have had a number of football players, for example, who want to be coaches and who see their only route to a job to be social science education degrees.  Under that path they end of taking, almost certainly, only 3 hours of introductory American Government and maybe 3 more hours of upper level comparative politics—that’s it for political science as preparation for a career of teaching.  They do take a larger load of history courses.  From there they go on to teach American Government.  This is woefully inadequate preparation to teach the subject.  As such, it is hardly a surprise that the high school graduates that I get in my American Government classes are undereducated on even the basics.  This is not to say that some coaches aren’t also fabulous teachers (some are), but rather that, on balance, they are a) inadequately prepared, and b) probably far more focused on athletics than they are on in-class teaching.

I would further note that education degrees are notoriously known to be amongst the easiest degree programs on a given campus, which affects rather seriously the persons who go into education as a field.  This point, by the way, would readily be agreed upon by my wife, mother and sister, all of whom are teachers and who obtained their education credentials over a lengthy span of time  at different institutions.  I can add my own anecdotal two cents insofar as my experience teaching education majors in general studies American Government and World Politics classes has underscored that education majors tend not to be the most academically gifted students at the university.  This is, of course, an observation in the aggregate, with individuals certainly deviating from the tend.  In fact, one of the students that sticks in my mind as one of my best in my twelve years at my current job was an education major (she was, however, the proverbial exception that proves the rule).

Clarification/update:  This is not to say that there aren’t a lot of really good teachers out there, there are.

Third, if there was a liberal conspiracy to underplayed US history, one would expect that this would show up regionally in the poll, i.e., that the more liberal parts of the country would have the highest levels of problems.  However, if we look at the poll we find that the part of the country with the most difficult time answering correctly is the South (68% right and 32% wrong—the lowest and highest, respectively).  The South is the most patriotic and most conservative part of the country where one is far more likely to still find prayer in schools and more frequent displays of patriotism than say, in the Northeast (84% right and 25% wrong) or the West, which would include California and the Pacific Northwest (75% right and 25% wrong).

Indeed, the numbers would indicate, as one might suspect, that the wealthier one is (and, therefore, the likelihood being that one attended a well-funded public school) the better educated one is likely to be.  Not only are the regional breakdowns indicative of this (school spending in the West and Northeast tend to be higher than in the low-tax South), but the household income indicators highlight the wealth gap.  Households making more than $50k  the rate is 86% right, 14% wrong, while under $50k it is 63% right, 37% wrong.

In terms, by the way, of fitting a stereotypically conservative narrative (as displayed by some in the comment section of Doug’s post linked above), these are problematic observations.  Not only do the regional numbers argue against the notion of a liberal conspiracy, but those numbers coupled with the household income numbers would indicate that students who attended better funded schools did better on the question.

And yes, I do understand that higher household income could also mean a higher number of kids in private school.  However, the vast majority of US residents go to public schools, and therefore the overwhelming majority of responds will have come from such a background.

Update/clarification: I know that spending per student is not directly correlated to outcome. And, further, the poorest school in the land teaches the fact the US declared independence from GB.  Further, it is worth underscoring that children from higher income families do better for a variety of reasons.

Fourth, as an educator from a family of educators who has a lot of friends who are educators, I can provide ample anecdotal evidence (as I have not done systematic research on the issue, obviously) that helps confirms the first point above.  Let me conclude what has become a rather lengthy post with only two.

Anecdote one:  the year was 2001 and I was teaching American National Government, a general studies level course.  We had just gone through the inauguration of President Bush and I needed a bonus question for my exam.  I had been watching the coverage of the inaugural balls and my four-year-old son (only barely four, in fact) was walking through the living room, stopped, pointed to the TV and said :”hey, Daddy, that’s Dick Cheney!” and then walked out.  He had been correct.

Ok, I thought, I’ll put Dick Cheney’s picture on the exam and ask the students to identify him.  I figured, a) if my 4-year-old knows who he is, there is no reason why a bunch of 18-22 year-olds won’t, and b)  we could all have a little laugh if a few students couldn’t match the knowledge of a 4 year-old.  Well, it ended up that only somewhere around 30% of the student who correctly identified the newly elected Vice President of the United States (a result that was not especially funny).  Now, that was not the result of a liberal conspiracy; it was the result of a bunch of US citizens being profoundly apathetic about their government.  Mind you this is after the typical endless presidential campaign and after the Florida recount debacle that should have really clued people into presidential politics.

Anecdote two (also from American National Government):  As one would expect, I hammer in the concept of separation of powers and am big on especially underscoring the pivotal role of legislative power in the process.  I say, over and over again, “legislative power is the power to make the laws.”  Ok, so I am handing out the exam, the first question of which is about legislative power.  It was supposed to be a gimme—a question as easy as it comes.  It read something like this:

1.  Legislative power is:

a.  The power to make the laws.

b.  The power to enforce the laws.

c.  The power to interpret the laws.

d.  All of the above.

e.  None of the above.

Again, not only should all of this be common knowledge, I had emphasized the concept over and over and discussed what it meant and why and talked about legislation, budgets, the creation via legislation of bureaucracies, Article 1, section 8 and all that jazz.  And, of course, separation of powers was handled in the text and there was a whole chapter on legislative power.

So, when I passed the test out, I joked, “well, if you can’t answer the first one correctly, you might as well leave now.”  Well, ends up that something like 40% of them should have left the room and my joke lost all humor to me.

There was literally nothing else that I could have done, apart from telling them to mark “A” as I was handing out the exam, and even then I expect someone would have not paid attention.

This experience, along with several others, have underscored to me over the years that the most important variable in educational outcomes is the student, not the teacher (or the curriculum, or whatever else one wished to choose).  Although, I would hasten to add, that I do value quality of instructor and instruction.

I have long hypothesized that I could hand out the exam ahead of time and still have students who would fail the exam and am sorely tempted to test that hypothesis every time I teach a general studies class just to see what would happen.

Understand:  I know that I have failings as an instructor and that sometimes my students fail to understand concepts because I fail to properly instruct them.  However, there is ultimately only so much that I can do.

All of this is to say that a) I am not surprised that there are a lot of people out there who don’t know the US declared independence from Great Britain and, b) the reason they don’t know likely has almost nothing to do with ideological infiltration of education.

Update: As my wife points out to me:  of the subjects to get pushed out of the curriculum on a given day, its history/social science that is most likely to get the short end of the stick, as most time is focused on teaching kids to read, write, and do math (and that that is where the standardized are focused, further enhancing the incentive to focus on those subjects as funding, which further incentivizes focus away from social sciences).

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About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is Professor and Chair of Political Science at Troy University. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. He is the author of Voting Amid Violence: Electoral Democracy in Colombia and is currently working on a comparative study of the US to 29 other democracies. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging at PoliBlog since 2003. Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. [...] other day, I wrote some about Hitler comparisons, noting, in particular, that if one wishes to make comparisons of that nature, it is nice to [...]

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  2. [...] thought from me at OTB:  Speaking of Education… (Independence Day Edition). addthis_url = 'http%3A%2F%2Fwww.poliblogger.com%2F%3Fp%3D19198'; addthis_title = [...]

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  3. Herb says:

    I am in complete agreement that the “liberal conspiracy” idea is ludicrous. I mean, cui bono? How would liberals –yes, we’re evil, I get it– benefit from creating wrong impressions about our nation’s history?

    I understand why conservatives like to rewrite the history of Reagan (which you also posted about) to their benefit, but why would liberals rewrite the history of the country for…well, whoever’s benefit?

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  4. PD Shaw says:

    It still seems significant that race is the most important factor in being able to answer the question correctly, not income or region. That may be because “white” history is less interesting to non-whites. It may be because of disparaties in educational quality (and on this this it would be interesting to see a racial break-down within the Deep South).

    But I don’t think you can ignore the fact that history has increasingly been used as a vehicle of minority self-esteem, and there certainly has to be a cost for that.

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  5. It still seems significant that race is the most important factor in being able to answer the question correctly, not income or region.

    Except, of course, race correlates heavily with income (and region).

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  6. TangoMan says:

    My how brave Doug and Steven are to dive into the internals and purposely omit mention of the largest category, race.

    And yes, I do understand that higher household income could also mean a higher number of kids in private school. However, the vast majority of US residents go to public schools, and therefore the overwhelming majority of responds will have come from such a background.

    The household income is not the independent variable responsible for influencing student performance. The data supports the model of parental intelligence influencing household income and student achievement.

    Except, of course, race correlates heavily with income (and region).

    And intelligence.

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  7. Michael Reynolds says:

    Test the same kids on the arcana of American Idol. Test them on the details of Harry Potter. Kids learn what interests them and sadly history doesn’t.

    It’s a problem in my line of work (writing kidlit) as well. I can’t reference historical events with any expectation that the majority of readers — and kids reading 500 page novels are not the dumbest — will get the allusion. I still do it, mostly for my own entertainment, but I’ve become more and more aware that it’s missing the mark.

    That said, I do think we could teach kids history but we can’t do it from a text book. For years I’ve made lame, half-hearted efforts to get publishers to think about using fiction skills to teach history. My readers know every single relationship in one of my books, and parse every hint, and notice every mistake, because they care. They care about Harry Potter (or my Sam Temple) and they just don’t give a good damn about Adams or Jefferson.

    I think there are ways to do this. The impediment is lack of imagination and a lack of boldness in the educational establishment — left, right and center.

    I have no way to prove this, of course. I’m just saying that maybe 10% of 14 year-olds knows who Madison was and 90% know who Ron Weaselly (Harry Potter’s best friend) is and not only who he is but every detail of his fictional life.

    History is boring to kids who’ve lived a handful of years and experienced no history. If you want to teach history ask people who make a living not only conveying mass quantities of data to kids, but get kids to pay for the privilege.

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  8. Kids learn what interests them and sadly history doesn’t.

    True–and not just kids.

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  9. TangoMan says:

    Test the same kids on the arcana of American Idol. Test them on the details of Harry Potter. Kids learn what interests them and sadly history doesn’t.

    It would be interesting to see what results pop out from a longitudinal study of this question.

