Saturday, May 12, 2007

What professionals have done to public education

We're currently in Williamsburg, Virginia, near Jamestown. A Google alert led me to a column by Martin A. Davis. Martin is responding to the recent visit by the Queen in his column: Royal Mess. It caught my attention because he mentions Jamestown. Martin makes an interesting point. He writes that many Americans have paid great attention to the recent visit from the Queen, but few people are paying any attention to why the Queen came. The Queen came to celebrate the founding of Jamestown.

As we drove around Williamsburg today there were a number of places to park so tourists could ride buses to the events at Jamestown. There clearly was some interest. Janine and I talked a bit about going to Jamestown. Our daughters are still a bit tired. They have not adjusted yet to the new time zone. It is hot here. And we went to Jamestown two years ago. Overall it didn’t seem like a good idea to wade through a huge mob. But we do care about Jamestown. One of the main reasons we came to Williamsburg was to teach our daughters about the colonial period of America. We'll spend three days at Colonial Williamsburg and visit Jamestown when the crowds are smaller.

Martin Davis says that a big part of the reason Americans today care so little and know so little about history is that the “professionals” long ago decided that the average student wasn’t able to master the complexities of history. For hundreds of years education in America was a private endeavor, or run by a local community organization. Starting in the mid 1800s there was a push for “public education” to be run by the professionals. Over the next fifty years the “public education” movement took root.

Martin Davis references Diane Ravitch who explained that then the “professionals” decided to water down history:


That history is taught so poorly is no accident of history, so to speak, as Diane Ravitch points out in her recent OAH Magazine of History article. By the early 20th century, an array of forces had managed to limit in-depth history instruction to a select few. Surprisingly, it was the ‘‘professional historians’’ who led the charge. Scholars such as medievalist A.C. Krey deemed their discipline’s rigor beyond the ‘‘competence of the average student,’’ explains Ravitch. The subject, wrote Krey in 1929, also wasn’t critical to students’ ‘‘effective participation in society.’’


The next time I hear someone claim that homeschoolers can’t do as good a job as the “professionals” I’ll probably bite my tongue and maybe roll my eyes. Most of the time I find the average person has trouble believing that amateur (homeschoolers) educators can do as good a job, if not better, in teaching children.

History is very important. One of the main reasons we get an education is to avoid the mistakes others have made. Children who have been taught history have a much deeper understanding of politics and society in general. They can be more effective living their lives, instead of being tossed to and fro.

I like this thought:

History is a vast early warning system.
-Norman Cousins, editor and author (1915-1990)

About a hundred years ago the “professionals” decided to water down history to the point that people today care more about the Queen than the founding of Jamestown. Maybe after a hundred years of amateurs teaching children history the 500 year anniversary founding of Jamestown might have greater interest.

Technorati tags: homeschooling, homeschool, home school, home education, parenting, children, education,


Anonymous said...

Some American boob was quoted on TV referring to the Queen as "the reigning monarch"! As if she were ours--and as is she were the only one! Hoo, boy!

Hey, we are going to be visiting Williamsburg and Jamestown the week of Memorial Day--any advice?

Henry Cate said...

"Hey, we are going to be visiting Williamsburg and Jamestown the week of Memorial Day--any advice?"

I enjoy pretty much everything about Williamsburg. My favorite is listening to the actor protray Patrick Henry. Your son might enjoy watching the blacksmith or gunsmith.

Jamestown is fun, but not quite as big.

There is more than you can see in just a couple days, so enjoy what you can.

I hope you have a great time.