The following is a guest post by Emma Gore, a rising 9th grader. She’d like to add her voice to the chorus of folks wanting to save our schools from the mediocrity of centering on standardized testing rather than a real education. Please respond.
Feels like a Disney Movie
When I was four, I was incredibly enthusiastic to learn and be a part of the schooling process I had heard so much about. When I walked through the kindergarten doors, the handle higher than my head, I knew I was going to change, however unsure how. The people around me, the world, it was all going to change because we were going learn something of substance and value. Simply the fact that we were being educated meant that ourselves, and the world for that matter, would not be making the same idiotic mistakes that people have been making for the past 400 years. Today it’s July 28, 2011, approximately ten years later, and not a day has gone by, where even for a fraction of a second I have not wondered where my idealistic view of education went.
Where is the reality in what we are learning? Explain to me why we learn that John Smith and Pocahontas loved each other when John Smith had recited the same scenario multiple times after other adventures and about other women? Why do we learn that Columbus was a good man who bartered with the Native Americans, when really he had his men disembowel persons who would not cooperate with him. Or why we learn that Lord Cornwallis surrendered on October 19, 1781 at the battle of Yorktown in person, when really he was claiming to be sick in bed? (http://www.eyewitnesstohistory.com/yorktown.htm.)
Through these formative years, I have spent only one hundred five minutes learning about the war in Vietnam. Clarify to me why we only spent 10 days on World War II, and about 20 minutes on the differences between communism, socialism, and fascism, or why a fair amount of adults still don’t know the differences, for that matter. Why the majority of kids in that class had never heard of the war in Cambodia. Explain why in my civics and economics classes there has not been a discussion about Watergate, or Reagan’s trickledown theory. The preponderance of my educational career has felt like a Disney movie…sugar coated for the convenience of the viewer.
If a five year old knew the truth, she would probably wonder why you tried to hide it in the first place, then maybe ask you to change it . A seven year old might be angry with you for lying to her, point out you are a hypocrite, and might ask you to change it. But I guarantee you a fourteen year old will do all of the above, demand that you change it, and will most likely watch over your every step until you do so.
Teach us truth without your heritage of prejudice and bigotry. Give us full disclosure about what you know so that we can create informed decisions founded on fact and equality. I am adamant that children are capable of carrying that burden, and I am astounded that adults would ever think otherwise. Furthermore, I would like to emphasize that one of the world dilemmas is corruption and blatant deception. However, when adults demonstrate nothing less than that, what can you expect?
Emma, I am the daughter of WWII veterans, a Viet Nam peace marcher, wife of a Viet Nam Navy veteran. I agree that our students need more information about my generation’s reality. Ask me, I’ll share my memories.
Wise words, Emmma. I hope you are rounding up other voices like yours. We need to hear you loud and clear. Unfortunately many adults forget what it’s like to be a student once they experience the power of being at the head of the classroom. They don’t remember the curiosity, the questions, the need to know of young people. Your post reminds us that whatever we are doing to make education better has to be for the children and the young people in our classrooms. Any less would be a travesty. I know that’s why many are marching in Washington, DC tomorrow and many more are there in spirit.
Emma Gore wrote:
>>Teach us truth without your heritage of prejudice and bigotry. Give us full disclosure about what you know so that we can create informed decisions founded on fact and equality. >>
Perhaps the best way around this problem, Emma, is to teach it to yourself. Give yourself full disclosure by conducting your own self-directed research. Ask questions, consult diverse sources, get complex answers that open up more complex questions, and be a lifelong learner.
Be wise about what the system forces you to remember in order to grade you, rank you, and grant you access to opportunities like college admission. The curriculum will try to pack your brain with hundreds of bits of information; some of it may be quite useful to you, but most of it will be forgotten in a fortnight, probably because it was just rammed down your throat so that you could be tested on it in the name of false accountability. Ultimately, it will be up to you to decide if you think you need to remember it.
All the best,
Of course the best way around this problem at this moment for Emma is to teach herself. That doesn’t mean however that she shouldn’t ask for being taught those things in the future, for her sake, but also for all others who will follow in education. Not everyone is capable of teaching themselves, since we are not taught to teach ourselves. Schooling does too little to enhance our abilities for independent learning. (but of course this is all together a different discussion) Though I think Emma is of to a good start, but many others aren’t.
Thankyou for your input. I appreciate you commenting.
Although I agree that being a lifelong learner is incredibly important. It is not fair to expect that all children can, or will learn independently. Like Han said, some have never been taught how, yet others lack the motivation to do so because of the environment they encounter in school. Nor is it fair to tell outright lies to children than expect them to have any indication of where or what to look for. It is often difficult to discriminate truth and untruths in our education system so we have to be at least pointed in the correct direction.
