When I was in elementary school, the typical class had 52 students, with one nun in charge of getting information into our heads.
The public schools had a better student-to-teacher ratio, but outside of religion the courses were the same, and they included a quaint little class called “civics.”
Civics class taught you things like: when, how and why America was formed. What the Declaration of Independence was; what the Constitution said, and the origination of the Bill of Rights. We learned about Federalism, the separation of powers, the structure of our government and why it was thusly formed. Our history classes taught us about Minutemen, Washington, Jefferson, Adams, Dolly and James Madison, Marbury vs. Madison, Slavery, the Underground Railroad, the Civil War, the Gettysburg Address, the Emancipation Proclamation, the Industrial Revolution and so forth. We learned the history of Europe, too, but American history had primacy.
Back then there was no federal Department of Education. Children went to school and had the times tables and the civics lessons drilled into their heads via rote memorization, with critical thinking applied to those lessons, in the upper grades, via “Current Events” classes. Students were rather the same as they are now, bored, social, cliquish, bullying or retiring, and they even formed tight, exclusive friendship. Their teachers did not tell them they were special. They were expected to be able to work individually and in groups, and test scores were configured on the correctness and completeness of actual test questions. Points were not given for merely “trying,” or for managing to begin and end and essay question with a stated thesis.
I have a good friend who teaches social studies in a “very good” local public high school. By “good” I mean it is well-funded by the taxpayers and routinely performs well in accordance to federal guidelines. She is a good teacher who feels truly called to the profession, and some of her stories could make your hair stand on end. She recently had to give a passing grade to a truly deplorable and undeserving student because, under the guidelines, the additional points she was forced to credit the student for managing to note that her concluding paragraph was, in fact, a conclusion, gave her the passing grade she needed to graduate. The student had already failed the test twice, but had finally learned how to take it, in order to pass.
45 years ago, we did not spend on education anything near what we spend, now. But as we see here, the people who were educated in the bad-old unenlightened, uncoddled days of rote memorization and unforgiving tests can actually answer a simple question like, “how many colonies were there, at the founding of the United States?”
Perhaps if you want to control a country’s future, you must first insure that its citizenry are ignorant of its past, and distracted by its present.
Ed Morrissey: 1300 Words that Shook the World – a must read.
Our Divided Nation
Born on the 4th of July: Big Peace
Related on this Independence Day Weekend:
A Palate Cleanser:
An Iraq Vet: Reclaiming his life
Richard Fernandez: And Justice for All
Doctor Zero: The American Faith
Sinking: under towering debt