A common history to solve it all?

Published 4.2672017
Beginning in 2017, I have begun to share my thoughts on education and education reform.
Nationalism is in the news often these days, this is very long piece that opines that schools are not nationalistic enough. However, for me, the underlying message was that kids simply don’t read enough. Lin-Manual Miranda is one person he holds up as an example of a good outcome of public education.

If Lin-Manual Miranda came through public education with the skills needed, then others have as well, which has always been the case. Schools never reached all kids. As I’ve noted previously, I do not think that individualizing the manner of teaching for kids is a bad idea. Otherwise, what you’re arguing is that you are happy with winners and losers.

I think the problem is that the “losers,” defined as students who exit schools without the requisite skills— in this case reading and a knowledge of history— that schools have packed too much into what constitutes education. If all that matters is reading and history, allow the kids to read history. Or if it’s Hamilton, or to watch Hamilton.

He also laments (and I can attest to this) that kids don’t learn the same nationalistic songs that I did when in school. On the other hand, I never learned the nifty fifty song, which I think would come under his “write new (non-god containing) songs” prescription.

Once you assert that there’s a “core” of education that should be “common” to all schools… well, then you get the debacle that the Common Core has become. The author addressed that, dismissing the common core because it was about the how to teach rather than the what to teach.

Which history?

Certainly that was true in math, but it is history that is the focus of this critique. Students are taught a common history, and without a common history a society weakens. The issue in history is always, which history? What facts get presented and what interpretation? The Civil War is still called the War of Northern Aggression in parts of the South. In the attempt to acknowledge the past of the peoples who inhabited North America prior to the arrival of European explorers— and even using the term explorer is controversial for some— the consideration of contributions of those Europeans have been altered. All of that is before you consider the effort to acknowledge that females existed.

It wasn’t until my senior year in high school that anyone made an effort to note the contributions of women in history. There is only so much time in the school day. If you start to add topics to be covered, then you alter how you present the existing curriculum.

Part of the brilliance of Hamilton (as I understand it from coverage of it, I’ve never seen it) is that Miranda managed to convey what many see as the essential information about the founding fathers along with all the rest not normally seen in history books.
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The Fix

Returning to where I began this rumination, I think the issue is that students don’t read often enough, and part of the reason that is the case is the way schools are organized. This next point could be made for any subject, but as the topic here is history, that’s what I will address.

History is presented as a dry recitation of facts and dates, rather than the fascinating and complicated topic that it is. That’s the brilliance of Hamilton. Factually based, but designed to be interesting. I also think many students are ham strung by the level of their reading ability. And while that is absolutely an issue to be addressed, I assert that the technology now exists to permit kids with a reading deficit to access higher level material.

Obviously the best answer would be to increase the reading skills of all student to the requisite level. However, the problem is that kids develop at different rates. And how are you going to have a “common” understanding if half (or more) of the students are never given the chance to see the more complex and interesting parts of the curriculum because they are kept back at a lower level.

I don’t want to overwhelm kids, but exposing them to more advanced material would do more to show them that there is a reason for the skills. How would I do that?

I’d require that every piece of writing have an audio file to go with it. Students would get to choose whether or not they used the audio file, but they would be available. I do not mean the mechanical text to speech function that most computers include, but that is better than nothing. What I mean is actual people reading the text with the requisite emotion.

This would be relatively simple to implement if most reading was done on a computer or tablet, which I think is the future trend anyway, but it doesn’t have to be. Audio files can be created for physical texts as well. The speed of the recordings should be adjustable— kids read at different speeds. Tracking student progress electronically would be possible, or even short periodic comprehensive checks as well. Clearly such checks can be done via pencil and paper too. I don't mean to suggest that laptops or tablets replace more traditional methods of instruction, but I do think they should be embraced.

I’m certainly not the first to think of this idea, and this technique, audio + text is already in use in online course. For that matter, video + audio + text is also used. The more ways the information can be presented the better. Some people (generalizing now beyond kids) are visual learners, some are audio learners. One of the things that irritates me is that adults take classes designed using new technology and techniques (online mostly), but refuse to acknowledge that their kids would enjoy learning that way too.

The method results in the same information is imparted to all students, but perhaps not in exactly the same way. For the record, this presentation should occur in the school, where all students have access to the necessary equipment. I’m not a fan of homework in any event, but a greater dependence on technology that I’m suggesting would require the activities be conducted at school.

Once the students have read/listened to the information, discussions or writing assignments could occur. I'd again prefer that the writing would be done at school, rather than impinging on the rest of the students life.

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