Thursday, January 06, 2005

Notes From The Education Underground: The TeachWonk Diaries

Just Another Brick...
Today one of my seventh-grade classes and I were discussing what they had learned last year while they were in sixth grade. Since I am their history teacher, naturally the discussion gravitated toward what kind of history that they had studied. (In California, sixth-grade students study Ancient History---Egyptians, Babylonians, Israelites, Greeks, Romans and more.)

This discussion started because the kids could not answer questions about even the most basic concepts of sixth grade history. (And after several months together, I could tell that they were trying, as I had offered extra-credit for correct answers.)

Simply put, I asked the kids what they had learned.

Imagine my shock when 21 out of 34 students said that they had not studied any history in sixth-grade at all.

I know what those of you that teach students are thinking... we can't always accept what students say at face value, so I questioned them carefully.

The students that had not studied history stated (and I was surprised by this) that they had only studied math, reading, and essay writing because those were what they would be tested in.(!) (I could have been knocked-over with a feather when the kids said that.)

To me, this was the type of response that an adult would have given. And sure enough, a couple of kids told me that this is what their teachers had said. (I was a little surprised that their teachers would be so candid with students so young.)

I understand why this happened. It's not rocket science, really. Here in my middle-sized California school district, sixth-grade students only have one teacher. And since the students are only tested in reading, writing, and math, it goes without saying that teachers are pre-occupied with the subjects that the students are tested in.

That's because part of the evaluation process that is used to assess each teacher's effectiveness is based (in large part) upon those test scores.

And the 13 students that had studied sixth-grade history?

The majority of them (9) had transferred from several nearby rural districts where students changed teachers several times per day, (similar to junior high school) with each instructor teaching two different subjects.

Isn't it a shame that so many of our kids are not learning anything about Greek Democracy, The Roman Republic, and Egypt's Grandeur?

If you are the parent of a student that attends a California public school in grades 4 -6, (Kindergarten through grade 3 have Social Studies) consider asking your child's teacher to describe exactly what lessons in history that he or she is teaching your child. You may well be very surprised by the answer.

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