History Without History, Spelling Without Spelling

American students learn how World War II affected Japanese-Americans, blacks and women, but not much about the actual war, writes Jay Mathews in the Washington Post. Students tend to learn social history but not military history.

Tiffany Charles got a B in history last year at her Montgomery County high school, but she is not sure what year World War II ended. She cannot name a single general or battle, or the man who was president during the most dramatic hours of the 20th century.

Yet the 16-year-old does remember in some detail that many Japanese American families on the West Coast were sent to internment camps. "We talked a lot about those concentration camps," she said.

The Post interviewed 76 teenagers. Two-thirds knew Japanese Americans had been interned during World War II. Only one-third could name a single World War II general; half could name a World War II battle.

Rosie the Riveter has trumped Patton.

Betsy describes how she teaches history to Advanced Placement students.

When I was in school, there was a lot less history. Vietnam was current events. After we "did" World War I, we'd have three days for the Depression, World War II and reviewing for the final. However, our fathers had served in the war, so we knew something about it.

Cutting class, Going to Prom

Students at a Chicago high school were warned they'd have to sit out prom if they let detentions pile up. Fifteen of 180 students ignored the warning. But they went anyhow. From the Chicago Sun-Times:

Jones College Prep  Principal Don Fraynd thought he was giving his students a valued lesson in responsibility when he barred 15 seniors who had racked up anywhere from 50 to 300 unserved detentions each from prom.

What he got was a lesson in politics, when the students held a protest, their parents blitzed the Board of Education with complaints, and the board reversed him, allowing the chronically late and class cutters to go to the ball.

"My biggest concern in terms of the reversal is the take-home message for these kids, and for the other kids who have behaved so well," said Fraynd, a first-year principal at the top magnet school.

Students were warned they had to start making up detentions to attend prom. Some did. Others blew off the warning.

"Everybody was upset because they spent all their money getting suits and limos and all of that," said Remon Miller, 18, who said he had 302 after-school detentions and 102 Saturday detentions to serve.

The kid was allowed to ignore 404 detentions! No wonder he thought the warning was meaningless. And, thanks to the school board, he was right.

Cheater Sues

A British plagiarist plans to sue his university for not catching him right away. Michael Gunn, an English major at the University of Kent, admits downloading Internet essays, but claims he wasn’t warned not to plagiarize. He plans to sue the university for negligence.

"If they had pulled me up with my first essay at the beginning and warned me of the problems and consequences, it would be fair enough.

"But all my essays were handed back with good marks and no one spotted it."

Gunn's plagiarism was caught just before he was due to receive his degree. That does sound negligent.

The E-rate Boondoggle

The federal e-rate, which comes from a surtax on phone service, pays to wire schools, closing the "digital divide" between the rich and the poor. It overpays, writes techno-skeptic Todd Oppenheimer in The Nation. The e-rate is a boondoggle that ultimately widens the educational divide, he argues. Paying to maintain technology takes money away from buying “books, science supplies and other classroom necessities.”

And the benefits of technology are mostly hype.

...when business leaders talk about what they need from new recruits, they hardly mention computer skills, which they find they can teach employees relatively easily on their own. Most employers say their priority is what are sometimes called "soft" skills: a deep knowledge base; the ability to listen and communicate; to think critically and imaginatively; to read, write and figure; and many other capabilities that schools are increasingly neglecting. A report from the Information Technology Association of America, which represents a range of companies that use technology, put it this way: "Want to get a job using information technology to solve problems? Know something about the problems that need to be solved."

Poor schools have almost as many computers as rich schools, according to the Education Department. But students aren't learning any more -- especially if their teachers are wasting time trying to get the computers running.

Speling B

"Autochthonous" won the National Spelling Bee for 14-year-old David Tidmarsh of South Bend, Ind. It means indigenous. He'd previously spelled "arete," "sophrosyne," "sumpsimus," and "serpiginous."

Akshay Buddiga, a 13-year-old from Colorado Springs, collapsed on stage, then got up and nailed "alopecoid." That means like a fox. He came in second.

This year's bee was picketed. Seven members of the American Literacy Society carried signs reading: "I'm thru with through," "Spelling shuud be lojical," and "Spell different difrent."

The protesters' complaint: English spelling is illogical. And the national spelling bee only reinforces the crazy spellings that lead to dyslexia, high illiteracy, and harder lives for immigrants.

As Matt Rosenberg says: "Thay hv uh guh poyn. Aftral, solongzwe kenunstan chutha, s'probm?"


Bryan Dilts of Enola, Pa., writes: 

Twelve hours per week of homework is the goal in our high school for seniors,  11 hours for juniors, 10 hours for sophomores and on down to one hour a week for first graders.

It isn't just East Pennsboro high school, it is every high school in our area.  Parents support it and kids do the homework.

It has been interesting to watch families move in from outside our county. The kids are initially horrified. Parents panic as they watch their kids struggle with homework for the first time in their lives. Then after three or four months the whole family starts to expect higher performance.  Finally the kids and parents start commenting about how much more they are learning.  They take pride in how high our standard public school expectations are.

Our college test scores are not extraordinary, but our kids know how to work. Learning to work long and hard will have more effect on their college grades and later success in life than more free time in the evenings.

Alan Kudravy of Hawthorne, Calif., writes:

When parents buy shoes at $250 per foot or Beamers for high school kids, my friend calls it "guilt management.” These parents can't or won't take time out for their kids, so they manage the guilt by sending their kids presents. Oh, I missed Tommy's award ceremony because it was the same day as my weekly golf game. I'll just get him a new car. Gee, why bother having kids?

My daughter, a sophomore, knows one kid who’s owned two cars -- and she doesn’t even have her driver’s license yet. 

Joanne Jacobs writes about education and other issues at JoanneJacobs.com. She’s writing a book, Ride the Carrot Salad, about a start-up charter high school in San Jose.

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