Single Gal and Why Aren’t Our Kids Learning?

Every year studies show that we Americans know very little about history.  We fail to identify many famous figures from our past, like Benedict Arnold, Ben Franklin and even George Washington. But what is the root cause of this? Is it our culture and our complete obsession with movies and video games? Or is there something broken in our education system that doesn’t allow students to retain these facts as adults?

We are a lazy society. People don’t read for knowledge about history as much as they do to find out who Madonna is having an affair with and the latest sports scores. I know that history is taught in our schools and our kids learn about Benedict Arnold, Ben Franklin and George Washington. So why can’t they remember them?

I don’t just want to use the excuses that we are lazy, dumb and preoccupied with other things. I fear our education system isn’t changing with the times to meet the needs of the students. If kids are obsessed with movies, then teachers should be drawing them in with movies. If they can’t focus on lectures, than teachers need to role-play and have them act out scenes from history—make them remember in a way that will stick.  If you expect to teach kids today the way they did in the 1950s, it won’t be effective. In order to make what they learned in class effective, children need to read and talk about it at home, which probably is the crux of the problem. Not many family dialogues focus on history or even current events.

I am not out to blame only teachers and parents, but I know American kids aren’t learning like they should be.  So what are we to do?


  1. It is television, not religion, that has become the opium of the masses. 

    But let’s start with the basics.  We have over 1500 school districts in California.  We only have 58 Counties.

    We have a Secretary of Education (Fed), Secretary of Education (State), State Superintendent of Schools (State), County Board of Educations (County), and Local School Boards (too many).

    We have layers upon layers of standardized tests, mandates, and administrtive rules.  Teachers are underpaid, Administrators are overpaid.

    We have overcrowded classrooms, too many holidays, and too many Teacher in Service days (whatever they do). 

    The State Budget is a mess, there is no ability to plan longterm, we are constantly bonding and providing new “parcel” taxes for School Funding.

    Voucher systems are not the answer—they simply raise the price of private education—which currently is in short supply. 

    In short, until we remove the bloated bureaucracy, fix the funding and provide teachers with real incomes—our students will continue to fail.

    Oh yeah, and turn off the television.

  2. Kathleen opined:“I have travelled the world for business, pleasure, and military service, and our work ethic here is extremely high.”  Not all of us, Kathleen.  Check Pete Campbell’s post re lazy city workers right here in SJ.  And all those prisoners we have locked up—Ca has highest rate per capita in the entire world.  And then there’s finfan’s “welfare bastards” and the parents of the “anchor babies”.  And the high school dropouts, of course.  That disqualifies about half our population, all of whom live off the rest of us.

  3. In the last five years there has been a paradigm shift brought about by a perfect storm.  The synergy of human endeavor will be a world of hopelessness and despair.  No one needs children or will have children.  Mankind will become extinct.

  4. SG—Provocative question, but the answer is simple. From the viewpoint of someone with an MA in English Lit and Linguistics from UC Berkeley,who taught English in a local junior college for 25 years, mostly remedial writing, not lit, to students, all of whom had h.s. diplomas after 12 long years of seat time in public schools, the issue is teacher ACCOUNTABILITY. There is none. A “teacher” never needs to prove that after a semester of expensive “treatment” every single child, or even one, has “progressed”. In reading, the basis for almost all learning, except in numbers, of 1500 or so entering freshmen, a third were reading below the fifth grade, and there were only enough students reading at or above the 12th grade to make up two sections of a legitimate college freshman writing class—i.e., about 50 students. So, of course, going down to 9th or 10th grade readers, a lot of English 1A classes were cooked up. 1 student over 3 years transferred to UC Berkeley. Some, but not many, transferred to SJSU after way more than 2 years. Most just disappeared.
    At my insistence, the English Dept. at my jc
    had blind grading of final writing exams. We all agreed that not one student in one teachers class passed the final. The result—all blind grading of finals was cancelled forever. It’s not discussed, but teachers’ unions care more about avoiding real evaluation than they care about pay.
    Musicians are blessed. One sour note and they get the hook. Not many bad players, and a whole lot of really good ones. And let’s not blame the students, or their parents, for the expensive crap that passes for education in most of American classrooms.
    60 Minutes just replayed the story of the thousands of dirt poor kids in Venezuela who
    learn classical music good enough for Royal Albert hall in “The System” of music ed. And
    Jaime Escalante (Stand and Deliver) taught gang bangers in LA Advanced Placement Calculus in numbers greater than those at Los Gatos High, or Pally High—only to be run out of his school by his fellow math teachers, and the administration. His success in Sacramento met the same fate.
    When faced with their failur, occasionally,
    (as in the latest drop out flap)the answer is always, “build another building”—and it better cost the taxpayers a lot of money, because it’s for the c-h-i-l-d-r-e-n. And the taxpayers, products of the school system, dumb as dirt, go for it again and again and again. Who cares that they have no idea who George Washington is, after 12 years of publlic school they can’t even think about their own welfare, or that of the kids. Education is really just about being a consumer. George Green

  5. Why would kids want to learn history? They have better things to do, like texting each other! And, since we’ve gone from “melting pot” to “land of diversity”, students are probably more interested in the history of their own country/culture than that of the USA.