    I’m inclined to the position that the results from 1950 would show a higher across the board awareness of this history. Since then there has been a concerted war on the significance of “dead white men” in our nation’s history. The Texas Textbook Debate clearly showed how the nuts and bolts composition of history textbooks is changing with the inclusion of minor figures of racial or ethnic character taking the place of significant historical events – something has to give if we have to include references to appeal to minority pride. Moreover, the national history and myth is being de-emphasized with the rise of the multiculturalist philosophy.

    Look, kids in the past also were taught from textbooks, so if history conveyed through textbooks is the primary problem here then we should see the same, if not greater, levels of ignorance in the past, after all, these days there is less reliance on textbooks, what with the internet, multimedia, comic book based lessons, etc, than there was in the past.

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  10. Michael Reynolds says:

    Well, TangoBrimelow, setting aside the moment that you don’t really care about this issue — or any issue — except insofar as it’s an excuse for you to hop on your racist VDARE hobbyhorse . . .

    The 1950′s are irrelevant. In the 1950′s school was competing with I LOVE LUCY, THE HARDY BOYS and an occasional Saturday morning matinee.

    Now school competes with 100 channels of TV, thousands of youth-directed books, games, iPods, iPads, texting, Twitter, Facebook and the entirety of the internet.

    School is in the entertainment business whether they like it or not. I realize that sounds heretical, but it’s silly to think that a generation accustomed from birth to having their data fed to them by JK Rowling and James Cameron and the CW and their 500 Facebook “friends” will sit passively reading the same boring-ass textbooks I suffered through a million years ago.

    Kids today don’t have three more interesting things to pay attention to, they have 300 more interesting things. And yet schools are teaching them from turgid, ugly, non-interactive, depressingly boring media written according to guidelines handed down by partisan jag-offs who don’t really care about education except as an excuse to flog their ancient issues.

    You know: people like you.

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  11. grampagravy says:

    History, as it is taught through High School, is nothing more than an interpretation of past events by the powers that be of the present. As such it is propagandized by interpretation, omission, and selective inclusion. I think the failure to excite interest in history lies in the fact that kids have great BS detectors.

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  12. Steve Plunk says:

    You guys can make all the excuses you want. The facts is out education system is failing and it’s been in the hands of liberals for decades. Despite all the additional money it has not improved.

    So pontificate all you want while it slides further downhill under the NEA. Is a conspiracy of dunces still a conspiracy?

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  13. steve says:

    The problem is not so much the schools or even the kids, it is the parents. If parents are not involved and do not care what their kids learn, schools cannot overcome that problem. We also expect schools to teach kids that would have been warehoused in the past.

    “Look, kids in the past also were taught from textbooks, so if history conveyed through textbooks is the primary problem here then we should see the same, if not greater, levels of ignorance in the past”

    Intelligence tests, to which you ascribe, show that people are smarter now than in the past.

    Steve

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  14. PD Shaw says:

    “Except, of course, race correlates heavily with income (and region).”

    I don’t think you can dismiss it so lightly. You hold up the South as a region of uncompromising patriotism, and point to the low scores, when it’s probably much more likely that the region’s whites are uncompromisingly patriotic and answered the question as correctly, if not more correctly than the rest of the country. But the South has far more African-Americans than any other region of the country, and they are conflicted about the old white, slave-holder founders. And what passes for reform in troubled areas tends to be not naming schools after George Washington or Thomas Jefferson.

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  15. TangoMan says:

    The 1950′s are irrelevant. In the 1950′s school was competing with I LOVE LUCY, THE HARDY BOYS and an occasional Saturday morning matinee.

    Now school competes with 100 channels of TV, thousands of youth-directed books, games, iPods, iPads, texting, Twitter, Facebook and the entirety of the internet.

    Do you concur that a sample done in the 1950s would have shown a different pattern of response?

    I’m not buying that the nature of the distractions is going to change the outcome of the result. Distractions from learning and studying are pretty constant across time, I think, in that a kid who doesn’t want to study will ALWAYS find something else to do. Today they play a video game, in 1950 they played stickball or went riding their bikes or they souped up their 32 Ford Coupe. Moreover, all of those distractions are not in effect during school hours and the amount of time spent on homework has increased since the 1950s, so it can’t be that the 1950 kids learned their history while being chained to their kitchen tables in the evening hours doing massive amounts of homework. They learned most of this material during class hours.

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  16. TangoMan says:

    You guys can make all the excuses you want. The facts is out education system is failing and it’s been in the hands of liberals for decades. Despite all the additional money it has not improved.

    a.) The system is indeed failing. b.) Liberal ideas are indeed the guiding force behind the design and reforms. c.) This is probably indicative of correlation rather than causation. I agree with Steven:

    This experience, along with several others, have underscored to me over the years that the most important variable in educational outcomes is the student, not the teacher (or the curriculum, or whatever else one wished to choose). Although, I would hasten to add, that I do value quality of instructor and instruction.

    The composition of the student body is changing and this is resulting in changes in achievement levels. You can’t compare an entity across time if the nature of the entity also changes across time.

    The problem is not so much the schools or even the kids, it is the parents. If parents are not involved and do not care what their kids learn, schools cannot overcome that problem.

    Are you arguing that parents in earlier eras were more involved than parents of schoolkids today, this despite the recent vigorous outreach from schools towards parents to try to educate them about the importance of “getting involved” in their child’s education? If we assume that the 1950 response showed more cultural awareness than the present day sample then parental involvement in education probably wouldn’t be the driving factor responsible for the change. However, if you’re arguing that in the present day sample some of the variance can be explained by parents transmitting and reinforcing cultural values and points of knowledge then I’d agree that parental involvement could make a difference in outcomes.

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  17. Michael Reynolds says:

    I’m not sure how many of you have kids, but it seems to me that the bulk of commenters here don’t have kids of school age. I do, so this isn’t a theoretical or political issue for me.

    My daughter has dyslexia and, because she was adopted at age 4, had an un-enriched environment growing up. (To put it mildly.) My son is highly gifted and grew up in as enriched an environment as exists. We are both work-at-home parents so we have a ridiculous amount of time to spend with our kids.

    And yet our daughter’s school — private — is a very sweet, very supportive, but not very effective school. And we pulled our son out of his gifted private school (by the way, a very Republican school,) because we felt they were actively impeding his education. We have not been able to find schools that can teach our kids.

    Education isn’t broken because of the NEA, or because of parents, or because of the pinheads at the Texas School Board or the pinheads at the DOE, or any of the rest. It’s broken because it’s 2010 and the only argument taking place is whether schools should pretend it’s 1950 or 1850.

    And any time we try to have a conversation that is actually about schools and education of actual, real live human children in this country, it’s swallowed up by partisan bullshit of staggering irrelevance.

    Here we have Tango who doesn’t give a good goddamn about kids or schools or education and is just trolling for likeminded racist ninnies to join VDARE. And Steve Plunk who just wants to beat the same dumbass GOP talking points.

    You would think that since we all make noises about caring about children we could talk about education and actual kids and actual schools, but no. Why should we put kids ahead of the desperate need to flog some weary old fart’s race obsession and hear yet again the same goddamned pointless platitudes from partisan nincompoops whose entire thought process on the topic is to listen to Rush Limbaugh spout off.

    Now, before you launch yet again into your stupid, brain-dead racist bullshit about the mud people contaminating the elementary school where you first met your child bride, Brimelow, I’ll add that the schools where I live have barely got a black person, are run by Republicans and are largely Asian. And yet, surprise! They’re still almost completely irrelevant to anything that might objectively be called an education and I still don’t want my kids going there.

    So maybe — I know, it’s a crazy suggestion — maybe the problem is not Neeeegroes, Brimelow. Maybe it’s not Liiiiiiberals, Plunk. Jesus, if the two of you are any testimony to good, ole’ fashioned, whites only,1950′s readin’ writin’ and ‘rithmatic education, by your persistent stupidity, your absolutely impenetrable imbecility, you quite undercut your own case.

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  18. John says:

    @Tango, I’ll speak up on this and, for the sake of argument, not buy your tenet. I would say that if you sampled group for group (by race, income level, parental status, and location) that you would find similar results, if not better scores among modern youth.

    What option does a kid from rural Mississippi have for education in 1950? Essentially nothing. And those that did, especially the black children, were forced to attend school in sub-optimal conditions (and I know this for a fact as my grandfather oversaw several district transitions in the 1960′s.) Today all children at least have the opportunity to go to school and in fact have a mandated attendance policy until a certain age. That doesn’t mean they have to pay attention, or can’t drop out, but at least they have that option.

    I think what you might find is the percentages would follow quite closely (again, in the same parameters).

    However, I doubt such a study exists making the point moot.

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  19. @Tango: so, you are saying that the Golden Age of American eduction was int he pre-Brown era of segregated schools, yes? Just checking.

    @Michael: as the parent of three boys, let me concur that the biggest challenge we have faced (and continue to face) is finding adequate schools for our children.

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  20. John says:

    If nothing else, kids are much more literate than they were in the 1950′s:
    http://nces.ed.gov/naal/lit_history.asp#illiteracy

    While that study shows through 1979, here is a snapshot of illiteracy in the US today:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_literacy_rate

    I get that literacy and civics aren’t one in the same, but I think you can agree that if you cannot functionally read and write you don’t have much of a shot at identifying Great Britain as the country the US split from in 1776.

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  21. John says:

    @Michael/Dr. Taylor – intertubes smackdown on ignorance – http://www.youtube.com/user/khanacademy

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  22. TangoMan says:

    And any time we try to have a conversation that is actually about schools and education of actual, real live human children in this country, it’s swallowed up by partisan bullshit of staggering irrelevance.

    There can be plenty of conversations, but I suspect what you’re looking for is validation of your choice. You obviously think that you’ve made a wise choice with regards to the unschooling of your son and I imagine you think that the decisions you made for him have wide applicability to other children and you’re not able to make a convincing case that your choice is one that has universal applicability. That doesn’t mean that we’re not having a conversation. It just means that subjective assessments used in support of arguments are not convincing to people who don’t subscribe to your ideological vision.

    the schools where I live have barely got a black person, are run by Republicans and are largely Asian. And yet, surprise! They’re still almost completely irrelevant to anything that might objectively be called an education and I still don’t want my kids going there.

