History In Halstead

Location: Halstead, Kansas, United States

This is my seventh year at Halstead which is also where I live with my wife and my soon to be two year old daughter.

Sunday, February 27, 2005

A History of Flawed Teaching

I usually do not put entire articles on my blog but I thought this column from the LA Times was exceptional. Not because it glorfies history teachers, but because it can help shine a light on what I feel is the most important subject to learn. I think the lack of qualified history teachers is hurting the subject and while the emphasis in math and reading is important the nation needs to embrace and recognize the thousands years and millions of peopel that have put us where we are today.

Imagine this: Nearly a third of the students who apply to Stanford's master's in teaching program to become history teachers have never taken a single college course in history. Outrageous? Yes, but it's part of a well-established national pattern. Among high school history teachers across the country, only 18% have majored (or even minored) in the subject they now teach.

I don't doubt the dedication of these people. The application statements I read at Stanford shine with a commitment that renews one's faith in the passion of today's youth. And nearly every one of these young people is willing to forsake a more lucrative career — in law, medicine, business — to pursue teaching.

But how can you teach what you don't know? Would someone who wanted to teach calculus dare to submit a transcript with no math courses? Would a prospective chemistry teacher come to us with a record devoid of science? Yet with history, the theory goes, all you need is a big heart and a thick book.

The state of California encourages this state of affairs. Although it requires teachers to earn a rigorous teaching credential before they may teach math, English, biology or chemistry in the public school system, there is no such credential for history. Instead, the state hands out a loosey-goosey "social science" credential.

To qualify to teach history in California (and in many other states), you can possess a major in almost anything — anthropology, psychology, ethnic studies. All you've got to do is earn the "social science" credential and pass a multiple-choice exam of historical facts. But a storehouse of facts is the beginning, not the end, of historical understanding.

History courses made up of all facts and no interpretation are guaranteed to put kids to sleep. And that's exactly what seems to be happening. In a national survey some years ago, 1,500 Americans were asked to "pick one word or phrase to describe your experience with history classes in elementary or high school." "Boring" was the most frequent answer.

It should be obvious why this is. I don't care how much you know about child psychology or cultural anthropology, when you have to teach the Marshall Plan, the partition of India or the bombing of Hiroshima, you will be no more than a brittle pedagogue if you have no choice but to obey the textbook. History engages students only when their teachers possess deep knowledge; when they don't, history has the vitality of sawdust.

History comes alive when viewed as a patterned story open to ongoing debate. Did Truman drop the bomb because he wanted to save American lives, as a typical textbook claims, or because he sought to intimidate the Soviet Union and dissuade it from pursuing territorial expansion?

The shopworn saying that a good teacher needs only to stay a chapter ahead of students is widely believed — but patently false. History is about how events in one age sow the seeds for what happens next. Good teachers foreshadow later lessons when teaching earlier ones — by helping students see, for instance, that the configuration of power left in the wake of World War II would eventually erupt as the Korean War. History is just a random mess to those who remain a chapter ahead.

Lack of knowledge encourages another bad habit among history teachers: a tendency to disparage "facts," an eagerness to unshackle students from the "dominant discourse" — and to teach them, instead, what the teacher views as "the Truth." What's scary is the certainty with which this "Truth" is often held. Rather than debating why the United States entered Vietnam or signed the North American Free Trade Agreement or brokered a Camp David accord, all roads lead to the same point: our government's desire to oppress the less powerful. It is a version of history that conjures up a North Korean reeducation camp rather than a democratic classroom.

We're in an age when states are tripping over each other to beef up standards for students. But how can we expect students to attain high standards when we set the bar so low for teachers?

Sunday, February 20, 2005

I thought they were PLAYgrounds

These are new rules for a school playground. I see that playgrounds have changed from the metal jungle gyms built over sund dried Kansas clay that I used to play on. I also recall making snowmen but that is no longer allowed. I especially like the slide rules. Posted by Hello

Washington Fading

For years George Washington has been considered one of our nation's best presidents but recent polls show that his popularity might be waning. According to recent polls:

In a poll commissioned by Washington College for President's Day, Americans rated Abraham Lincoln as the greatest president. A CNN-USA Today-Gallup poll put Ronald Reagan on top. Many young adults have only sketchy information about Washington, according to the college's poll.

Asked who was the greatest president, 20 percent of those polled chose Lincoln. Reagan was picked by 15 percent, Franklin D. Roosevelt by 12 percent, John F. Kennedy by 11 percent, Bill Clinton by 10 percent and George W. Bush by 8 percent. Washington was picked by 6 percent. In the CNN-USA Today-Gallup poll, Reagan had 20 percent, followed by Clinton and Lincoln in the mid-teens and then Roosevelt and Kennedy at 12 percent.

