The New York Times today bemoans that states are paying fast and loose with stats to cover up their failure to educate kids. What did they expect? That's what large bureaucracies do. And if we continue down the path of "accountability" with its concomitant straitjacket curriculum, excessive testing, and alienation of our best teachers, things will simply continue to get worse.
At the Georgia Council for Social Studies annual meeting last week, I met dozens of teachers. These are the best and the brightest, the people you should want teaching your kids, who somehow maintain their energy and creativity in an anti-intellectual state, in schools that are generally impoverished. But they are angry and frustrated with a social studies curriculum that is superficial and dull; with tests that make no sense to kids or, frankly, college professors. Disturbingly, I learned that the mediocre teachers--those who would never dream of attending such a meeting, who are more concerned with the next football game than with imbuing kids with a love of the past, who have the intellectual curiosity of a lethargic limpet--simply shrug their shoulders and say, "This is what we have to teach." They then proceed to inflict the state's mindnumbingly tedious interpretation of history on kids, and laud themselves for their "success" in preparing students for college and life.
This complaint was disturbingly familiar to anyone who has taught in a university. Those professors who go along to get along, who mindlessly strive to meet administrators' bogus targets and objectives, not only damage the kids in their own classes: They demoralize their brighter and more energetic colleagues. The difference is that, in college, we still, just barely, have the freedom to ignore the stupidity to at least some extent. What was heartbreaking at this conference was to realize that teachers like these, the very teachers on whom our future depends, are increasingly constrained by red tape.
So what's to be done? I'm giving this subject a lot of thought, starting with an analysis of the fears and concerns that underlie the peculiar Georgia curriculum, and, indeed, all state curricula. I am convinced that, for the elementary grades at least, the social studies curriculum must go out of the window. Yes, I did mean that.
More posts on the way. Meanwhile, here's that NYT editorial.