    I fully support your right to chose the educational path for your children. If unschooling is what you think is best for your kids then terrific for you and them. The fact that you don’t want your kids to attend schools with Asian children doesn’t say anything about the validity of the educational experience that Asian children will receive in that school.

    The test of efficacy for the different educational paths and philosophies will be the life outcomes of the children with proper controls for confounding factors. If a generation hence the children of all social classes who’ve gone through an unschooling regime have higher acceptance rates into universities, higher achievement while in university, higher graduation rates from university, higher levels of income, higher measures of knowledge on objective tests, then you can convene an OTB reunion in 2045 and tell us “Told you so, suckers.”

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  23. TangoMan says:

    I get that literacy and civics aren’t one in the same, but I think you can agree that if you cannot functionally read and write you don’t have much of a shot at identifying Great Britain as the country the US split from in 1776.

    Not necessarily. If the tale of national origin is stressed heavily in the culture it will probably be remembered in more detail than if the tale of national origin is frowned upon as the original sin of the nation and something to be ashamed of because it gave birth to a wicked nation responsible for many modern-day sins.

    You can test this out yourself. Ask kids to tell you a fairy tale that they know and then ask them if they read the story or if it was told to them.

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  24. TangoMan says:

    @Tango: so, you are saying that the Golden Age of American eduction was int he pre-Brown era of segregated schools, yes? Just checking.

    Not necessarily. I picked 1950 as a random date implying no causation between Brown and outcomes. The causation I’m alluding to has more to do with cultural emphasis on certain historical eras. I propose that there was much more emphasis on the founding and revolution in 1950, for instance, than there is today because today kids have to learn about Sojourner Truth, Caesar Chavez, Rosa Parks, – educators have decided that the Civil Rights era history is more important than Revolutionary History.

    If you ask kids today who Sojourner Truth was they would probably have a far higher level of knowledge than kids in 1970 or 1950.

    That said though, you do bring up an interesting line of thought. The mission of the educational establishment has changed over the years. It used to be that teachers sought to maximize the potential of every student before them to the best of their abilities. Today the focus is on minimizing the Achievement Gap. It’s far easier to minimize the Gap by not allowing top students to excel than it is in bringing up the performance of lagging students. Whereas the allocation of teacher time, I suspect, used to be more uniformly distributed, because there wasn’t such a fear of failing underperforming students, these days the allocation of teacher time probably favors the lagging students and this comes at some expense to the performing students who are held back from maximizing their potential.

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  25. PD Shaw says:

    I do have grade school kids in public school. And to pick up on Tango’s point, my daughter graduated first grade able to name more civil rights leaders (including Sojourner Truth) than Presidents, and the Presidents she probably did not learn at school.

    The first social studies challenge for my kindergarten boy was to recite three facts he learned about Christopher Columbus: he said that Columbus took land from the Indians, made slaves of the Indians, and wasn’t really Spanish. And we celebrate his holiday because ?!?

    Now, I’ll rise to the challenge and my kids will be fine. But the teaching to math, reading and writing tests is going to make these problems worse. The five minutes of history are going to Sojourner Truth, and not Washington, a mere slave-owner.

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  26. It used to be that teachers sought to maximize the potential of every student before them to the best of their abilities. Today the focus is on minimizing the Achievement Gap.

    I have serious doubts about both assertions having any basis in objective, empirical reality.

    On the latter point in particular I have not found that to be the major explanation for the functioning of the classroom for my own kids, or from my wife’s experience in public and private schools.

    On the former point: given the segregated schools at the time, your statement is a non sequitur. Even beyond that, the notion that there were no problems associated with different skills sets in classrooms that teachers had to address in the 1950s is a fantasy.

    . It’s far easier to minimize the Gap by not allowing top students to excel than it is in bringing up the performance of lagging students

    While there are, no doubt, examples of more needy students getting attention at the expense of the top students (indeed, I know that this happens), I reject the blanket narrative you are pitching here. Indeed, I have one child with special learning needs and another who excels academically. Guess which one that public schools where I reside have program for and which one is now in a private school. And, I would add, I am no big fan of our local public schools.

    Regardless, reality is a lot more complicated than the picture you paint and the past, in particular, a lot less of the paradise you imagine it to have been.

    My guess, by the way, is that if you conducted a poll about Caesar Chavez, or any of the other figures you note, the results would be a lot worse than the poll that started this conversation–as such, I don’t buy the argument that discussing Civil Rights is the reason why some people lack certain bits of knowledge about July 4th.

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  27. he said that Columbus took land from the Indians, made slaves of the Indians, and wasn’t really Spanish.

    Not to be pedantic, but which of the statements above are untrue?

    An odd focus for Kindergarten, I will allow–although on the other hand, I am mildly surprised that the topic is being discussed at all at that level.

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  28. [...] American education is often in the hands of education majors. [...]

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  29. Michael Reynolds says:

    We might also throw in that Columbus did not exactly discover America in the sense of the US. He discovered Hispaniola (Haiti and Dominican Republic) and Cuba.

    He later IIRC discovered the Yucatan — although I believe the Mayans were under the impression that they’d already discovered the Yucatan and had built major cities in that no-doubt mistaken belief..

    Columbus promptly set about enslaving the Indians who cleverly avoided enslavement by dying of western diseases for which they had no immunities. This set the stage for African slaves to be imported.

    So, all in all, a fine bit of work by our intrepid Genoese sailer.

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  30. Michael Reynolds says:

    It all reminds me of the quote from The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance:

    When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.

    Most of the people complaining about the teaching of history are actually upset at the teaching of any version other than the familiar legends they learned as children.

    For the record:

    The Pilgrims did not sail to America to escape religious persecution. They’d already relocated to Holland where no one was being persecuted — a fact which irritated the Pilgrims — who took sail for America where they promptly began religious persecution of their own.

    George Washington did not cut down a cherry tree.

    The US had in fact lost a war before Vietnam: the War of 1812. Our capital was burned, our invasion of Canada was a fiasco, and aside from some frigate actions the only major battle we won came after we’d already settled for achieving none of our stated terms.

    The US did in fact use military power to steal other people’s land: Mexican American War. California? New Mexico? Arizona? Nevada? Stole ‘em. Flat out stole ‘em.

    We did create colonies and we were right bastards in holding onto them: Cuba and the Philippines.

    Just a few of the many comforting myths that older people learned in school that simply are not true.

    If we’re going to teach history, we need to teach the truth — or as close as we can get without freaking the kids out.

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  31. mannning says:

    My “pack” of elementary school teachers from perhaps the best school in the city agreed on the following problems in all grade levels through the 6th as of 2006. I have had no recent contact with the group, so I cannot say at this moment whether these problems are still in effect. Four of my “pack” have since retired and moved away.:
    1) They had discipline problems with a small number of students for at least the first three months each year, which degraded their efforts measurably until they gained control; which usually had to involve several parent-teacher meetings and lots of notes home.
    2) They were forced to teach to the national tests and not to teach outside them or risk their jobs. The national tests were apparently sent down from on high, and were composed of questions that left many gaps in their ability to teach a subject fully and well.
    3) All of them resented the NEA for its imposition of dues and for its interference with normal and well-known practices of teaching.
    4) None of the teachers wanted to be identified publically for fear of retribution, which speaks volumes about vindictive administrative approaches.
    5) Their students did reasonably well on the tests–well above average–but they emphasized the fact that such a teach-the-test method is not conducive to a good grasp of the subjects covered.
    6) The local school board was felt to be very much on the side of progressive methods, ideas, experiments,and materials, and not particularly interested in hearing from the troops about their problems and suggestions.

    So we have a national standard of testing created by whom? The federal government.
    We have teachers forced to teach to the tests when they know it is not adequate..
    And we have an NEA that materially impacts both the teachers and the subjects taught. in a negative manner. I would think that the next level of teachers would be forced either to fill in the gaps left from this school, or simply to pass the students on to the high school level, and eventually on to college, where the holes would (or should) become quite apparent.

    “It was France, wasn’t it?”

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  32. Michael Reynolds says:

    Manning:

    State tests, not federal.

    The Act requires states to develop assessments in basic skills to be given to all students in certain grades, if those states are to receive federal funding for schools. The Act does not assert a national achievement standard; standards are set by each individual state.

    NCLB was developed by George W. Bush and passed with a lot of help from Edward Kennedy.

    On the larger point yes: teaching to the test is stupid and destructive and so long as schools and teachers are judged on the basis of those tests that’s all they’ll teach.

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  33. TangoMan says:

    On the latter point in particular I have not found that to be the major explanation for the functioning of the classroom for my own kids, or from my wife’s experience in public and private schools.

    Really? So your wife could ignore the effects of the achievement gap in her classrooms and no administrator would raise the issue if her classes consistently showed a wider gap in achievement across race because she allocated her time equally amongst students and the top performers were better able to leverage her instruction than the poorer performers, thus increasing the gap. Frankly, that’s not what I see. I see a lot of institutional effort designed to minimize the gap and institutional tripwires which alert administrators to an increasing gap.

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  34. sam says:
  35. PD Shaw says:

    “Not to be pedantic, but which of the statements above are untrue?”

    None of them are untrue. But what value is there in teaching kids that Christopher Columbus had feat of clay when they don’t know what he did and why it was important?

    Why learn about Washington if the most important thing is that he had slaves? Why learn about Lincoln if his emancipation proclamation freed no slaves and he was a racist?

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  36. RW Rogers says:

    Michael: RE your comment:

    I’ll add that the schools where I live have barely got a black person, are run by Republicans and are largely Asian.

    Unless you moved recently, a majority of the members of the board of trustees of the school district in which you live were endorsed and actively supported by the CTA and/or the SEIU (CSEA). That has probably been true for well over 20 years. As you probably know, school board elections in California are non-partisan. The district is not exactly a hotbed of Republican fundamentalism. While Asians do make up about 36% of the population, the schools are probably not “largely Asian.” BTW, none of the trustees are Asian, but one of them does happen to be an African-American.

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  37. Michael Reynolds says:

    Randy:

    I was actually being more specific than that. I live in the Woodbridge section of Irvine, a very Asian area, very close to two schools which are decidedly Asian.

