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Land of the Egregiously Undereducated

Today our school held a brief assembly promoting "patriotism." It was actually not bad, by the low standards I've come to expect at our school. The heavy-handed preaching was kept to a minimum, and the Marine Corps band appeared and played, and managed to look and sound professional and impressive.

When my four 9-year old remedial students came to class later in the morning, I discussed the purpose of the assembly with them, and then asked them, "who can tell me the name of the country in which we live?"

Not surprisingly, none of them could name our country. I received two answers, "Hawaii" or "I dunno."

After morning block I caught up with one of the other classes of same age, non-remedial students walking with their teacher. "Hey, Mr. M.," I called to the teacher. "Check this out!" I then asked his class, as they walked past, if they could tell me the name of the country in which we live.

Fifteen kids went by before I received a correct answer. I received the same two responses as my remedial students offered from these 9 and 10 year old fourth-graders.

The teacher was appalled. "Jeez, you guys," he shouted at them. "Look! What does this say?" he asked, pointing at his t-shirt, which read, "Proud to Be an American."

Some time back I posted a query here asking if it is important for students in this country to know the names of the states. The general trend of the responses was, "it depends on what you end up doing for a living, but for the most part, not really."

Now I'm wondering, is it necessary to know the name of the country in which you live?

I wonder how all the soldiers maimed and killed in Iraq and Iran would feel if they knew they were crippled or killed defending a bunch of people who neither know nor care what nation they're living in?

I wonder how many parents of these kids can't name the country in which we live?

By the way: the kids at the school recite the Pledge of Allegiance every single day! But they don't understand a word of it.

As I was talking about this stuff with my remedial students, doing all the compassionate, understanding, teacherly sort of SHIT we're supposed to do to be sensitive to the needs of the students, and using maps and globes to try to make it interesting (the globes I salvaged which were destined for the trash, by the way), one of the kids, a girl, actually said, "can we stop talking about this stuff now? This is boring."

On the plus side, one of the boys (the one who told me that Las Vegas in Brazil) didn't even want to go to recess when it was time. "I love this kind of stuff," he said. "I love learning interesting things!"

Interesting things. Like the name of the country we live in, for starters.

Footnote: just for the record, I was not being "picky" about the name of the country. I was willing to accept anything even close: United States, United States of America, USA, US, America... but not "I dunno."


( 14 comments — Leave a comment )
Sep. 12th, 2008 12:12 am (UTC)
I had this problem too... you might want to check if it's because they're really clueless about the name of the bigger place in which they live or if they don't make the connection between "country" and USA/America/etc. I found frequently my kids were familiar with all of the names of places around them, but not the kind of geographical/geo-political divisions we make.
Sep. 12th, 2008 01:47 am (UTC)
I think that's a very good point. My 5-year old might also give an immediate "I dunno" as a simple (weak) dodge.

Even with that concession, it's pretty amazing. My kids know, because we've drilled street, city, county, state, country into them. But I thought everybody did.
Sep. 12th, 2008 02:19 am (UTC)
For the remedial kids, it's not like I was asking for "stand and deliver." I gave 'em plenty of prompts.

You wanna try something really funny (or maddening)? Ask some nine-year old who the first President of the United States was. To my surprise, most of 'em can answer that. But then ask them who the city of Washington, D.C. is named after. The same thing works with the guy on a penny (somehow, they know that), followed by asking who the Lincoln Memorial was built to honor. I had school staffers agog with disbelief last year when I asked these questions of students, and the students couldn't answer. It's like that old joke, "who's buried in Grant's tomb?"

Virtually none of the remedial kids can name the street they live on. I'll have to try asking the regular ed students about street names.

Edited at 2008-09-12 06:24 am (UTC)
Sep. 12th, 2008 02:13 am (UTC)
Part of the issue is, indeed, their unfamiliarity with geo-political terminology. But, c'mon... country?

Geography, however, is not one of our state "standards" in any of the elementary grades... even though the Department of Education is pushing "excellence in STEM-G," which stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics, & Geography.

One advantage of working in a "special needs" class, I suppose, is that I am somewhat less constrained by "benchmark mapping," and I can address individual student needs. So at least my kids are gonna know what country they live in by the end of the school year. I hope.
Sep. 17th, 2008 12:41 am (UTC)
Try "do you live in the United States?" Or "Do you live in America?" They know where they live without knowing how we refer to it, and knowing all about the world outside of, well, your own little world has until quite recently been the privilege of the elite.
Sep. 17th, 2008 01:06 am (UTC)
I suspect you are correct, were I to provide the students with a more defined "guiding question" I probably would have received more correct responses. What I was "investigating," so to speak, was student awareness of JUST WHAT IN THE HELL THE PATRIOTISM ASSEMBLY WAS ALL ABOUT!

As you may have picked up on, I was a bit "indifferent" to the idea of holding a "patriotism" assembly on 11 September. My indifference was largely predicated upon the knowledge that my co-teachers all ASSUME the students have some grasp of the concepts of nationality and patriotism.

