Friday, July 13, 2007
A Different World
Your formal education about the United States begins in elementary school, when you learn that the country was established through a series of meetings in which Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin and some guy named John Hancock whipped up a few documents we hold near and dear today. Well, some of us do. Presently elected officials excluded, obviously.
Then, the power of the government was split into three branches and all was well in the (re: our) world. Abe freed the slaves out of the goodness of his heart, FDR gave us a New Deal and JFK was an all around good guy. The history of the US is taught in a lot of schools in fast forward and in the lower grade levels, through a giant pair of rose colored glasses. Students are offered a glimpse into the past with such a spin on the events that you'd think Elliot Mintz was the PR rep. This steam engine approach to US History is often necessary to cover the basics, which is why there are Civics classes to teach kids about the structure of government and to give them a thorough understanding about politics, right?
One class dedicated to American government once the students are already in high school is not sufficient. High school history courses, in my experience, operate on the assumption that the students already have a general understanding of how the government works. In truth, most don't. They can (maybe) name the branches of government, but don't expect them to be able to answer any questions about the electoral college. Political conversations are discouraged in many classrooms, and this, partnered with a lack of knowledge or interest, leads to apathy in regards to politics in the youth of this country. Barack Obama, we don't need your campaign ring tones, we need to be better equipped to make educated decisions and participate in discussions about policy and social issues. To do that, we need a more concrete understanding of the basics, which should be taught to children earlier and in a more consistent manner.
With the political landscape as it is now, the school systems are doing a disservice to the young adults they release into the world by not making education about the American government a top priority.