Happy 4th, or, umm…UPDATES

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?”

Watch this; it’s depressing, and it makes one wonder if our kids are purposely being shortchanged in schools.

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:
64 Valedictorians?

An Iraq Vet: Reclaiming his life

Department of Justice not doing its job, or is it lying? Is this an abuse of power?

Richard Fernandez: And Justice for All

Doctor Zero: The American Faith

Leadership and putting politics first.

The Plague of Vague Laws

Jeb Bush: Not afraid of throwing kerosene on a bonfire

The Battle of Gettysburg

Fakery and shills

Sinking: under towering debt

WHY is the clean up so incredibly slow?

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • http://www.fromthepulpitofmylife.blogspot.com/ Ruth Ann

    I went to a school like that, too, Elizabeth! 56 children per class, though. Yes, we had civics and all those other subjects. I still have my fifth, seventh, and eight grade history textbooks.

  • Sandra

    One fact that is NOT taught in the schools, the roots of the American Colonists Distrust and unease was rooted in the abuses of power that Britain exercised in Scotland, (the Jacobites and all that).

    This included all the Acts that were declared that pretty much stripped the lands and titles from the hereditary nobility in the Highlands, outlawed their traditional clothing (tartans) and forbid the private ownership of weapons and firearms. British military forces in Scotland were quartered in private homes and there to enforce the Acts against the Scots people.

    Many Scots emigrated to the Colonies and brought along with them, the distrust of British Rule.

    Looking at things from a colonist’s point of view, if Britain did all that in Scotland, what would they do in the colonies where so much was dependent upon the “Mother Country?”

  • Pingback: Some Cool Stuff for the Fourth of July « Jim Blazsik

  • Pingback: Tweets that mention The Anchoress | A First Things Blog -- Topsy.com

  • http://l Hantchu

    Hey, was that the intention of the original authors? Happy 4th of July to all, and God Bless America

  • bill-tb

    I too went to school like you did … Learned the basics, learned how to apply the basics, learned about deduction.

    The last part of the Jay Leno clip … Schools and teachers, EPIC fail !!!

  • Ellen

    My 4 room schoolhouse had two classes in each room – large classes. There was one teacher – no aide. We had no cafeteria, we bought our lunches. Our playground was paved with asphalt and the cause of a few skinned knees.

    We came out of there with an excellent basic education and I am forever grateful to the sisters and lay teachers for that.

    Just last semester, I had one of my students who is a college sophomore say that Benjamin Franklin was once the president of the United States.

    How we have fallen.

  • OldTexan

    A few years ago I did a short stint as a substitute teacher, two months in the same class, teaching 8th grade history in a Dallas school. The class was mostly latino kids with some black kids and one white kid who wanted to be a gangster.

    The children had no concept of history, who they were, where they came from and worse where they were going. After a week of teaching the battle of Gettysburg and then showing the movie “Glory” in an attempt to engage the students.

    I told the class that we would stop the movie and ask and answer questions part way through the movie a Latino boy wanted to know if the battle was at the Alamo and a black kid wanted to know who side we were on.

    These were real questions, asked in earnest and we had a prolonged discussion trying to get a handle on how things fit together for these youngsters.

    My heart really goes out to teachers and students today because it is a different world, with different rules and I see things slip sliding away from the world I grew up in.

    I am not making excuses for the current school systems but I used to think I had all of the answers and now I am not even sure what the questions are.

    I turned 65 last month, I joined the Army in 1966 when the song ‘Green Beret’ was a hit and I came back to the states in 1970 to a bunch of hippie crap. What a ride it has been and I am thankful for my school experiences in the 50′s and early 60′s.

    Happy Fourth of July, my flag is hanging outside and I am now off to church to pray for our Nation and all I know to do at this time is put my trust in God.

  • http://www.newenglandclassicalacademy.com/ Julie

    Watching the Jay Leno clip last night (via The American Catholic blog), I thanked God for the many small schools that are committed to providing a truly great education to their students. My children attend one in NH and there many more all across the nation. Pray for these schools, their faculty members (who usually sacrifice by living in near-poverty to keep the school alive) and the students’ families who make many sacrifices to pay tuition. The renewal of the Church and the future of the nation may very well lie in the hands of the students of these schools.

  • CJ

    I also like to compare what the school offices were like: When I was a kid (and attended a very nice school district in the suburbs of Chicago), the elementary school office had . . . the principal and her secretary. That’s it. I don’t even think the school nurse was there everyday. Occasionally, they had responsible 6th graders sit in the office to answer phones during lunch when the principal was out of the office for a meeting and the secretary couldn’t be there! (I did it once or twice.)

    Today, in my children’s school district, the office looks like this: a principal, one or two vice principals, a secretary, maybe another secretary, counselor(s), a social worker, an intervention specialist (they just added this position!), nurse, and health aid.

    No wonder our school taxes are so high!

  • http://vita-nostra-in-ecclesia.blogspot.com Bender

    I remember the (public) schools growing up.

