Sunday, August 13, 2006

Wonderful World (Don't Know Much)

Don't know much about history
Don't know much biology
Don't know much about a science book
Don't know much about the French I took

I started singing the above Sam Cooke lyrics yesterday, when I read a Robert Jensen opinion piece in the current issue of Vermont Guardian.

Jensen's writing about a recently passed "act relating to education" in Florida, specifically about how history in Florida schools is to be taught.

The most controversial passage states: “American history shall be viewed as factual, not constructed, shall be viewed as knowable, teachable, and testable, [my emphasis added] and shall be defined as the creation of a new nation based largely on the universal principles stated in the Declaration of Independence.” To that end teachers are charged not only to focus on the history and content of the Declaration but are also instructed to teach the “history, meaning, significance and effect of the provisions of the Constitution of the United States and the amendments thereto...” Other bill provisions place new emphasis on “flag education, including proper flag display and flag salute” and on the need to teach “the nature and importance of free enterprise to the United States economy.”

The new law took effect 1 July. The Florida state department of education will begin reviewing their standards and textbooks in 2007. Of course, if these know-it-alls have their way, Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States: 1492-Present will not be included in the curriculum.

Jensen writes about the Florida law:

The irony is that such a law is precisely what one would expect in a totalitarian society, where governments claim the right to declare certain things to be true, no matter what the debates over evidence and interpretation. The preferred adjective in the United States for this is “Stalinist,” a system to which U.S. policymakers were opposed during the Cold War. At least, that’s what I learned in history class.

Of course, it's all connected to the Federal No Child Left Behind Act, which requires mandatory testing and reporting, with schools that fail to show progress facing cut-offs in public funding The Act basically determines a rote approach to learning, to prepare students just to take tests in the schools, and not to develop learning and education as a creative experience. Even Burlington teachers and school administrators will tell you this approach has been cumbersome and costly.

Greater emphasis should be placed on the broadening of intellect and development of problem solving and critical thinking skills, rather than simply on the memorization of lessons that promote performance on tests. To just require students to memorize information - that’s not the best way to create active citizens. Jeb Bush and his big brother should know better, but they don't. They want our schools to create little robots.

Here's Robert Jensen again:

One way to measure the fears of people in power is by the intensity of their quest for certainty and control over knowledge.

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