March 26, 2012

Lies My Teacher Told Me

As we wind down the TBR Double Dare, I just have a couple more books to blog about.  I finished this a week or so ago and I have a short one I'm more than half way finished with but getting to time to blog is nearly impossible these days.  It's been a crazy schedule for the MLB and I and I've had a Book Fair last week which is just now coming down and I went the the GA Book Awards/Children's Lit. Conference (more about that coming up!) and it's crunch time for our little one's Harry Potter-themed party and my time is being filled with requests to make labels for bottles of dragon's blood and the like.  It's all a bit crazy.

But I do find the occasional time to read and this was one I started years ago but never finished, so I welcomed the opportunity of the TBR Dare to knock it out.

It's a perfect history book for me.  I love reading about history, but I don't necessarily feel like I'm back in school.  It had to have stories or arguments that grab me to keep me going.  The first ten or so chapters take common events covered in a dozen high school american History text books of the time (this was written in 1995 but I understand there is an updated edition since 2007 or so) and tell how they either get factual information wrong, present it badly, omit important information and the like.  The rest of it is an argument about how badly american History is typically taught in high schools and some better options we could try rather than continue to use these bland and hardly rigorous text books.

Most of the things he covers are things you may have already read about (Christopher Columbus knew the world was round, was intending to collect slaves all along, etc.) and some of it may be new to you (Woodrow Wilson segregated an already unified Washington D.C. and helped promote Birth of a Nation and the resurgence of the KKK), but it's all things that are badly handled by our text books if at all.

Loewen advocated a more inquiry-based approach in which less topics are raised more in depth with more primary readings and questions designed to promote discussion, thought and further reading.  In fact, I was kind of blown away at how closely this goes with most of the same things I 've been talking about wen it comes to teaching science and critical thinking.  This is just as good of a critical thinking book as Sagan's brilliant Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark.

The most upsetting thing is just how plain wrong most of the stuff is.  It's the on;y subject we teach where when you go on to college, the professors routinely tell you to forget everything you've learned and start over.  We might be weak on teaching science, but it's not like it's all wrong.

This has got me thinking and it's hard to decide what to do about it.  I was in a Kindergarten class the other day and saw a nonfiction book about Betsy Ross on display.  You know what Betsy Ross did?  Nothing.  Well, I mean she lived her life, got married and did whatever she did, but she certainly didn't make the first American flag.  She may have had input on the design of the shape of the stars, but that's about it.  It's a complete myth made up most likely by her grandson.  It's no big deal but why do we waste time in elementary school teaching something that's not true when there are so many true and much more important and relevant things to teach?

We really need to cut the history standards by about two-thirds and teach the remaining third much more in depth and spend more time teaching how and why to think about and study history than cramming a bunch of meaningless facts and dates into student's heads.

If you've ever taken American History and you're curious at all you would do well to check this book out for yourself.