SALT LAKE CITY, September 24, 2011—Obscured by the dismal economic numbers that seem to constantly pour in, numbers reflecting the state of education in the U.S. are probably worse than they look.
The Brookings Institution posted this on its website this week:
“Despite a doubling of per-pupil expenditures and decades of education reform in the United States, student achievement has only inched forward. Test scores, as measured by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), have barely budged in 35 years.”
The NEAP is the “Nation’s Report Card,” and our grades are bad in almost every area. In math, for instance, fewer than half the students tested (in the 4th and 8th grades only) meet proficiency requirements. For a discipline that almost everyone agrees is vital to our global competitiveness, we are competing for mediocrity. A different, international study shows that the United State ranks 35th, well below the average of all nations tested and behind such economic powerhouses as Estonia, Hungary and New Zealand.
Math is one thing. More troubling is the evidence that American students don’t even know American history. The NEAP results show that only 12% of high school seniors scored at or above proficiency levels in U.S. history.
Why? It may sound trite, but liberals have taken over education, particularly in the social sciences.
There may be an unfair reflex to blame liberals for everything, but we can blame them for some things. They have been in absolute control of most of the nation’s education systems for decades. They have displaced traditional history curriculum with multi-cultural, anti-capitalist, impossible-to-nail-down mash.
A 2011 report by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute analyzed the trends in history content standards across the 50 states. Forty-five states have changed their standards since 2003. That should be troubling enough, since our students should be learning about the fundamentals of the country’s founding and development. What innovative insights into the Constitutional Convention have been made since 2003?
We could spotlight Texas as an example of conservatives rewriting history. Indeed, The Fordham report criticized the Texas history standards, partly for their awkward inclusion of ideology and religion, but mostly for their incoherence and disorganization. It also goes after the Texas board for trying too hard to inject their newfound conservatism into the traditional mix of leftist assumptions: “The resulting fusion is a confusing, unteachable hodgepodge, blending the worst of two educational dogmas.”
Most people realize what all educators know. What happens in the classroom, despite what standards might say, comes down to teacher practice. As a former high school history teacher, I can attest that most public school history teachers have less interest in teaching fundamental American history than their brand of one-worldism and cultural equity.
The field is dominated by left-leaning teachers whose self-described and self-authorized mission is usually something along the lines of “teaching social justice” or “raising consciousness of oppression,” or other such vague ideals. The curriculum now contains more allusions to Marx than to Madison or Jefferson.
In social studies classrooms across the country, Howard Zinn’s revisionary A People’s History of the United States is more visible and read than the founding documents.
It’s almost cliché because it’s true: The benefit of a proper history curriculum is “to ensure that every succeeding generation appreciates the vital components that sustain and strengthen our free society,” to quote George Nethercutt.
Instead, America’s students are being taught by “the relativist and diversity-obsessed educational left.”
The results aren’t good: “A majority of states’ standards are mediocre-to-awful. In fact, the average grade across all states is barely a D. In twenty-eight jurisdictions — a majority of U.S. states — the history standards earn Ds or below. Eighteen earn Fs.”
They’re not all Texas.
Liberal educators want their students to be critical of the dominant themes in American history. That’s fine. But liberals are rarely critical of their own beliefs. What if the Thomas Jefferson got it right with the Declaration of Independence? What if George Washington really was a good man? What if the North fought the Civil War because its citizenry thought slavery repugnant? What if the free market has raised the standard of living for millions in the West? What if immigrants have streamed to our shores because the United States really does provide them a better life? What if the Civil Rights movement was supported by a majority of the whites in this country because Americans tend to be decent people?
Our students should be critical. They should also learn that western culture, the Enlightenment, capitalism, the American republic, and, yes, Christianity, have all done great things for humanity.
Our economic troubles might be more immediate, but the decay of a shared understanding of our past is more lethal in the long run.
Learn more about the author at Rich-Stowell.com
Rich is a teacher and a soldier. He is the author of Nine Weeks: A Teacher’s Education in Army Basic Training; Tunnel Club; and Not Another Boring Textbook: A High School Students’ Guide to their Inner Conservative, which you can follow on Facebook.
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