    I didn’t say that Irvine was a hotbed of Republican “fundamentalism” but Irvine, despite going for Obama because of the campus vote, is a very Republican city. The campus has its own neighborhoods and is certainly a part of Irvine, but the perception from where I sit is that there is a town/university difference that makes the campus feel quite distant.

    Incidentally, Irvine schools are considered to be very, very good. I just think the things at which they are good — testing — are either irrelevant or harmful.

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  38. @TangoMan: there is a difference between saying that it is necessary to deal with the various levels in a classroom and creating a narrative in which all schools do is ignore the high achievers and focus primarily on the low achievers. That’s a caricature.

    Further, it is interesting how you constantly elide the direct racist implications of your praise of the past. All that does is add fuel to Michael’s accusations as to your identity and true perspective. It is utterly indefensible to claim that in the 50s “that teachers sought to maximize the potential of every student before them to the best of their abilities”.

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  39. @PD:

    But what value is there in teaching kids that Christopher Columbus had feat of clay when they don’t know what he did and why it was important?

    It is difficult, if not impossible, to assess what was taught without knowing the entire lesson. And, as I noted, some of this seems a bit advanced, in a general sense, for Kindergarten. Still, it the facts are true, it is unclear to me what the essential objection is, save that you would prefer the fairly tale version over the real one.

    Why learn about Washington if the most important thing is that he had slaves? Why learn about Lincoln if his emancipation proclamation freed no slaves and he was a racist?

    People keep saying that the most important thing being taught about Washington was that he owned slaves, but I am not buying that that is what is being taught. What I suspect is being taught is the actual, and unfortunate, fact that Washington (and Jefferson and Madison, etc.) owned slaved. This does taint the story of the Founders are Sainted Political Demigods to whom we can look for all the answers of contemporary politics. However it has the inconvenient aspect of being true.

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  40. Based on my granted now rather distance experience with Irvine the city and UCI, I would concur with Michael that a) Irvine is a very Republican city and b) that there is a distinct town and gown division

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  41. mannning says:

    I had the distinct impression from my friends that the tests (developed by the State) were heavily influenced by federal and NEA “suggestions” if the State wanted federal funding to be approved, which amounts to indirect and insidious dictation of content by the higher education authorities at the national level, and the NEA union. This use of federal funding to influence states development and direction of their programs has a posiive side and a negative side: positive, in that some states realize a net gain for their students, but negative in that there is undue progressive influence on course material, content, and philosophy.

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  42. Michael Reynolds says:

    Manning:

    The “progressive” thing is a right-wing talking point that really has no relevance whatsoever to schools in the real world. The problems of schools have literally nothing to do with a liberal curriculum.

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  43. TangoMan says:

    Steven.

    there is a difference between saying that it is necessary to deal with the various levels in a classroom and creating a narrative in which all schools do is ignore the high achievers and focus primarily on the low achievers. That’s a caricature.

    That’s a caricature that you’ve created. Here’s my statement again:

    That said though, you do bring up an interesting line of thought. The mission of the educational establishment has changed over the years. It used to be that teachers sought to maximize the potential of every student before them to the best of their abilities. Today the focus is on minimizing the Achievement Gap. It’s far easier to minimize the Gap by not allowing top students to excel than it is in bringing up the performance of lagging students.

    I never said that ALL schools do this, you did. I never said that schools ignore high achievers, you did. There is a world of difference between ignoring high achievers and trying to keep them constrained within the limits of a lesson plan rather than accelerating far beyond the rest of the class.

    It is utterly indefensible to claim that in the 50s “that teachers sought to maximize the potential of every student before them to the best of their abilities”.

    Are you joking or are you simply arguing against some caricature that you’ve constructed about my argument? I told you that I picked the 50s-era randomly with no attention to the pre-Brown significance. That said, my statement is entirely defensible even within a system characterized by segregated schools. Streaming was pervasive, indicating that schools were sorting by intelligence in order to make the teaching more efficient. In white schools and in black schools. There was no concern about gaps between the most successful and the least successful students. Teachers actually failed students who couldn’t master the material instead of slowing the pace of instruction and dedicating their time to aiding the troubled students for clearly those students were nearing the limit of their ability to intake information at the pace it was being delivered. Sometimes a troubled student would be transferred to a stream that was more appropriate to his/her abilities. Black schools and white schools.

    I would guess that you’ve made a mental equivalence between integrated schools and student abilities. That’s a false equivalence. They don’t measure the same thing. If you did make the false equivalence then I can see how you would construct your strawman that keeping kids in segregated schools was not an act of helping each student achieve to the best of their ability. I can see that argument but it’s still wrong with respect to what I wrote.

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  44. Tangoman: you can’t assert the 1950′s as the apex of American education and then ignore segregation.

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  45. And, btw, it is quite odd to pick a particular decade as the exemplar for your argument and then claim you did so randomly (your characterization).

    How can you claim to be asserting evidence for you position whilst simultaneously claiming you are essentially pulling evidence out of the air?

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  46. mannning says:

    When American history is turned into a negative rant about all that is wrong with our nation, how we treated the indians, our exploitation of the environment, and the foibles of our founders and leaders, and to leave out or denigrate the essentials of our American way of life, you might say that all they are doing is teaching reality, so live with it.

    But this so-called reality is in my mind teaching children to disrespect the history of our nation and our heroes, to unbalance views in the wrong direction, and to tarnish rather seriously, by selective treatment of subjects, the love of country and patriotism that most of us grew up with.

    There is time enough for absorbing negative realities in more mature years, unless you are trying hard to impart a viewpoint to mere children that I see as a Left-Liberal, secular, and fundamentally anti-American objective of brainwashing the kids and puncturing their balloons of patriotism, which is meant to make the kids soft and ripe later on for leftist social activism, and somewhat ignorant and oblivious to the other sides of the argument.

    We all know the famous meme that says: “give me a child before seven and I will make him a true Catholic for life,” which in this case just might be quite the opposite! Secular Humanism openly touted for years that children should be raised by the state, and not their biological parents, so that their outlook was molded and oriented in the proper direction to support an atheist, secular state.

    The next best approach in the American scene, for leftist purposes, would be to raise trained skeptics and ignoramouses that are more easily persuaded to to the leftist, socialist cause. Obviously, the more intelligent children would climb above this kind of biased teaching rather rapidly, yet some of them would be even more able to be persuaded to join the “inner circle” of leftist thinkers.

    Thus, when I hear of deliberate downgrading the teaching of American history, civics, the principles of our governance, and the love of country at all levels of education, I must ask why? For what purpose would they do that? Allan Bloom had answers in “The Closing of the American Mind”. Do the names Ward Churchill or Noam Chomsky ring a bell? How about Rousseau in “Emile”, or even John Dewey, mastermind behind a century of educational failure in America?

    To say that political thinking has no bearing on our educational system is dead wrong. To say that liberalism has had no effect on our system is to attempt to hide the real truth of the matter. Why is it, then, that about nine out of ten professors in most American universities are out and out progressives? Do they let their leftist political leanings influence their teaching? You betcha they do!

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  47. TangoMan says:

    Steven,

    Tangoman: you can’t assert the 1950′s as the apex of American education and then ignore segregation.

    If you’re sober right now, then you’re a disgrace to academia. I’ve already called you on your predilection for arguing against strawmen that you create and yet you continue the practice. For the moment I’m going to assume that on this joyous day that your consciousness has been altered by a few too many beers in the hot sun because your assertion that I claimed the 1950s as the “apex of American education” bears absolutely no resemblance to what I did write, which was this:

    I’m inclined to the position that the results from 1950 would show a higher across the board awareness of this history.

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  48. @Tangoman: Nice ad hominem, btw. Certainly that is an excellent way to make your case.

    But back to the actual discussion: So, you assert the 1950s as a time when education worked in this country, and I point out that this is a problematic example because of a rather glaring problem of treating a significant swath of our citizens differently than others (something you have yet to directly address) and that means that I am arguing against strawmen? It isn’t a strawman if it is an actual characterization of your position.

    Help me out here: are you asserting, in your evaluation, that segregation didn’t matter and that unequal facilities for black children was really of no significance and therefore we should ignore it in terms of comparative discussions? Are you saying that if we are going to look at the 1950s as a model to use as a corrective for the ills you see at the moment that such factors should be glossed over? What of the way we educated girls at the time and the career paths that we thought they should (or, should not) have?

    I return to the point that it is odd to pick the 1950s and then ignore segregation. Perhaps you were just being sloppy in your examples of perhaps you really don’t care about that issue. It strikes me as fundamentally impossible to talk about the quality of education in the segregation era and ignore part of the population in that discussion. Of course, you made clear your views on race and intelligence above, which would tend to underscore that you probably don’t care about equal access to education.

    Or perhaps that too, is a strawman?

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  49. @Manning: if I have to choose between an utterly heroic version of history that is fiction and truth, then I would prefer truth. However, I think that it is incorrect to state that all we do in public schools is to present the unvarnished truth without still there being a great deal of the heroic mixed in.

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  50. PD Shaw says:

    ” . . . you would prefer the fairly tale version over the real one.”

    The motive you ascribe to me is wrong. My personal view is that we should not have a Columbus Day; I don’t think he merits it. I want elementary school children to learn the basics of why people or events are important. I think Reynolds “feet of clay” approach to history has merit at perhaps the high school level where they are likely to be bored with two-dimensional characters and are able to absorb more complicated personalities and events.

    “People keep saying that the most important thing being taught about Washington was that he owned slaves, but I am not buying that that is what is being taught.”

    My reference is the number of schools that are the subject of campaigns to change their names. When I lived in New Orleans, the schools named after Washington, Jefferson, and Franklin (!?!) were being renamed under a heavy public indictment that they were unworthy. Are these school environments in which interest in these figures can exist?

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  51. I agree about Columbus Day–I take the point about elementary school/high school and will leave it at that.

    My reference is the number of schools that are the subject of campaigns to change their names. When I lived in New Orleans, the schools named after Washington, Jefferson, and Franklin (!?!) were being renamed under a heavy public indictment that they were unworthy. Are these school environments in which interest in these figures can exist?

    My reaction to this this would be a) how significant a movement was there? How large was it? Was it successful? A lot of people want a lot of things, and some of them can be quite loud. However, that does not translate into a mass movement. For that matter, because some group wanted to change the name of school does not mean that the only thing being taught about Washington is that he was a slave owner.

