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November 12, 2006



Japan= size-377,835 sq km, pop.-127,463,611
France=size-547,030 sq km, pop.-60,876,136
U.S.= size-9,631,420 sq km, pop.-298,444,215

I don't believe that the comparison between the US and other countries holds for very long. Do the math. We want desperately to believe that the US is tops. We want to be the best, but the best banana does not compare to the best apple. We are not a country that is anything like another country in the world. There are subtleties to the operation of every country. We need to look at our own in comparison to no one. I have traveled outside the boundaries of our country and have seen first hand what education looks like elsewhere. It is not what we think of when we think of education. We want libraries, nurses, counselors, free and reduced lunch, small class sizes, special plans for students with disabilities, sports, clubs, band, choir and a bevy of other accoutrements. When I explain to people outside this country what we provide as a part of school, their mouths drop open. I sat in the middle of a communist country and explained how we take care of our students with two meals a day and a dentist once a month and you name it… it was surreal. And even though we are one nation, we have regional identities that allow for people to have different accents, experiences and beliefs. This is a strong point, not one of contention. I submit that the fact that we are able to live in this country and thrive is a testament to the strength of the diversity.

Regarding core knowledge…I have had first hand knowledge of what core knowledge looks like because the Arizona state Social Studies Standard has a lot of the philosophy wrapped into it. What is the one common story that we, as Americans, need to know? Whose history do we tell? From what perspective do you look into the faces of Native American students and say, isn’t Columbus wonderful? I teach Social Studies. I love the story of our country. I think that the strength of the nation is not on having a one story, but being able to live in one country even though we have many different stories.

The real problem as I see it, our students are having trouble thinking these days. Thinking, I tell you. History as it is taught in the average classroom bores students, not because history itself is boring, but because it is a story that is not being connected to who they are today. It is the great underwhelming of a nation, just listen for the yawns escaping the school doors of America daily. Cramming facts into the heads of our students does not accomplish what I see as the greater goal, having a ‘thinking’ population. I teach students how to look for bias, understand perspective, notice details… be their own historian. This is my goal. In the age of a ridiculous amount of ‘standards’ I am lost in what to do. There are roughly 140 performance objectives for 8th grade social studies in AZ. With that number, the depth to which I tell any story is cursory at best.

And here is the kicker… in a country that should never have had a federal education department (if you want a real social studies lesson, read the 10th amendment). The manner in which the federal government hands out mandates is cumbersome at best, unconstitutional at the worst. After hooking schools on the hand outs for free and reduced lunch and Title I, the feds then rolled up with a program like NCLB. This is an attempt to hold all students accountable… and it is a failure. When the feds figure out how to give AZ ($6,000) schools the same per student funding as NY ($13,000) then maybe we can start talking about consistent national standards. There are needs for particular parts of the country that are unique to the region. Assuming that all schools, towns, counties and states can be homogenized is almost like assuming that all people are alike… capable of becoming indoctrinated with America’s story. We owe something to our students that goes beyond a list of facts. We’ve got google. We’ve got wikipedia. We’ve got the means, but we have spent a ridiculous amount of time in American education teaching to the test. Thanks to the federal government this generation will be incredibly adept at one thing for sure… bubbling in standardized tests. We need to shake off the nostalgia of bygone eras where we can find unity and comfort in memorizing/scripting the one American ideal curriculum. We need leaders strong enough to look forward instead of back and find a path that leads this generation to realize its potential.

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