Question about Current State of K-12 Education – I Need Your Help

Bill O’Reilly just said early this week (the Today show, June 6, 2014) that schools “don’t teach history or geography.”

Is this true? I have not been in a public school in 40 years and I know things have changed, but no history??

From my position in life of nearly 70 years; the past 55 years working in highly advanced fields (science education, aerospace, defense, computer sciences), it is my opinion that the most important courses for all students are communications skills (English grammar, writing, speaking and listening) and history (at least American history and World history from the 1600s) and geography.

Regarding communications, here is my reasoning. It does not matter what professional field you choose (I majored in biology), you have to be able to communicate clearly with others to succeed and advance in any career. I am not sure which is more important, professional communications or daily interpersonal communications.

I do know that proficient communications ability (writing and speaking) are essential for promotion and advancement. I have seen many very intelligent and capable doctorate level scientists passed over by liberal-arts educated managers for senior leadership positions. The scientists could invent technologies and create formulas, but could not or did not communicate adequately for a leadership or management position outside of the laboratory.

New Kent (County) High School, in Virginia, c. 2007. The cornerstone on the school building reads "1933."

New Kent (County) High School, in Virginia, c. 2007. The cornerstone on the school building reads “1933.”

To me, true communications skills—speaking and writing—are a window to a person’s intellect. I know that there are individuals who are poorly schooled in communications arts that possess genius intellects, but the inability to adequately express their ideas makes it difficult to recognize and acknowledge their potential.

It has also taken me several decades to realize that effective interpersonal communications is certainly helpful in personal relationships such as dating, marriage, and attempting to communicate with (and setting an example for) growing children.

And then, there are the “first impressions.” A person whose grammar and word usage is really poor immediately projects an image of limited schooling. One does not have to speak “the King’s English or always be absolutely grammatically correct when speaking, but consistent use of poor grammar, misuse of words, etc., immediately—right or wrong—creates an impression of limited schooling and/or limited intellect. The exception to that is if you live and work in a community where poor grammar is prevalent. But should an individual decide to “move up in the world” and seek opportunities outside of the immediate community, inept writing and speaking are as much of a drawback as lack of technical skills and ability.

As for history, Winston Churchill is credited with the phrase, “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it,” although I have not been able to find the time and place he actually used that phrase. In fact, George Santayana (in The Life of Reason, 1905) wrote, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

This is why I rank history so highly in basic educational requirements. Through history, we gain a sense of who we are and how we fit into society, why we have the government we have, why we have the legal system we have, etc. Our society, i.e., the United States, did not just happen—it grew out of ideas and ideals that were set down with a purpose—to provide an intelligent balance between social order and individual rights.

An understanding of human history helps us understand that our lives are intertwined with many other lives to form a society. We also learn that there are many different cultures—most of them are neither right nor wrong, just different. And we learn to not only tolerate, but accept “just different.”

So back to my original question: can anyone out there tell me if and what is formally taught in schools today in the areas of history and geography. Please comment to this posting, or send me an email message.

And while on the subject of education—I attended a county school, with all twelve grades in one building. We learned grammar, practiced writing, had literature classes, learned math, took different history classes (state, national, world) at least five times in twelve years, as well as sciences and arts. At least half of my graduating class went on to post-secondary education. Going to school always seemed like a simple concept to me—teachers “taught” and students “learned.” I know teaching is not a simple task, but then, neither is learning. As my father pointed out after a conversation about jobs and careers, “…right now, ‘learning’ is your ‘job’.”

I hear people talking about “fixing” our educational system. My question is, when did it become “broken?”

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5 Responses to Question about Current State of K-12 Education – I Need Your Help

  1. Pingback: Renaissance Musings Table of Contents | Renaissance Musings

  2. writeejit says:

    Jeff, you’ll be glad to hear that my son, a high school junior, just took his SAT History subject test yesterday. He loves history and hopes to study it in college, combined with political science/international affairs. We live in a fairly rural area in New York’s Hudson Valley, but are lucky to have an above average public school system. He’s been able to take several AP (advanced placement/college level) history courses since 10th grade. He was recently informed that due to major budget cut backs the school wasn’t going to be able to offer the European History AP course next year. (Sadly, not enough kids opt to take these challenging, but worthwhile courses, making them an easy target for elimination) He’s been looking forward to it for ages and was very disappointed, especially as the teacher is excellent. We did however work out a compromise–he’d take the course as an independent study and the teacher agreed to oversee his work. And then . . . obviously enough concerned parents stepped up and low and behold, the class is reinstated! So this is the long answer to your question: History is out there & still considered a very relevant and important course of study, for some, but you have to fight for it. As the new emphasis on STEM (science, tech, engineering & math) drives curriculum choices for school districts all over the country, this will only become more of an issue, I feel. The best thing schools can do for our kids is provide a well-balanced curriculum that allows kids to explore and make connections between all the disciplines.

  3. merlinjr01 says:

    writeejit

    Thank you for your somewhat reassuring comment. Reassuring because there are students and parents (families) out there who still care about a broad education. “Somewhat” because it sounds like parents and students sometimes have to “fight” to get what the want/need for a well-balanced education. And my appreciate go to other families who joined your position and to the school for listening seriously.

    Jeff

  4. Freckles says:

    Yes history is still taught and required for graduation In secondary schools in New Hampshire. What is more troubling to me is that elementary schools are moving away from teaching basic writing, particularly cursive technique in favor of using computers. With all the texting and abreviations being employed today spelling is suffering and basic communication skills are jeopardized. History can be passed along by verbal accounts but I am more worried about reading and writing which are fundamental for preservation of history.

    • merlinjr01 says:

      Being a basic reactionary, I agree that learning to write either cursively or at least print accurately is important. But the fundamental essential skill (in my opinion) is to be be able to communicate effectively and efficiently–however that happens. Glad history is still around.

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