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  52. TangoMan says:

    Nice ad hominem, btw. Certainly that is an excellent way to make your case.

    A truthful statement is not an attack against the person. You’ve been arguing strawmen here, I called you on it, you persisted to mischaracterize my position and I called you a disgrace for doing so after I pointed out your error. You earned the rebuke.

    So, you assert the 1950s as a time when education worked in this country

    What I wrote was:

    I’m inclined to the position that the results from 1950 would show a higher across the board awareness of this history. Since then there has been a concerted war on the significance of “dead white men” in our nation’s history. The Texas Textbook Debate clearly showed how the nuts and bolts composition of history textbooks is changing with the inclusion of minor figures of racial or ethnic character taking the place of significant historical events – something has to give if we have to include references to appeal to minority pride. Moreover, the national history and myth is being de-emphasized with the rise of the multiculturalist philosophy.

    That statement doesn’t make a case about educational process, rather it speaks to how educational priorities are changing and how those changed priorities are affecting the curricula. Later in the thread I make the following observation:

    I picked 1950 as a random date implying no causation between Brown and outcomes. The causation I’m alluding to has more to do with cultural emphasis on certain historical eras. I propose that there was much more emphasis on the founding and revolution in 1950, for instance, than there is today because today kids have to learn about Sojourner Truth, Caesar Chavez, Rosa Parks, – educators have decided that the Civil Rights era history is more important than Revolutionary History.

    If you ask kids today who Sojourner Truth was they would probably have a far higher level of knowledge than kids in 1970 or 1950.

    The poll asked a question that, in my mind, had greater cultural relevance in earlier eras than it does in the present, and so, I would expect that there would be greater awareness of the minutia of the events in eras when they were reinforced positively in various fashions than there would be in an era where the Revolution is treated more as just one of a series of historical events that are all pretty much, more or less, on par with each other.

    I would have thought that my original two statements were sufficiently clear to make that point rather than coming across as being in support of an argument focused on the efficacy of education across eras. You conjured up a strawman by not reading what I wrote closely enough and then you allowed your strawman interpretation of my comments to color your understanding of every subsequent comment I made.

    I point out that this is a problematic example because of a rather glaring problem of treating a significant swath of our citizens differently than others (something you have yet to directly address) and that means that I am arguing against strawmen?

    What is a problematic example? I’m clearly writing about the relative importance of the revolution as seen from a 1950 perspective compared to a 2010 perspective and you imagine that I’m talking about segregated schools from that era.

    Treating black students differently than white students during the 1950s has no bearing, at all, on the issue of how the culture weighed the importance of the revolution as part of our history. These are two separate issues. Your lack of reading comprehension made it seem that I was connecting these two issues. I clearly told you that I wasn’t. For most honest scholars that declaration would have been sufficient. For you it wasn’t and you persisted in your line of argument that I meant something that I already explained was not a part of my thinking.

    The fact that you want me to address the strawman that you’ve created is irrelevant to the position that I’ve been arguing consistently throughout this thread. Look at Michael Reynolds and his freakish nuttiness. That dude is always engaging in fallacious arguments and I don’t address his irrational points either. More troubling than your inability to argue honestly is your validating Reynold’s nutty rants. You’re engaging in logical errors that a freshman taking a critical thinking class would spot immediately.

    It isn’t a strawman if it is an actual characterization of your position.

    It is a strawman when it is not a characterization of my position. When your interlocutor explains to you what his position is you don’t get the right of veto on that explanation and the right to substitute an explanation which more closely supports the strawman argument you want to argue. Look, I’ve gone up thread and pulled my quotes to use in this comment. You could have also gone up thread and reread my comments after I explained to you that I wasn’t making any argument about the effects of segregation. You brought it up, I explained why your comments were not pertinent to my argument, you persisted, I called you on it, and you doubled down. That’s a strawman and more.

    Help me out here: are you asserting, in your evaluation, that segregation didn’t matter and that unequal facilities for black children was really of no significance and therefore we should ignore it in terms of comparative discussions?

    Sure, I’ll help you out since you ask politely. No, I’m not saying that segregation didn’t matter and no I’m not saying that unequal facilities for black children had no significance and no I’m not saying that we should ignore these effects in terms of comparative discussions. My argument was about how the culture at the time viewed the importance of the War of Independence and the minutia of the history surrounding those events as compared to today. Do you see how I might possibly see these two issues as being completely separate even if you don’t?

    Are you saying that if we are going to look at the 1950s as a model to use as a corrective for the ills you see at the moment that such factors should be glossed over?

    I didn’t write that we should use the 1950s as a model with respect to the issue of cultural awareness. I pointed out that the way the 1950s treated the significance of the founding is different, in terms of significance, to how those events are looked at today, and that this difference would likely explain why older generations have a deeper understanding of these events than younger generations. This post focused on the poll internals. That’s the theme under discussion. I offered a hypothesis to explain some of the variance. That hypothesis was established on a foundation of culture, not on a foundation of educational policy with respect to race and segregation.

    Now to address your reference to “as a model.” If the goal is to increase the understanding of the poll question amongst present day students then the 1950s model, which has nothing to do with segregation and everything to do with placing more emphasis on early American history and less emphasis on other aspects of history, will, I hypothesize, result in greater awareness of the question “from which country did the US win independence?” The segregation aspect of “as a model” has no bearing on my argument.

    What of the way we educated girls at the time and the career paths that we thought they should (or, should not) have?,

    How we educated girls back in the 1950s has no bearing on how well they understood early American history compared to the girls of today. As I noted above, the students of today have a far better understanding of who Sojourner Truth is that I imagine did the students of 1950 or 1920. If the Marist Polling organization asked that question, then I’d imagine that we’d be seeing a different variance pattern across age as older people likely got little or no exposure to Sojourner Truth back when they were in school.

    I return to the point that it is odd to pick the 1950s and then ignore segregation.

    In your mind that may be the case, but I told you I picked the era at random. I could have picked 1910 or 1970 and my point would still stand, more or less, that the cultural importance of the revolutionary events had more salience in those times than they do at present, with the proviso that I hypothesize that the cultural salience of the events of the revolutionary era were stronger in the national consciousness in 1910 than they were in 1970 and stronger in 1970 than in 2010.

    The only reason, I imagine, that you think 1950 to be an odd choice is because of the battles against segregation in that era. Those battles have nothing to do with how the culture weighed the importance of revolutionary era history at that time.

    Perhaps you were just being sloppy in your examples of perhaps you really don’t care about that issue.

    I was sloppy in my choice of era because I didn’t anticipate that someone would not read carefully what I wrote and would then embark on a strawman argument against my position for the remainder of this thread. Why would I care about an issue that has nothing to do with the topic of discussion? If you want to argue about desegregation then write a post on it and if I see any points that I wish to contest I’ll meet you in the comments thread.

    It strikes me as fundamentally impossible to talk about the quality of education in the segregation era and ignore part of the population in that discussion.

    Again, you’re mischaracterizing the issue. You’re casting it as a discussion about the “quality of education” when I wrote the following:

    That said though, you do bring up an interesting line of thought. The mission of the educational establishment has changed over the years. It used to be that teachers sought to maximize the potential of every student before them to the best of their abilities. Today the focus is on minimizing the Achievement Gap. It’s far easier to minimize the Gap by not allowing top students to excel than it is in bringing up the performance of lagging students. Whereas the allocation of teacher time, I suspect, used to be more uniformly distributed, because there wasn’t such a fear of failing underperforming students, these days the allocation of teacher time probably favors the lagging students and this comes at some expense to the performing students who are held back from maximizing their potential.

    There is no equivalence between “mission” and “quality.” Again, it’s not my fault if you make definitional substitutions for the words I use. If I meant to argue quality of education for all students then I would have made that argument. I chose to point out what I thought were the effects that arose from a change of mission.

    Of course, you made clear your views on race and intelligence above, which would tend to underscore that you probably don’t care about equal access to education.

    Do you dispute that there is a correlation between race and intelligence? Read that sentence very carefully and please try to refrain from answering a question that I didn’t ask. Then let me play gotchya and infer all sorts of positions that may arise from recognizing a long standing and valid social science phenomenon. You see, someone who takes critical thinking seriously wouldn’t be making all of the logical errors that you’ve been making in this thread.

    As for my position on the issue of race and intelligence there is nothing that I’ve written which indicates that I don’t care about equal access to education. Here’s what I wrote in 2008:

    You’ve done a good job of describing the reality on the ground. I would think that the next step is for education professionals to craft a solution that works.

    This achievement gap has been rock steady for generations as various solutions, operating under false premises, have been repeatedly deployed and all have failed, thus leaving us no further ahead than we were decades ago.

    The basic education curriculum can be mastered by most students. I hypothesize than it’s not the complexity that is the stumbling block here but time on task. Treating every student as though they can absorb and comprehend information at identical, or near identical, rates yields many students who find themselves moving onto new topics without achieving comprehension on existing topics.

    We see with the KIPP schools, that requiring an additional 2 hours per day of instruction time, Saturday classes, and an additional month of schooling in the summer yields students who master the curriculum. Some may conjecture that this is the result of teacher approach/philosophy but it’s undeniable that the students benefit greatly from having 50% more instruction time than is the norm.

    The vexing philosophical issue is that the solution yields unequal treatment, mostly, but not entirely, by race. Should we treat all students equally but fail to adequately educate the struggling, thus upholding a belief that all students are equal, or should we require struggling students, of all races, to attend schools run on the slower pace and thus satisfy our obligation to educate all children and thus acknowledge that all students are not equal?

    I’m happy to defend what I write. I’m not particularly inclined to play the game of defending strawman positions that you, and others, credit to me. In the above quote I speak to a program that works at closing some of the achievement gap, I give you my hypothesis of why I think it works, I pose the philosophical problem that arises, and I state (which I bolded for your benefit) what I think society’s obligation is with respect to all children. Attack that position, not one that you’ve made up and assigned to me.

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  53. TangoMan,

    Oddly, I didn’t see accusing me of using strawmen as ad hominem, but rather part that questioned whether I was blogging drunk. You do know what these terms mean, yes?

