Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Thoughts on the Fourth

I know that this is going to sound a little weird, initially, as an Independence Day post, but I want to write a little today about a subject left out of the misnamed No Child Left Behind law that I feel is appropriately addressed on this day.

Independence Day is a celebration of our American ideals. The ideals that our country was founded on. As they are ideals, they are not always reached. Sometimes as a people we fall short. But, as we are all only human, it isn’t surprising. What is surprising is that after 231 years, we still, as a people, aspire to reach to these ideals. I am incredibly proud of that.

But what, you may rightly ask, has this got to do with NCLB?

Perhaps I am a little conspiracy-minded at times, but I am puzzled as to one subject that is quietly left out of NCLB. We all know it calls for math and reading tests. I will leave the questionable efficacy of this excessive testing for another post. I will leave the questionable methods advocated by many on the right for teaching reading to another post, as well. Math and reading were the initial subjects targeted by this law. Next science was to be added to the mix. And these three subjects would be what those who wrote the law wanted to see improved.

What’s missing? Social studies. The study of history. The study of government. Why would this subject be ignored by the law? Why would the study of our country’s history not be something that the people who wrote this law feel important enough to add to it? Why would they leave out the study of how are laws are made and how our government is supposed to work? After all, they say that they are testing for essential knowledge. Isn’t the knowledge of how our country is supposed to work essential?

I am seriously worried that schools will only emphasize subjects that are likely to get them the Holy Grail of Annual Yearly Progress. That the schools will emphasize test taking skills instead of independent thinking. That the subject that can enable our children to see themselves as a part of the decision-making process of our local, state, and national policies will be left to the wayside as it is not part of AYP.

I am worried our students will be left dependent on others to explain to them how the government works and be left with little choice but to take that other’s interpretation as truth. For they will not have had the opportunity to learn the truth for themselves. Maybe that other will be honest and have our kids’ best interests at heart.

Knowing, human nature, is it worth taking that kind of chance?

Please do not go away from this post with the misapprehension that I feel putting social studies into the law would bo an appropriate way to fix this. I think this law needs to be completely rewritten to address many problems. I just find it funny how the one subject left to pushed to the side is the one that would best help the students understand how laws are made and what government is about.

This law is currently up for reauthorization. I think, especially on this day, that it is incumbent upon us as citizens to demand our legislators craft a better law. One that gives our kids a better chance of taking part in the great debates that should be shaping our country’s future. One that does not make them dependent upon others to explain how our government works and that the power of that government derives from them.

Happy Independence Day.


Susan S said...

Art, thank you for this post. I'm reminded of E.D. (Ed?) Hirsch's cultural literacy . . . We lose so much because of testing . . . What will be next? Art? Music? Dance?

twingle said...

Massachusetts is previewing a SOcial Studies MCAS for high school juniors studying US History. This is also the first year that the biology (9th) grade test has counted. I don't think that SS was left out, I just think that the focus was placed on subject deemed most important; ELA and Math.

Troy said...

Too much of our educational system is focused on making students into productive members of our economy, instead of into thinking members of our society.

And to follow Susan's comment, in many districts, art, music, and dance have already suffered at the hands of standardized testing, school grades, and 'adequate yearly progress.'

I moved to a private school last year, and the difference in focus in palpable--there's still attention paid to some test scores (SAT, AP, etc.), but the focus here is on educating students, preparing them for life and college.