17 May 2007


A new Center on Education Policy survey has concluded that students in the 4th, 8th, and 12th grades are performing only slightly better in history and civics. 43% of 12th grade students, for example, in 2001 performed at or above the basic level, jumping to only 47% last year. For the same group, there was just a 1% increase in civics.

Although I'm glad there's been at least a little progress, it's nothing to be overly happy about. There's still a long way to go before we can be certain that American students are learning about their nation's history and the way the government works. Both subjects are vital to a successful nation. History teaches us to learn from our mistakes, how to spot bad government before it takes over, and gives us a much deeper understanding of how this nation works and how it came to be. Civics is undoubtably the most important class available to students. Politics affects every one of us, whether we realize it or not. With less emphasize in schools, it's inevitable that every new generation will be less and less interested in politics, law, and rights. Even today, there are millions who feel that voting is pointless, and that don't care if a law is just or not as long as it doesn't directly effect them. People are becoming passive and unconcerned with the state of America and the rest of the world, and with students not getting the best history and civics education, leaders will have an almost open door to uncontrollable power and corruption.

I graduated from high school in 2005, and I can say with all confidence that I didn't get a great education. Sure, I took pre-calculus my senior year, was in AP History and English, and took two years of Latin, but every teacher I had was more concerned with test scores than with making sure every student had a complete understanding of the subject. When a school has higher test scores, they get awards and, more importantly, money. Instead of classes being about learning, they've become nothing more than a crash course before the big test. There's so much standardized testing in schools nowadays that most children are burned out before they get to high school. We've also become fantastic guessers and bullshitters. I can easily make a paragraph into a full page essay by doing nothing but adding fluff. My teachers used to teach us how to guess on an exam or end of school test; just eliminate until you find the one that makes the most sense. Why not just teach us enough that we can take the test without having to guess?

Another, even bigger, problem in schools is having more opportunities for the more advanced students. This was at least true in my own high school. The AP students were encouraged, given more freedom to learn how they wanted, and were treated with respect by teachers and counselors. Not so for the rest. I was lazy in my 9th grade Honors English class, so my teacher reccomended me for the regular 10th grade course. I was utterly stunned when I got there. We never did anything. I remember reading maybe three books at most, writing a one page fictional "fairy tale", and watching cartoons. I felt like I was in a special ed. class. It was like the teacher didn't even care about us; she spent most of the time getting stuff together for her AP class for 12 graders. I had the same teacher for that same class two years later, and we wrote two essays a week, read a new book every month, had lengthy discussions about everything from news and politics to literary devices and eras. The difference was startling, and in a way I'm glad that I had the opportunity to see what it was like for students who don't have the AP privalege. One teacher we had even told us that they didn't worry as much about the academic kids since most of them wouldn't go to college or make the most of themselves. She was under the impression that they were all lazy and incapable of doing anything worthwhile. Maybe they would have cared more if the teachers had cared about them.

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