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  54. TangoMan says:

    Steven,

    I apologize. My intent was to give you the benefit of the doubt on the 4th, a day when we’re all celebrating and there would be no slam on character from taking a drink and checking to see what was on the blog.

    That though leaves the issue of why, after a question was asked and answered:

    Steven: @Tango: so, you are saying that the Golden Age of American eduction was int he pre-Brown era of segregated schools, yes? Just checking.

    TangoMan: Not necessarily. I picked 1950 as a random date implying no causation between Brown and outcomes. The causation I’m alluding to has more to do with cultural emphasis on certain historical eras. I propose that there was much more emphasis on the founding and revolution in 1950, for instance, than there is today because today kids have to learn about Sojourner Truth, Caesar Chavez, Rosa Parks, – educators have decided that the Civil Rights era history is more important than Revolutionary History.

    You persisted in advancing an argument built on a strawman and you sought out my response to your strawman argument.

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  55. @TangoMan:

    I will continue to maintain that trying to make comparisons to previous eras requires taking into consideration the basic structural conditions of those eras. Evoking the 50s, to my mind, evokes the segregation era (and not unreasonably).

    In regards to the “cultural emphasis on historical eras” part: I am not convinced that the problem is that in the current era that students are not taught that the 13 colonies declared independence from Great Britain.

    You have to admit (well, perhaps you don’t, but I will note it anyway): starting the conversation basically stating that white are smarter than blacks, going on to then decry civil rights as a subject in education, and then evoking the 1950s set you up for the alleged strawman you are complaining of. As such, the degree to which I am not addressing things you have said is not as clear to me as they appear to be to you.

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  56. For that matter, and I ask because I sincerely want to know: why do you think was the golden ear of public education in the US?

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  57. Michael Reynolds says:

    TangoBrimelow:

    Oh, I think your problem here is that more and more people are seeing that I’m right about you. You’re Peter Brimelow — something you’ve never denied — and you’re one of Steve Sailer’s toadies. You’re a hardcore racist, no different than the average Klansman.

    You came here looking for recruits and looking for a degree of re-entry into decent society by way of people like Joyner. Of course you’re not Joyner’s cup of tea.

    And you’ll never find your way back into decent society Peter. You ruined your career and your life with your racist folly. And now you’re just a burned out old fart fighting your ancient battles, earning derisive laughter for your intellectual pretensions and making decent people queasy by your malodorous company.

    You’re the Gollum of this forum: obsessed, twisted and hovering right on the line between earning pity and contempt.

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  58. TangoMan says:

    I will continue to maintain that trying to make comparisons to previous eras requires taking into consideration the basic structural conditions of those eras. Evoking the 50s, to my mind, evokes the segregation era (and not unreasonably)

    You can maintain your position but when I outright tell you that this wasn’t part of my thinking when I pulled an era at random and focused on the cultural importance of a topic, then you should take my word for it instead of thinking that you know better than I what I meant to write and then proceed to argue against a position that I didn’t take. Your position should be to start a new debate on that topic rather than engaging in the monkey business you’ve engaged in in this thread.

    In regards to the “cultural emphasis on historical eras” part: I am not convinced that the problem is that in the current era that students are not taught that the 13 colonies declared independence from Great Britain.

    Again with the mischaracterization? Where did I write that “the problem is that in the current era that students are not taught that the 13 colonies declared independence from Great Britain”? I wrote that this topic wasn’t given the same emphasis as it was in the past because the history curriculum has seen a shifting of emphasis to other topics. This implies that multi-year reinforcement of this topic in school settings and within the broader culture, is not addressed with the same degree of emphasis as was the case in past eras.

    Do you practice such mischaracterization with your students and colleagues or just with blog commenters?

    starting the conversation basically stating that white are smarter than blacks, going on to then decry civil rights as a subject in education, and then evoking the 1950s set you up for the alleged strawman you are complaining of.

    Both you and Doug chose to ignore the factor that had the largest variance and you were called on it by PD Shaw and myself. If you were acting as an honest reporter or analyst of the Marist poll you would have mentioned the factor that had the largest variance and instead you chose to ignore it. Then when pressed you sought to explain your lie of omission by claiming that income and region were cofactors which mostly explained the variance in the category of race. I pointed out that intelligence and race are also heavily correlated and that this might be just as pertinent to the issue. These comments are all in reaction to your dishonest reporting and the obfuscation that you engaged in after you were called on your behavior. If you think that I’m incorrect regarding my statement then dispute it with facts. Let’s go, I’m ready.

    Moreover, I didn’t “decry” the topic of Civil Rights as a topic of education, I noted the following:

    I propose that there was much more emphasis on the founding and revolution in 1950, for instance, than there is today because today kids have to learn about Sojourner Truth, Caesar Chavez, Rosa Parks, – educators have decided that the Civil Rights era history is more important than Revolutionary History.

    I made an observation and I implied a ranking of topic priority. The Webster definition of decry “implies open condemnation with intent to discredit .” Again with the mischaracterization. You really should seek professional help for this before it impacts on your career.

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  59. TangoMan says:

    Steven,

    This experience, along with several others, have underscored to me over the years that the most important variable in educational outcomes is the student, not the teacher (or the curriculum, or whatever else one wished to choose). Although, I would hasten to add, that I do value quality of instructor and instruction.

    Please explain yourself here. Keep in mind that this is our society is experiencing this demographic change at present:

    Minorities make up nearly half the children born in the United States, part of a historic trend in which they are expected to become the majority over the next 40 years.

    In fact, demographers say this year could be the “tipping point” when the number of babies born to minorities outnumbers that of babies born to whites.

    Steven, look at what you’re writing here:

    Really, on this topic, the more I think about it, the more it occurs to me that if one is a citizen of the United States who doesn’t know from whom the US declared independence on July 4th, then that means that said citizen must be a fundamentally uncurious person/the type of person utterly apathetic to history (and a lot people fall into either or both camps).

    What are you saying about minorities, Steven? It sure looks like you’re implying that minorities, because they scored the lowest on this poll, are, disproportionately comprised of “fundamentally uncurious” people.

    Steven, what do you wish to imply by this statement:

    Second, there are any number of structural problems with American education, and they are not ideological. I, personally, believe that a lot of them spring from the nature of teacher training. To wit: teachers tend to take a lot of classes about teaching and a lot less about the subject matter that they are going to teach. This is problematic and is especially true in subjects like civics/social science/history/etc. We do tend to do a better job in the hard sciences.

    Was there an era when teacher training better prepared teachers with regards to subject matter? When was that era? I sure hope that you don’t point to an era before 1965 because then we’d all think that you’re advocating segregated schools. So, were the 1970s the golden era of teacher training or was the ideological/pedagogical pollution of teacher training already well advanced by that point?

    Steven, what do you mean by this point:

    I would further note that education degrees are notoriously known to be amongst the easiest degree programs on a given campus, which affects rather seriously the persons who go into education as a field.

    Was there a time when education degrees were not such a joke? I sure hope that you don’t point to an era pre-1965 because I’d take that as you supporting the segregation of schools.

    Steven, when you write the following you leave some of us confused as to your true point of view:

    All of this is to say that a) I am not surprised that there are a lot of people out there who don’t know the US declared independence from Great Britain and, b) the reason they don’t know likely has almost nothing to do with ideological infiltration of education.

    So, you argue that it is not ideological infiltration that is responsible for such a high level of ignorance on the question of which country we fought in order to gain our independence. You seem to be arguing that the likely cause of this high level of ignorance is because the failing lies principally with the student, those who don’t know the answer are “fundamentally uncurious” people, and to the extent that teachers have had an impact it is likely due to teachers being trained poorly as compared to how they were taught during a golden age (which we hope you will identify) and the changing composition of the people who enter the teaching profession in that they’re not the sharpest students as compared to those who were teachers from an earlier golden era (which we hope you will identify).

    So let’s see if we can fit all of the pieces of your argument together. Minorities scored the lowest on this question and that indicates that minorities have a disproportionate share of “fundamentally uncurious” people, just as is the case with every other categorization, for instance, region, which points to some regions having a larger proportion of “fundamentally uncurious” people comprising their population than other, higher scoring regions. Compounding the problem is that we have a lot of dolts who are drawn to being teachers because education majors are not intellectually taxing endeavors and what these dolts are taught is mostly claptrap and there is little emphasis placed on content mastery. Is that about right? You’re saying that minorities are fairly characterized as being as “fundamentally uncurious” just as some regions of the US earn the same description. I would think that some people will find your positions offensive. What should you do about that complaint?

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  60. Michael Reynolds says:

    Steven:

    See, this basically every interaction with Brimelow. It’s all about him pushing his agenda. There’s no possibility of conversation. His every appearance here leads to this: white supremacist bullshit.

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  61. TangoMan:

    Really, you reveal your own biases here. It is one thing to say that the student is the key variable and quite another to link such notions to race or demographic changes in the country. I did not do so: you did.

    It is entirely possible, by the way, for a highly intelligent person to be uncurious. Indeed, I have had many students who were more than capable of excelling, but were either apathetic or simply refused to do the work. You are conflating variables in a way to conform to your own view of the world. And the only person to then take all this to minorities is you.

    To me this just reinforces what Reynolds has been saying, quite frankly.

    Further, that alleged strawman claim looks a bit weak after the above rant. You have rather clearly spelled out your position.

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  62. @Michael: Indeed.

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  63. TangoMan says:

    Really, you reveal your own biases here. It is one thing to say that the student is the key variable and quite another to link such notions to race or demographic changes in the country. I did not do so: you did.

    Color me surprised. You don’t like people shoving strawmen onto you. Well, I wonder if other people feel as you do? Maybe we should have a poll on that question. The most troubling point here is that you’re completely oblivious to the point of that comment.

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  64. And, by the way, the notion that getting what ultimately amounts to a trivia question wrong is not indicative of intellect. As such, to jump to the conclusion that because non-whites did more poorly in the poll than whites tells us something about the relative intelligence of the two groups says a lot more about the biases of the person making the claim than the poll question tells us about alleged differences among racial groups in terms of intelligence.

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  65. TangoMan says:

    You are conflating variables in a way to conform to your own view of the world.

