Wednesday, June 14, 2006

On Education

A few years ago, I wrote a piece for my English class about the demise of Classical education in the U.S. (for which you may blame good ol’ Andrew Jackson, by the way). But really, the demise of the Classical education was really just the beginning of something even worse--the demise of actual education altogether. Now, before you think I’m just being melodramatic, check out the latest State of State World History Standards. You thought it was problematic when they refused to acknowledge anything in U.S. history prior to the last two hundred years? Well, now most of the world’s history has ceased to exist as well.

I'm particularly disturbed that my own state of Maryland (warning: these links to individual states open pdf documents, but they aren't very big) earned a D. Its main problem seems to be that it is ridiculously vague. I was fortunate that my own modern world history teacher had a good brain on her shoulders and was not actually vague or disorganized. However, looking back on my overall world history experience in grade school, I do believe I missed quite a bit.

Missouri earned, I hope, the lowest grade with a whopping 8 out of 170 points total (I kid you not). This particularly hurt my head: Missouri approaches Greek civilization and the Roman empire with the same lackluster model. The standards stress three nearly useless points: 1) "origins of democracy," 2) "rule of law," and 3) "government structures." Districts will have to do a lot of tailoring to fill the gaps.

Locally, though, Virginia earned an impressively high A. It's a good read, and they do address Greek and Roman civilizations among other ancient cultures.

So, it's not all dismal, but I have to wonder what some of these states are thinking. It's as if they've ceased to care about history, which wouldn't actually surprise me.

After all, Florida has recently passed the law that high school students must declare majors. While I could think positively and hope that they will all choose a humanities major, that itself does not exactly equal a "liberal" education. The idea is to be broad. High school education should still be broad so that students know what their choices are. Athena knows my interests at age 14 were not the same as they are now. If I had been forced to choose then, I certainly wouldn't be where I am now. And I know this is true for many others as well. But my thoughts on this have mostly been discussed here.

And saying that this makes high school education "more relevant and more interesting" is what I tend to call ass-talking. Relevant to what? Your high school education is not supposed to gear you solely towards your job. We as human beings should be more than just what we do for a living. The job should not be the be-all-end-all. And maybe that sounds too idealistic and elitist, but I don't think that even those struggling and living in poverty actually want their lives to be about their job. My point is that the traditional "elitist" idea of a "liberal" education should be available to everyone. And in our society today, where there is constant pressure to learn only things that help "make money," a 14 year old is more likely to cave to that pressure than to actually choose an education in something else. Because if they don't choose something to "make money" in high school, they won't get into the colleges for jobs that "make money." Thus they will be doomed to teach, and we all know how degrading a job that has become in this day and age (please note that I am hoping to pursue a PhD in Classics eventually and take this comment accordingly).

As to high school being interesting, well, that has more to do with the invidual teachers. I'm not entirely sure the first goal of our educational standards should be to make school "interesting," though. While we should hope that school is interesting to students, how far are we willing to take that? I'm sure teenagers would find school more interesting if it were all about the latest gossip on rock stars and movie stars.

Of course, that is an unfair statement as well. Many high school students really are interested in the world in which they live and the history from which it developed. But we cannot feed that interest if we force students to choose in high school between a vocational major that might help them "make money" and the very interests that make us more human but that do not necessarily aid in "making money," at least on the surface.

Yes, education is about helping us become more productive members of society, but we are at our most productive when we understand everything that goes on around us, not just the one job we are trained to do.


Anonymous Tori said...

I never liked Andrew Jackson anyway, but this certainly means I shall have to send my chronocops to go and assassinate him at birth. How distressing for his family, but honestly it's for the good of American civilization, right?

9:21 PM  
Blogger Glaukôpis said...

::snicker:: Oh dear, does this count as inciting people to riot?

10:17 PM  
Blogger Aine Bina said...

I've always hated Jackson. Worst president ever, except maybe for the current one, as far as I'm concerned.

1:09 AM  
Blogger Glaukôpis said...

Haha! I'm so glad to discover there are others who despised ol' Andy Jackson.

1:16 AM  

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