    Every year there was the threat of a strike and delay of the beginning of the school year, if not in our district, then in adjoining districts, together with constant complaining that teachers aren’t paid enough, teachers aren’t paid enough. All the while, each passing day brought further proof to me that a good many of these teachers weren’t very smart or knowledgable (it was more than me being a young know-it-all smart-ass, too many of them were boobs), and not a few of them had peculiar negative personality quirks. Some classes I learned things, but many classes were spent just passing the long hours.

    School did not destroy my thirst for learning, but it did destroy my liking and patience for sitting in the classroom.

  • Howard

    How many British colonies were there in North America at the time of the Revolutionary War? At least 16. In addition to the 13 that rebelled, there were Canada (I’m not sure if that was one colony at the time), East Florida, and West Florida.

  • Korora

    At least Mom is enough of a history buff that we could fill in the gaps.

    You know, I am very much reminded of the Second Doctor story The Power of the Daleks. Even though the Daleks had conquered the human race twice, the colonists still bought the “I AM YOUR SER-VANT” line. Now, how could that sort of ignorance of history have come about, hm?

  • Bill

    I went to Catholic k-12 schools in the 1950s and 1960s. Our class sizes were usually 25 to 30, although I do remember one math class with only six students.

    My daughters went to public schools and know quite a bit of history, etc. , and, even more important, are wonderfull people.

    There are good and bad teachers and administrators everywhere. Schools should be better. I invite everyone to contribute to improving their public schools!

  • Pingback: A Little Light Reading on America’s 234th Birthday

  • Pingback: Happy 4th of July Y’all! | 'Okie' on the Lam

  • Allen

    My public HS was probably a bad example, but when I graduated in 1998 we had a princ. two VP’s, four counselors (one for each grade) a small staff of secretaries and specialists who did nothing but federal reporting. Our graduation rates were terrible. I’d say maybe 25% of my graduating class was educated enough to have a chance in college or even the basic job market.

  • Jim Kight

    On this Fourth of July holiday, if you would like to know what’s wrong with our country then let me sum it up for you . . .

    Several weeks ago, we took my niece to Washington DC so she could visit Catholic University, where she will be attending graduate school. While in DC, we took a tour of the Library of Congress. There was an exhibit of Thomas Jefferson’s library, which the Library of Congress accquired in the early 1800′s.

    It was fascinating, and I spent a good half-hour simply browsing the titles and letting my imagination go–these were the books, the ideas, that inspired Jefferson while he wrote the Declaration of Independence. As I exited the exhibit, a high school tour group was entering and I overheard a young girl say, “Oh great, another bunch of fricking books!”

    I think that sums up nicely the problems we are facing.

  • Beth

    It isn’t just the teachers; it’s also the culture. Can you imagine NOT knowing the answers to any of these questions when you were a kid? We were surrounded by a culture that expected us to know these things. Perhaps pop culture has crowed it out.
    Also, Hollywood has had an aversion to our history before the Civil War. Maybe it’s because religion was our bedrock at that time. Religion was portrayed through the prism of Hester Prynne, Cotton Mather and the Salem Witch Trials.

  • Pingback: Barbara Frietchie | Little Miss Attila

  • salvage

    >When I was in elementary school, the typical class had 52 students, with one nun in charge of getting information into our heads.

    That explains much.

  • Pingback: The Anchoress | A First Things Blog

  • cathyf

    You do realize that LA is chock full of wanna-be actors? Several of whom have parlayed an appearance playing dumb on Jay Leno into actual paying work? And that the show’s producers don’t show you the boring shots of people who know the answers to the questions?

    (Yeah, and I hate to break it to you, but TV wrestling is fake!)

  • Pingback: Hot Air » Would Washington Let America Tumble?

  • Pingback: Would Washington Let America Tumble? « CWN – Conservative Watch News

  • Pingback: A Little Off Beat History for Your Independence Day — Musings From a Catholic Bookstore

  • Pingback: Catholic News Headlines July 4, 2010 « Catholic News

  • newton

    Maybe you won’t agree with me, but I have come to think that our beloved TVs have been the biggest contributor to the “dumbing-down: of society. I remember as a teenager that, even though I loved to read, the TV distracted me from the work that mattered the most. I’m still paying for it.

    Nowadays, I’d rather read than watch TV. But most of society loves the mindless entertainment it offers, instead of the solitude of a corner chair and a book. Unfortunately, our kids and teens are the greatest victims.

    The Founding Fathers wanted an educated populace, which almost always translate as a smart electorate. It has been in the last two years that we have come to realize how right they were… and how close to our peril we are. If we have already reached “critical mass”, it might already be too late to turn back.

    We’re on the road to “Idiocracy”…

  • Pingback: Founding Father/Mother Favs among Tea Party Friends! « Temple of Mut

  • Doc

    Newton, I couldn’t agree more. Dad used to call the TV the idiot box. We homeschool and have no TV reception at all. Every time we travel and scan through the TV fare at a hotel, trying to fine something worthwhile, it reinforces the notion that it may be the best decision I’ve made for my family.

    My children love books and old movies. You don’t want kids dumbed down, turn off the TV.