    No, I’m conflating variables so as to advance a strawman argument that I can push onto you. You clearly have the ability do discern the tactic except you seem completely blind to your own transgressions. Now, the question is whether I should accept your points of clarification or take a lesson from your behavior and just ignore the clarifications you offered and proceed with attributing to you a viewpoint that you didn’t espouse.

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  66. TangoMan:

    Yes, I detected your snark and your attempt to do the “turnabout is fair play bit.” The thing is, I think that the basics you assert in the comment, parody attempt or not, are reflective of your views both in this thread and in others. Your views on intellect and race are well known.

    As I have said several times here: I think Reynolds is right about you, and really, therefore, what’s the point of continuing of this conversation?

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  67. TangoMan says:

    And, by the way, the notion that getting what ultimately amounts to a trivia question wrong is not indicative of intellect. As such, to jump to the conclusion that because non-whites did more poorly in the poll than whites tells us something about the relative intelligence of the two groups says a lot more about the biases of the person making the claim than the poll question tells us about alleged differences among racial groups in terms of intelligence.

    And you think that the answer to the trivia question tells us anything about region or family income or age? Dude, you’re the one who first invoked region and income as cofactors which would explain most of the racial variance on this point of historical trivia. Once you established these factors as being legitimate causal agents then intelligence as a causal factor is fair game by the rules you established.

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  68. That’s because education and the likely quality thereof is not the same as intellectual capacity. You are on the one that wants to make it about intellect and about race.

    This whole conservation was originally about ideology. You are the one who invoked race and you are the one who made it about intellect rather than education.

    So again, so much for strawmen.

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  69. TangoMan says:

    Yes, I detected your snark and your attempt to do the “turnabout is fair play bit.”

    Yes, I’m sure that you detected the snark which explains why you completely ignored making any reference to it as your proceeded down another path on the assumption that my comment was snark-free.

    Your views on intellect and race are well known.

    Yes, I make no claims to being a creationist. I’ve been blogging on genetics for nearly 8 years now. I have the data on my side while you, like Reynolds, cling to myth.

    I think Reynolds is right about you, and really, therefore, what’s the point of continuing of this conversation?

    You’ve clearly demonstrated to us all that you’re a man with intellectual shortcomings and that you’re blind to the argumentative errors you’ve made. Further, when those errors have been pointed out to you you persisted in committing them. Therefore, why would you think it noteworthy to declare that you agree with the renowned crank Reynolds? This is just a variant on the tactic of labeling someone a Nazi, Communist, Racist, Sexist, in order to pull the escape hatch on an argument that you’re losing. Your mischaracterizations of my written statements litter this thread and any interested party can follow the evolution of our discussion and see that for themselves. You won’t own up to your transgressions and instead you pull the escape hatch clause. Color me surprised, again.

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  70. TangoMan says:

    TangoMan: And you think that the answer to the trivia question tells us anything about region or family income or age?

    Steven L. Taylor: That’s because education and the likely quality thereof is not the same as intellectual capacity.

    Huh? Since when did “education” become a synonym for “region” or “Family income” or ”
    age.”

    When did you argue that education was the factor that explained the variance? This is what you wrote in response to PD Shaw:

    Except, of course, race correlates heavily with income (and region

    You make no mention of education. Further, I made no mention of education being equivalent to intelligence. Now you’re pulling responses from the ether in order to explain to me a point of error in a point of reasoning that I never wrote.

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  71. mannning says:

    There are ways to teach some American history and civics that makes the subject interesting to elementary students, especially at the 6th grade level. I was exposed to several: war stories, Indian stories; Ben Franklin ancodotes; pioneer life, other colorful characters, the story of the Constitutional Convention, and date games I can recall today. I did not have to ponder the morality of what was happening to Indians or any other highly negative aspects of the forming of America. It was mostly all positive and truthful emphasis on who, what, when, where, why and how, and raised no doubts in my mind that America was a beautiful nation at my then age of 11 to 12. (1941), and the cruel things in life were yet to arise.
    I cannot understand why anyone would want to inject the nasty negatives into this story for 11/12 year olds, when they can be brought out easily later on when the student has matured enough to cope with negatives more readily. Tell the truth, sure, but place the emphasis on positive aspects, not spend time on the whole dirty linen we had.

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  72. Michael Reynolds says:

    TangoBrimelow:

    Dude, please. You’ve been outed all over the web. Everywhere you go you leave a slime trail and everywhere you go people figure out you’re part of VDARE, with the only debate being whether you’re the Douche-In-Chief, Steve Sailer, or the Mini-Douche, Peter Brimelow.

    You’re about as subtle as a cinderblock.

    So now you attack Taylor for realizing what you are. You could spend a lot of time slithering around the web attacking everyone who has figured out what you are.

    Your mistake now has been to shift from attacking me — just a lowly commenter — to attacking one of the blog’s regular writers. Which puts other readers in the uncomfortable position of choosing to side with you — an anonymous racist pinhead — or with Taylor who is an actual person, with an actual name, an actual position of trust and respect.

    You see where that kind of screws you?

    Among other things it makes other regular writers here less likely to give you the benefit of the doubt. And it makes it harder for commenters — even the dummies — from siding with you. (And a side benefit I know you didn’t intend: makes me look smarter for having spotted you first. )

    Here’s a clue for you to think about as you pursue your career of attempting to spread idiot notions of white supremacy: white space. (I know: ironic!) It’s not just what you say, it’s the many things you don’t say that reveal so much. You’re the kind of guy who thinks as long as he doesn’t use the “N” word no one will see through your disguise.

    But like I said: you’re about as subtle as a cinderblock. Your subterfuges are transparent. Your motive is nakedly obvious. Anyone with an ear for language sees right through you.

    When you think about it, it’s kind of an IQ test, isn’t it?

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  73. Michael Reynolds says:

    I cannot understand why anyone would want to inject the nasty negatives into this story for 11/12 year olds, when they can be brought out easily later on when the student has matured enough to cope with negatives more readily. Tell the truth, sure, but place the emphasis on positive aspects, not spend time on the whole dirty linen we had.

    I think that’s a very common position to take, and I know a lot of good people who would agree.

    But it is completely wrong-headed. Kids are young but they aren’t imbeciles. Nor are they fragile. In fact it’s hard as hell to scare an 11 year-old. Much easier to frighten an older person. I know this because scaring pre-teens and teenagers is how I make my living. And I’m considered to be pretty good at it.

    The single biggest mistake you can make if you want to communicate with kids is to condescend. Far better to aim over their heads. If they catch you condescending to them, you’re dead. They’ll stretch to understand something complicated, but they will tune you out in a heartbeat if they catch you talking down to them.

    Kids often find school boring. It’s turgid and static and condescending and not about them or their lives which, understandably, is all they really care about.

    I don’t know how much you know about the Harry Potter phenomenon or the Twilight phenomenon, but consider the fact that kids are spending their own money, spending their own time, and deliberately choosing to read thousands of pages and absorbing thousands of data bits that come from fiction writers. Harry Potter is far, far more complicated as a data set than the total of all history courses taught throughout all of primary education.

    Why will kids actually pay us as opposed to us having to threaten them into paying attention? Because writers don’t bore the living shit out of them or talk down to them.

    History is a series of stories. Unfortunately we don’t hire storytellers to tell those stories, we hire school boards. And guess what? They suck as storytellers.

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  74. Michael Reynolds says:

    Manning:

    One more thing. My wife and I wrote a book series called Animorphs. We wrapped it about 10 years ago. If you Google the words “Animorphs fanfic” you get 80,000 hits. That’s kids spending their time writing fiction based on that series. Tens of thousands of pages. That’s a fraction of what some books, games, movies generate.

    Think about how hard it is for teachers to get kids to write a three page paper.

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  75. TangoMan says:

    Michael Reynolds,

    Your mistake now has been to shift from attacking me — just a lowly commenter — to attacking one of the blog’s regular writers. Which puts other readers in the uncomfortable position of choosing to side with you — an anonymous racist pinhead — or with Taylor who is an actual person, with an actual name, an actual position of trust and respect.

    I’ve been attacking you? How about that. Thanks for alerting me to this between your regular libels.

    As for Steven, he’s a big boy and his repeated mischaracterizations of my positions shouldn’t go unchallenged simply because he’s one of the co-bloggers here. I belong to a group blog and I never shielded myself from criticism by claiming any privilege. Let’s be clear here that I’m not insinuating that Steven has done this and he’s given no indication of wanting to do so, this scenario is one that you’ve created and I’m simply responding to that scenario.

    I do though want to thank you for your heartfelt concern for my reputation. Why though do you think that I’m asking for anyone to give me the benefit of the doubt? My arguments will rise or fall on their merits, not on who is writing them. Steven can join you in your delusions and his perception of me won’t matter a whit in regards to the validity of any position I chose to argue.

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  76. Brummagem Joe says:

    In any group there is a segment that is either basically dumb or uneducable. I wouldn’t have thought it was quite as high as 26% but apparently it is assuming of course that the poll which has a MOE is correct. And there was no golden age of education, the dumb and not very well educated like the poor have always been with us as far as I can tell based on a lifetime of interacting with and managing such folks. I don’t struggle with any of this nor seek to blame anyone particularly teachers who are in my experience generally fairly well motivated and committed to expanding knowledge even if they are a bit featherbedded on the pecuniary front.

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  77. mannning says:

    MR–

    Good point. One could add mastering intricate, multilevel computer games to that list of achievements by our youth outside of the school environment. Throw in mastering the basics of using computers and the web, which is common by age 12. So I would agree that kids are smart and productive when motivated. We seem to agree that storytelling is the key to capturing their attention. But…

    You seem to equate carefully constructed scare stories, having bounds to the horrors they portray, with down in the dirt, reality-based history stories that in the end can reach the most gory, depraved, and even personal levels of human error imaginable. Somehow, teaching through exposure to real horror and dwelling on it to make a point seems far off the mark to me, when the basic facts needed at the 6th grade level can be taught entertainingly without having to get down into the gutter at all.

    Do we have to show sixteen dead Indians in terrible condition and a forest of teepees burned to the ground and still smoking to entertain the kids into learning the facts of Indian massacres in the 6th grade? There were Indian massacres by white men, and many Indian families were killed: man, woman and child. Factual, but not sensationalized or overelaborated or illustrated for impact.. This is a matter of degree and, um, taste or sensitivity, coupled with the desire, or not, to make a political point. When the battle lines come together in the Civil War, do we show a long shot of the lines with men falling, or do we bring the camera up close to show heads ripped off, arms missing, or guts spilling out? Oh yes! War is hell! Come to think of it, there are few such shocking scenes in adult movies or the old Westerns.

