Wednesday, June 22, 2011


Republican Rick Santorum; former senator from Pennsylvania, current candidate for president and (in my opinion) leading contender for nut of the year along with Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachman et al, opened his pie hole and announced that American students pathetic scores on national US history tests are due to a left wing conspiracy.

Actually a link with the Santorum story ties the problem to No Child Left Behind. NCLB emphasizes language and math to the exclusion of almost everything else in the curriculum. Unfortunately attempts to revise the law so that schools would fell freer to teach something besides test material have stalled and it doesn't look like anything will change anytime soon.

Years ago I took a class titled A History of Education in the United States. The instructor spent a good part of the first session explaining the name of the course. In his opinion there is no “THE” history of anything. Any history reflects the point of view of the people writing it. A detailed history of colonial New England would probably fill a large volume.

Almost as soon as the Massachusetts colonists arrived they began to disagree between themselves on the fundamentals; especially who could vote. One split was over land ownership plus church membership vs. church membership alone. That’s how Connecticut was born. Another split was over church membership itself; and Roger Williams ended up buying land to the south and lo and behold Rhode Island was born. Depending on your point of view; histories written about these events could look radically different.

Which leads to my personal favorite period; England under the Tudors and Stuarts. But, there is no way that you can write “the” history of the period unless it’s so general it’s useless. I invested in the DVD set of The Tudor’s series. The actor who played Henry doesn’t look much like him but I got past that. Ok, he’s slimmer and darker than the real Henry, but the man can act. There were a few scenes where his take on Henry’s reaction’s scared the heck out of me.

Season three is actually the most interesting one. They spent nearly four episodes of story line on the Pilgrimage Grace, a little known (outside of England) rising in the northern counties of England protesting the rise of Protestantism and the suppression of the monasteries. Heck I took a three term course in English history and I don’t remember this rebellion even being mentioned.

If you believe that the monarch’s power is derived from God and that rebellion is a mortal sin, then your take on the brutal suppression of the rising will be different from
a historian who believes that monarch and subject are bound by the same laws. And the histories you write will probably by radically different.

Heck look at US history. Those of us in the north call that unfortunate series of incidents in th, early 1860’s The Civil War. Folks on the other side still call it The War of Northern Aggression. And on a more modern note changes to the social studies curriculum in Texas; downplaying Thomas Jefferson and giving more coverage to Ronald Reagan for example, have caused controversy in the last year or so.

It might be easier to teach history if we could agree which verstion we're going to teach. Yeah, I know, I'm not holding my breath either.


Lisa :-] said...

NO Child Left Behind was a disaster, but not necessarily because it was a bad policy. More because of the way our stalwart educational system interpreted the mandate. They could not trust themselves to teach the curriculum and let the tests take care of themselves. They chose to teach the answers to the tests, so kids would be guaranteed to do well, so schools could retain their funding. It was a screwed up policy, yes...but the way it was carried out screwed it up even more. Can you say, "Clusterf**k?"

JACKIE said...

That's a pretty good description; along with SNAFU. And that's one of the reasons I don't like charter type schools unless they're set up to serve students that don't fit the usual class room. Private schools can choose their students. Public schools have to take everybody (in theory).

And double damn it. We don't come in discrete sizes, colors, shapes, or weights. We're all over the place. Where did we ever get the idea that there's just one way to learn? What a mess.