Friday, December 07, 2007

No Child Left Un-Indoctrinated

GayPatriotWest's musing today bemoans what he sees as the loss of "studying the meaning of life" in the college curriculums of the present. He notes what he sees as an overemphasis on criticism of texts versus analysis and thought, a narrowing of focus into specialization versus broad knowledge, and an overwhelming emphasis on political correctness -- and wonders how it all seemingly came to pass.

I can explain a big part of it fairly simply.
For 18 years, Hilary Zunin taught Shakespeare and other literature to students of all ages and skill levels at Napa High.

Last spring, she learned that most freshmen and sophomores would soon be reading the Holt anthology instead of the books that had always been required, including John Steinbeck's "Of Mice and Men," Harper Lee's "To Kill a Mockingbird" and "Night," by Elie Wiesel.......

But Zunin recognized that her concept of education was incompatible with No Child Left Behind. So, years earlier than she intended, the teacher who had once taught others how to inspire in students a love of literature said goodbye to Napa High.

This apparently-heartbreaking situation came about because of Napa High's failure to meet the federal No Child Left Behind standards, especially in the area of English and reading. As a result, the entire curriculum was required to be redesigned to emphasize reading and English comprehension; furthermore, several of the freshmen and sophomores to which Zunin was teaching literature were placed in a program designed specifically to aid and assist them in this regard.

Oddly enough, their response isn't quite what you would expect.
"It's helpful," said 15-year-old Araceli Hernandez, one of 56 sophomores assigned to "Read 180," a step-by-step, computer-based reading course designed to accelerate low-scoring students by two years. That is, it's supposed to turn their skills around 180 degrees in one year.

"It helps you learn how to spell the words better, and you get to understand what they're reading," said Araceli, who was born in Jalisco, Mexico. "It was difficult last year because I couldn't understand how to do paragraphs and everything. But now that I got into this program, it's better."

Now why on earth would she have trouble understanding any of those things?

Perhaps we should take a look at her English and literature teacher's attitude.
"There are a lot of people living good lives in this country who aren't able to write a cohesive paragraph and don't know grammar," Zunin said. "I'm more concerned about them being able to put themselves in someone else's shoes - which is the essence of 'To Kill a Mockingbird.' I'm more concerned with them being able to feel compassion and to question authority in a constructive way, which is the essence of 'Night.' I'm more concerned with them looking at the nature of friendship, which is at the heart of 'Of Mice and Men.' "

Now, this raises a very interesting question; how, exactly, are you able to learn anything of the sort from these books when you lack the reading and comprehension skills to even understand what they are saying in the first place?

The answer: you don't. Zunin tells you what she wants you to learn from them, and you repeat it back to her. However, when you are faced with an actual test where you are expected to read the material yourself, explain what it's saying, and apply it, you can't; you are dependent on Zunin to tell you.

In short, you're very good at repeating Zunin's beliefs. But, as the scores and her students' remarks show, that has nothing to do with whether or not you can read and comprehend English or literature.

And as such, when you get to college, if you are expected to read and expound, then you will fail; you simply aren't equipped for it. But textual criticism, especially when led by a professor who tells you exactly what you should see is merely more of the same spoon-feeding you received in high school; is it then any surprise that it dominates the curriculum?

Unfortunately, the way out of this hole is politically and personally painful, since it involves opposing powerful unions that prefer indoctrination over education, as Zunin exemplifies, overcoming the laziness of parents and students in getting children to actually read again, and testing to ensure that all involved are actually following through and doing it.

Or we can simply sit and wring our hands and wonder why our global competitiveness keeps falling.

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