    I will leave it at that: taste and sensitivity for the age group.

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  78. Michael Reynolds says:

    Manning:

    In Suzanne Collins’ great HUNGER GAMES kids fight to the death to win the right to be able to feed their starving village. In THE FOREST OF HANDS AND TEETH we have a very gruesome zombie apocalypse. In my own GONE we have the sudden disappearance of everyone over the age of 15, and book #2 opens with carnivorous worms devouring a kid. In another scene coyotes tear into a preschool.

    Believe me, some dead people will not shock young readers. But it may just get their attention. You want to teach kids about Thomas Jefferson, for example? Do it in reverse: start at western galley slaves in Tripoli, chained together as their galley is sunk. You’ll have 100% attention in the classroom. Once the hook is in place you have a chance to hold their attention.

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  79. PD Shaw says:

    I’m not able to keep up with this discussion, but since Prof. Taylor seemed interested in the scope of renaming: Over fifty schools in New Orleans were renamed because of the issue of slave-ownership. It was a school district policy, followed by individual assessments. This is the tenor of discussion that I recall about people like George Washington, quoted by the PBS newhour:

    “How can we expect African-American students to pay homage to someone and respect to someone that enslaved their ancestors. This is one of the most degrading and the cruelest thing ever happened in North America. This is an insult to our race as a people. And I feel that we would not expect a Jew to attend a school named after Adolf Hitler, so why should we expect African American kids to attend school after slave owners.”

    http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/race_relations/july-dec97/schools_11-25.html

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  80. Thanks for the link.

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  81. mannning says:

    While I take your point that kids can seem quite blaze about death and destruction, gore and guts, and insubstantial beings, I still find the idea of associating revered historical characters or the ideas of the founding fathers and our governance with truly bloody and obnoxious images in order to teach the kids history to be quite insensitive and tasteless. In any event, I have not seen a textbook that uses such odious techniques to gain attention, and I would be very surprised to find that they do exist.

    What I have seen is emphasis on less than sterling illustrated episodes of US history to the exclusion or minimalization of the fruitful and memorable ideas and events one should be taught, which is an unbalanced and biased presentation any real teacher should be prone to reject out of hand. As before, I can think of only one reason for educators to promote this kind of imbalance, and I see no redeeming virtue whatsoever in such approaches.

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  82. Michael Reynolds says:

    Manning:

    All stories are about characters. Interesting characters have flaws.

    We teach history as events. Mistake number one if the intention is get kids to care.

    Second mistake would be to take characters who are already inherently boring by virtue of being dead and not in way relatable to the life of a 13 year-old kid, and treat them as plaster saints.

    The question is whether the schools are intended for A) the validation of the parent’s beliefs and prejudices and assumptions. Or if they are intended for B) education. When the debate turns to partisan sniping I think it’s clear the answer is “A.”

    KIds have no voice in the entire system. So a system that exists ostensibly for the kids ends up serving the needs of any number of adults, and largely ignoring the children.

    The reason that game designers, movie directors, singers and writers can so effortlessly accomplish what the schools fail to do — grab and hold the attention of kids — is that game designers, directors, singers and writers pay attention to the kids.

    There are teachers who get this. Teachers who are ready, willing and able to educate. But they are stopped from doing so by the inertia of the system, the parochialism of their own unions, the meddling of partisans and the blind ambition of parents. It’s a mess, but it’s not about liberal or conservative. It’s about the fact that it’s 2010 in the outside world, and 1910 inside the classroom.

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  83. An Interested Party says:

    re: PD Shaw Monday, July 5, 2010 at 10:53

    Let’s set aside Washington for a moment…what about schools named after Confederate figures? Not only were these people fighting to continue the institution of slavery, they were traitors to this country…is there some problem with taking their names off of school buildings…

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  84. mannning says:

    . But they are stopped from doing so by the inertia of the system, the parochialism of their own unions, the meddling of partisans and the blind ambition of parents. It’s a mess, but it’s not about liberal or conservative.

    This I can go along with when the inertia of the system is caused by influences wanting to make things worse for conventional education, the parochialism of the unions is politically driven, the partisans are of the progressive persuasion, and a majority of the parents blindly support the partisans. It is then dominantly about liberalism in various guises, and it is indeed a mess–with the kids the losers. It doesn’t even have to be a majority of players for the whole process to be gummed up.

    I have seen this much myself at PTA meetings rather long ago now, with schoolboard members attending that have an agenda, rabid principals on a tear, fire-eating liberal parents, bewildered conservative parents who “want the best for their kids” and pitifully cowed teachers. My direct experience of this kind of situation was in Montgomery County, MD, Silver Spring, MD, and Groton, MA.–especially Groton, with so many progressive “educators” as parents there. My blood boils at the memories, so perhaps I should stop this exchange before I become really angry with the subject.

    Instituting experimentation with radical new and unproved methods of teaching in grades 2,3,4, and eventually 5 and 6 was the principal’s tear, the board member’s sponsorship, the liberals delight, and the conservative’s nightmare (don’t experiment on my kids, you nitwits!), and you could only get the partisan line from the teachers, except for the telling admission that they had had absolutely no training in the new methods! (did you hear the YET? I didn’t!) This liberal influence in the schools was damned real, right down to the methods and materials used, and even how the playground was to be fitted out. I was there, and they did not like my questions at all! So they proceeded to do it. But enough of this for now, it is off my chest!

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  85. Scott says:

    I’m quite sure that every student at some point in elementary school learns the history of our nation. Over time, people forget. They forget the correct dates. They forget what the Articles of Confederation are. They forget what years the various documents were signed. The topic never comes up again. That doesn’t mean the school was slacking, unless you think there should be a memorization test every year. Is memorization learning though? So, the forgetting over time, combined with a society that cares more about Snooki on MTV’s Jersey Shore than they do about history, is a much better explanation than “OMG Liburrrral Edjucation!”.

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  86. mannning says:

    Oh sure, there is forgetting, but I was commenting about the pervasive influence of liberals that I witnessed and fought against first hand at the time in my kids schools–three of them in two parts of the nation. Among the sins I witnessed was the shortchanging of many primary characters and events once thought to be worth emphasizing through my kids’s class materials and homework, so I was compelled to give the kids help to correct the slanted views they were being taught. I am sure that they would not have done as well on the subjects ten years later had they both not majored in history and literature at George Mason U. and the University of Amsterdam.

    The primary sin in my book, however, was the introduction of radical teaching methods without training teachers or giving the parents enough notice. It was obviously a move directed towards completing an advanced degree requirement for the principal–actually two of them, and the whole thing was a cockup for the students. I could and did interject and correct what my kids were getting, but others may not have done so. This was for me a painful set of episodes that I had rather not have brought back up, because of the messy conflicts that occurred with me on one side and the “system” on the other, but I could not let the glossy and superficial opinions stand here that pooh pooh the idea of any liberal influences in grade schools without as strong a rebuttal as I could make.

    Now this is my experience in only three schools, and you could say that I was immensely lucky to have such gratuitus, noisy, supremely arrogant and biased liberal educational expertise thrust into the kid’s schools and their classes on just about a daily basis. I most strongly beg to differ, however! Obviously, I cannot claim to know what was happening in other schools around the country. Perhaps they were left alone to do their job, and perhaps not, with the ACLU poking around. You cannot tell me, though, that there is no liberal influence in the schools: there is a lot.

    Fortunately, we went overseas before those methods and biases took hold for my kids, and that is quite another story!

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  87. mannning says:

    That reminded me of the teacher in Groton that said she doesn’t require her students to remember important dates, since they will forget them soon anyway! Ah!

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  88. anjin-san says:

    I went to elementary school in the mid to late 60′s. We were fed a great deal of noise about the heroic way the west was won. Not much about the indians. “Well, they were savages, so we did them a favor and put them on reservations and civilized them”. Not a peep about genocidal wars of conquest waged against the folks who, after all, lived here long before we showed up.

    When indians occupied Alcatraz, we started getting a bit more of the real story through other channels. I did some reading and got the rest of the story. I never again had a shred of confidence that what I was being taught in school was the truth.

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  89. mannning says:

    angin-san:

    I suppose such mindsets are self-perpetuating, based as some are on justifying our actions in the past to new generations of students. This illustrates yet again biased and faulty teaching, which is ever with us, and which we need to guard against as we can.

    From your statement, you seem to have used this one failing instance to condemn your entire school experience and all of the premises you acquired then, which is rather harsh and radical. On the other hand, there is real merit in reexamining the premises you hold from the past, and to adjust your beliefs accordingly. That is what most intelligent people do, usually in more gentle stages as the onion gets peeled and a more complete truth emerges.

    The danger we all face in this process is in falling into one or another factional camp that gleefully supplies us with their current set of premises, their set of truths, and their set of priorities to replace the ones we rejected, which could end up being an even more serious departure from objective truth. Radicalization does happen, especially when one is resentful and grieving over the evil of having been taught earlier quite a number of false premises that affect yourself and all human beings.

    A model for this process is one’s religious belief, which bounces around from total acceptance to total rejection in one’s lifetime, perhaps in several cycles. Another is political beliefs, of course, and the learning path one takes to settle the issue–more or less.

    What I believe about all of this is that intelligent people survive most of their early false learning experiences rather handily. Shouldn’t this simply be called mental maturation?

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  90. anjin-san says:

    Michael, Steven – Life is too short to waste a nanosecond on Tango… leave him in the toilet to shout into his own private echo chamber.

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  91. LaurenceB says:

    On the subject of Tango –

    My policy is to ignore him simply because I’m familiar with the Sailer school of thought and I know where he’s coming from. Most arguments in his mind will come down to race or “culture”. That makes it easy for Tango because he knows where he stands on race, but it also makes for a silly debate. You may think you’re debating something like education or tax policy, but Tango is actually just defending his racial philosophy as it applies to the topic at hand.

    His comments sometimes bother me, but I try not to engage him.

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