Thankyou for your input,
Emma, you rule. I hope you keep observing, complaining, and demanding better. Ivan Illich said, “School is the advertising agency which makes you believe that you need the society as it is.” It’s hard to argue against that perspective knowing that much of reality is withheld from or distorted within classroom discussions.
If you do develop an interest in taking more control over your education, you might find this book useful (and a delightful breath of fresh air):
Nice post, Emma. I agree with you on all accounts and appreciate your passion for truth.
Your post was thought-provoking. You have a strong voice and a deep thirst for the truth and in many respects, you remind me of the students I teach.
Your point, “Teach us truth without your heritage of prejudice and bigotry,” resonated with me.
However, we all have prejudice, racism and bigotry. We come from a racialized society and this prevents any teacher (myself included) from teaching pure truth. We try our best. We attempt to be humble. However, pure, unadulterated truth is impossible, because of our humanity. The best historians are the ones who own up to their prejudice and humbly seek out answers through authentic research. You may find that at school. Most likely, you’ll have to find that on your own.
People in power rewrite history, because public memory is a key part of our collective imagination. Give us the real Columbus and we begin to ask if this land is really our land in the first place. Keep find the answers and exposing the lies. It’s the only way our collective imagination will change.
Thankyou for your comment,
But I disagree. Why does imagination have to be based on lies? We should question how, and at what cost, we came to own this land. But even more than that, I believe that when give all the options, people, and children especially,can make right decisions.
I absolutely agree that imagination does not have to be based upon lies. (Re-read my last statement. I believe that people can change our collective imagination by looking honestly at the past as well as the present. Though don’t re-read the sentence before it, because there is an atrocious grammatical error.) I don’t advocate ignorance. Nor do I think we are incapable of making right decisions.
We got this land through conquest and how we deal with that reality is a critical question that many people are afraid to answer. I’m not suggesting that we shy away from that exploration.
What I am pushing for is a recognition that we come from a structure of power and that our collective imagination has been shaped by false stories. We can’t ever completely get past the cultural filter. That’s why humility is a critical ingredient for any historian willing to take an honest look at the past. You and I both have our own biases and prejudices that prevent us from a “pure” view of history.
I hope my comments don’t come across as too critical. Again, I enjoyed the post and I see some real value in what you are advocating. As a teacher, I do my best to tell the truth (that Columbus stole the land, that Washington ordered troops to fire on civilians, that Lincoln did not believe blacks could be equal citizens) regardless of how painful that might be.
I love having students like you, because you challenge me and you give the permission for me to challenge you back.
Emma, I am glad you have the courage to write such a strong and clear post. Others will comment, and your response will require courage also.
Great questions: “Why the majority of kids in that class had never heard of the war in Cambodia. Explain why in my civics and economics classes there has not been a discussion about Watergate, or Reagan’s trickledown theory.” I suggest that history be taught from today’s events and walk backwards to its roots and connections. This would expose the relevance you ask for and also be more meaningful to students.
When you said, “The preponderance of my educational career has felt like a Disney movie…sugar coated for the convenience of the viewer,” I thought that the sugar-coating was for the producer — the producers only want to share what looks good; if not, you would do as you are now, questioning the reasons. This is why many teachers are moving to Problem and Project Based Learning, so that students can discover and discuss the relevant and often controversial issues.
And when you said, “Give us full disclosure about what you know so that we can create informed decisions founded on fact and equality,” it gives me hope for the future because it means you won’t sit by and let your classes, the news or your peers feed you information; you will seek out all sides of the truth to discover the facts so you can make a decision. And you will expect the information to be available. I hope that you share your expectations with your peers and form an active and vocal learning community with them to make these things happen.
Spot on, Emma. Spot on.
As a middle school teacher, Emma, I feel qualified to say that you are far more mature than most of your peers, and the topics you speak of never having heard of are subjects that are typically taught in high school, not the lower grades. That said, you are obviously precocious and a student who is going to make her mark on the world, not just her high school. Good luck to you!
You are obviously an amazing learner. Students have so much more to offer than the current system will let them explore and demonstrate. Keep demanding more (while oddly demanding less – control and limitations). Just know that there are educators out there that do know how much you bring to the world and do not discount you. If only we formed or could inform the majority.
The history of schools, themselves, probably answers a lot of your questions, Emma. We’ve built them to tell the stories of our victories and to prove that what we do must be right because we have victories. It’s all very circular.
Keep asking your questions and making your demands.