Yes, I could have asked, "do we live in America." But THE U.S. MARINE CORPS BAND had just played a concert at our school an hour previously! The entire school had recited the Pledge of Allegiance, sung the national anthem, and the students had been requested to wear red, white, and blue clothing. All these little kids running around wearing red, white, and blue, yet they didn't know why!

Perhaps being aware of the world is "elitist" (up until recently, anyway). Or, perhaps it's easier to let the "elite" bomb the f@cking hell out of little kids living in Iraq and Pakistan (and Lebanon), to let our brave soldiers rape and murder women and girls, and to let the leaders of our great nation steal the resources and assets of other countries if our ignorant populace has no idea what it means to invade another country... because our ignorant populace has no clue what a "country" is.

It was just the irony that got to me: celebrate patriotism, even if you don't know toward whom or what your patriotism is directed, even after reciting the Pledge and singing along as the Marine Corps Band played the national anthem. After all that, the red-white-and-blue throng couldn't name, without prompting, the country in which they live.

On a more humorous note: a kid of whom I asked the question the other day called out to me today, "hey, Mr. D., what country do we live in?" I replied, "Argentina!" The boy frowned briefly, then laughed and said, "no we don't! It's the United States!"

So there ya go: one kid who knows!

(My SpEd kids can all find the USA on the globe now! )

Speaking of "elite," how's life in California treating you?

Edited at 2008-09-17 05:09 am (UTC)
Sep. 17th, 2008 01:33 am (UTC)
I agree with all of your above sentiments, like you wouldn't believe! I am just quick to defend against things with a slight underbelly of "god, these kids don't know X!"

I always hated those patriotism assembles and blah blah blah! But yay for finding USA on a globe!

California is good!
Sep. 17th, 2008 03:38 am (UTC)
On those occasions (admittedly rather frequent) when I'm all, like, "gawd, these kids don't know ___," what I'm usually irritated by is not their lack of knowledge, specifically, but the lack of "exposure" the kids have had, and the "assumption" on the part of educators that the students know stuff. What I'm finding, in working with both remedial and regular ed students, is that part of the reason they fall behind is that they have never been taught some very basic stuff. These kids are being told to climb a ladder with missing rungs... lots of missing rungs, sometimes.

The trend right now in our district is to teach "strategies" to help with comprehension: all kinds of graphic organizers and use of highlighters (but don't write in your textbook... howzzat supposed to work?) and of course the old standby, "re-read the passage." If you don't know what the words mean, you can re-read it a hundred times and you still won't know what it's about. All this time we're supposed to spend teaching "strategies" is time we can't use to teach "content."

Like everyone else, I'm trying to find a balance.

I'm glad California is treating you well. But I bet you're seeing some responses as you wade through those bluebooks that make you wonder how some of those people made it through grade school! When I saw your pic on Flickr, I shuddered and thought, "I'm so glad that's not me!"

Sep. 12th, 2008 02:35 am (UTC)

If they're unaware of their own country, then they're going to be even less aware of others. It's also funny seeing something other than GMT 0 in the middle of the world map (so far only American maps i've seen do this).

All of the above kinda puts this old joke nearer to a reality.

Here's an interesting way to look at the world.
Sep. 12th, 2008 01:06 pm (UTC)
Your main point is well taken.

Aside from that, sure, it's nice that we've defined GMT 0 as the middle, but I wouldn't begrudge any other visualization. If it better serves another purpose, we should have another map.

I'm perfectly comfortable with maps centering on different locations, if it serves the region better. That's generally how I choose which paper map I'd use in my car's glove compartment.
Sep. 12th, 2008 02:54 pm (UTC)
Sure, except I've never seen an Australian centric map e.t.c. only GMT0 and American so it seems pretty egotistical to centre oneself in the centre of the universe.

Perhaps I am poorly educated, but it can't be a coincidence that such a map like the 'comedy' one above exists (I did not personally create it, it has been on the Internet for many years).

Besides, why the hell do you have a world map in your glove compartment? Is your car a plane? You must surely go places O_O
Sep. 12th, 2008 05:27 pm (UTC)
I don't want to confuse issues.

1. The common perception is that Americans are egotistical. Although I agree, I'd like to take that conversation to a different thread. We'd just be agreeing with each other anyway.

2. Having a map center on an arbitrary region of interest instead of some set standard is egotistical, not functional.

I don't necessarily agree with that statement. I can see what you're getting at, but I wouldn't start snubbing Autstralians if I saw an Australian centric world map. I'd be fine with it, and not think lesser of them. But that's just me.
Sep. 12th, 2008 12:10 pm (UTC)
I checked with MeiMei --- she answered, "The United States, but you want to live in Canada."

:: blush ::
Sep. 12th, 2008 05:24 pm (UTC)
The united states of Canada ... not a bad place ^__^
( 14 comments — Leave a comment )

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