I have no doubt that Lincoln gets the nod as the greatest president of all time but it seems from reading the article that recent presidents are more popular than older ones. That might be a natural bias since the recent presidents actions are fresh in our memories and their actions have yet to be judged in history. Also, Reagan's recent death probably helped his rating. Washington also was not an active President which makes him seem less appealing when looking at the active presidents since Roosevelt. Still, Washington should never be forgotten for how he conducted himself in office.

FOR DISCUSSION: What makes a great president?

Monday, February 14, 2005

Prorgressive link

Sunday, February 13, 2005

What are you planning for?

I often times mention in class mention the benefits of planning your retirement. Some students are interested and some are not but even those who are intersted rarely act on the things we talk about. I imagine that students believe that they will always be able to provide for themselves. I repect their self-confidence but I read this article by Ben Stein today:

Try this on for size. You’re seventy five years old. You live in the comfy home you’ve always lived in. You play golf in good weather. In bad weather, you travel to where it’s warm and sunny. When your grandchildren call, you take them out on the lake in your new boat. Your wife takes classes in the local college and paints. This is your life in retirement and it’s everything you always hoped and dreamed it would be.

Or, try this scenario: you are seventy-five years old. You live in a tiny apartment with the smell of boiled cabbage and noisy neighbors all around. You live in a scary neighborhood and you dare not go out after dark. Eating at restaurants is just a dream. Your apartment is too small to have your kids or grand kids visit. If you get sick and you have to spend time in nursing care, you don’t know how you’ll afford it. Your life is pure fear.

The fact is that if you are a baby boomer, one of the 77 million racing towards retirement, you have -- to a large extent--your choice of which of these retirement outcomes is yours. You get the good outcome or something like it if you start early, get a sensible, solid financial advisor, make a solid sensible plan for retirement savings, stick to it through thick and thin, accumulate diversified savings of stocks, mutual funds, bonds, real estate, variable annuities and foreign investments. You should accumulate an amount equal to roughly fifteen to twenty times what you need annually to live on–with allowances for pensions and social security. It’s a tall order, and it’s a bit scary to think about, but if you even come close to it, you get to have that great retirement life.

The point is, making sure you have a swell retirement is up to you. Not to Uncle Sam, usually not to your employer, not to your kids. You have to max out your IRA’s, your Keoghs, your 401K’s and do it sensibly, and then some. And you have to start with that all important plan.

Or, you can just be the happy go lucky grasshopper in your working years, not think about retirement, and then later, you get to live in terror. Which sounds better to you? I thought so. No matter how old you are, get started now and do the best you can.

Oh, you should know I am honorary spokesperson for National Retirement Planning Week. And, yes, I get paid for preaching to you. But your doctor also gets paid to tell you to stop smoking and eat green leafy vegetables. That doesn’t make us wrong

FOR DISCUSSION: Is the key to planning for retirement for you to enjoy the twilight of your years or for you just make sure that you survive the twilight of your years?

Economics Online Question #4

An airline ticket from London, England, to Chicago cost $1414. A ticket from Athens to Chicago, with a stop in London on the way, cost only $987. Why would the longer flight cost less?

Saturday, February 12, 2005

What Book Are You?

I am not sure about the spelling part but here were my results:

You're The Dictionary!

by Merriam-Webster

You're one of those know-it-all types, with an amazing amount of
knowledge at your command. People really enjoy spending time with you in very short
spurts, but hanging out with you for a long time tends to bore them. When folks
really need an authority to refer to, however, you're the one they seek. You're an
exceptional speller and very well organized.

Take the Book Quiz
at the Blue Pyramid.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

How is your geography?

This is a pretty cool game that asks you to place the states in their exact location. I thought it would be pretty easy but some of the interior states were pretty tough. Try is out

Place the state game

Click on the "intermediate place the state game."

I was an average of 14 miles off in 339 seconds!

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Economics Online Question #3

Suppose that the Labor Department announces that it has a new program that created 300,000 jobs. If the new job creation is true, why do these jobs not always bring a net social gain?

Saturday, February 05, 2005

What is the message we are sending to kids?

DURANGO, Colo. (Reuters) - A Colorado judge ordered two teen-age girls to pay about $900 for the distress a neighbor said they caused by giving her home-made cookies adorned with paper hearts.

The pair were ordered to pay $871.70 plus $39 in court costs after neighbor Wanita Renea Young, 49, filed a lawsuit complaining that the unsolicited cookies, left at her house after the girls knocked on her door, had triggered an anxiety attack that sent her to the hospital the next day.

FOR DISCUSSION: Read the entire article and please let me know if anyone agrees with the judge?

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Test Your Economic Literacy

The Kansas Council on Economic Education has come out with a pretty good quiz for people to check their Economic Literacy. This short multiple choice quiz asks a variety of basic questions on varying economic subjects. Just click on the Economic Literacy Test.

PS I scored 100%

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