Recently students and teachers in Denver walked out over new proposed history standards in the schools. Essentially, conservatives got control of the school board and are imposing their political viewpoint on the teaching of history, which is basically a huge step backwards to a 1950s era rah-rah America style of teaching. Dan Carlin covered that story on the most recent Common Sense podcast, and I was a little surprised to hear him echoing things I've said for years. He made the point, more or less, that the only stuff from school that is really essential for participating in society as an adult is reading and math. I add writing to that list, but still, it's the same point.
Before we get into that though, why the hell do we let school boards decide curriculum? We are letting real estate agents, salespeople, housewives, and various other people decide curriculum for entire school districts. What the hell do these people know about educating thousands of students? The women leading the charge on the standards in Denver wants history to teach civic values, respect for authority, and focus on George Washington and the founding fathers. She doesn't even understand that this county was founded by what today we would probably label domestic terrorists.
Back on point. For some subjects, like science, there is a right and wrong answer. Evolution is real, creationism is not. Math has right and wrong answers. History, however, is not so clean-cut. The winner usually writes the history books, but that doesn't mean that there isn't value in the losers side of the story. Howard Zinn is valuable as a counter-point to the white European Christian version of history that most of us suffered through in school. Zinn taught by itself is not of much value. It's too biased. Likewise, teaching rah-rah 1950s style curriculum is worthless without the countering viewpoint. The reality of K-12 education in the US is that we'll never have time to teach history correctly. So maybe we shouldn't be teaching it all. At least not like we do today. It's not like the kids actually remember anything 10 minutes after the the final exam anyway.
Dan proposed that the important skill to learn in a history class is not the dates and names, but an understanding of how stuff changes over time and gets from there to here. What the stuff is doesn't really matter. If you love baseball, study the history of baseball. If you like fashion, study the history of fashion. Because you are interested you'll be more engaged, and you'll retain what you learn beyond the next test. It almost sounds like unit studies or unschooling.
Ok. Not almost! Although Dan never said the word homeschooling I couldn't help noticing that this was yet another example of somebody suggesting that the schools innovate by doing something homeschoolers have been doing for decades.
Funny how that keeps happening.