  6. SG: But our kids are not really taught about Benedict Arnold, Ben Franklin, and George Washington in school.

    In the 70s & 80s, the emphasis in history as taught in schools changed. Instead of teaching a decent sense of self-respect in building this nation, children have been taught to ignore the positive, and to focus on the negative.

    What the anti-American lobby (the history wreckers) in extremist academia did was to flip history on its head, throw out George Washington and Benjamin Franklin as heroes, ignore Benedict Arnold, and teach impressionable students about how awful America as a nation is.

    This is reflected in San Jose history, too. How many readers realize that the lynching of a German-American during the first world war happened at the feet of the statue of President William McKinley in St. James Park with the victim left tarred & feathered, and chained to the old Civil War cannon there? That local history has been disappeared by the history wreckers.

    How many of you are aware of the significance of the City Bell which is well over a century old? It occupied a space on Plaza de Cesar Chavez from which it was ripped by Susan Hammer’s RDA and moved to St. James Park. Then the Plumed Serpent was constructed on the exact spot where the City Bell had been placed.

    This is very much the style of the history wreckers…remove what had been and make it disappear. The history wreckers have no intention of adding historical markers, their goal is the disappearance of older historical markers. And they have been very succesful.

    The City Bell has now been moved to the freeway on-ramp on North Market Street where it is treated with contempt by the current mayoral administration.

    Another good example is the construction of the ridiculous “poles on floats” around the new City Hall—not one of those odd exhibits states or implies, “This City Hall is in America.” Instead the exhibits focus on the negative and discloses the bizarre politics of the City’s bolshevik-styled “Office of Cultural Affairs.”

    Anyway, the answer to the question as to why we do not remember various aspects of American (or San Jose) history is that they are deliberately not taught in our schools.

    It’s not a conspiracy, either. It’s quite in the open to pretend that a New America began in the late 60s and early 70s, and to teach against remembering anything older than the sanctity & purity of the second world war, except for injustices and negative events.

    To add to your examples, how many of you are aware that the present US Constitution is the second constitution (the first one was in force 1781 – 1789) that America has had, and that we had no fewer than ten presidents following the rebellion against one-person rule (the anti-monarchy revolution) until the present US Constitution was adopted?

    A very great deal has been flushed down the memory hole to accommodate radical academicians’ theories of Bad America. And our own city tax dollars march right along with them.

  7. #6—guess I’d better take a bonehead reading course from George #5.  I saw the “K” and moved on.

    Yeah, but Dale #8—we got both the Fallon House (for $5+MIL)  AND the Fallon Statue (after years in exile over PC), commemorating someone none of us had ever heard of before Tom McE started promoting his book.

  8. SG- Many schools in lower property tax areas don’t even have schoolbooks, never mind computers. I think one of the reason kids are dropping out of school is because they aren’t being taught things relevant to the real world, nor does the curriculum prepare them for jobs. Basics are important yes, but at some point these kids have to be reached on a level they can relate to. Our world has gone high tech, and we need to keep up.

    Secondly, I think times are hard and kids are dropping out of school to work and help their families. I know I did. I dropped out of school, worked, and went to college when I was 27.  I think schools need to consider doing some type of job program or internships to help kids become financially responsible without dropping out of school because there are too many ways to make easy money out on the streets.

  9. S.G.

    Right on!

    When I was a kid, your two parents made sure that you did your homework…C grades were unacceptable, and we had P.E. every day.

    Good teachers should be paid six figure salaries.  beyond that, you can pour as much money as you want into the schools, the schools are only as good as the parents make them.  (When I went to grade school, 80% of the parents were heavily involved with the programs).

    Pete Campbell

  10. I dug up this email I got some time ago. It’s an 8th grade test from a rural school in Kansas, before Teachers’ Unions, who are more interested in ever-increasing salary & benefits than in teaching and accountability for their results, or lack thereof.

    1895 Eighth Grade Final Exam

    Remember when our grandparents, great-grandparents, and such stated that they only had an 8th grade education?
    Well, check this out.  – – –

    This is the eighth-grade final exam from 1895 in Salina, KS, USA. It was taken from the original document on file at the Smokey Valley Genealogical Society and Library in Salina, KS, and reprinted by the Salina Journal.


    Grammar (Time, one hour)
    1. Give nine rules for the use of Capital Letters.
    2. Name the Parts of Speech and define those that have no Modifications.
    3. Define Verse, Stanza and Paragraph.
    4. What are the Principal Parts of a verb? Give Principal Parts of lie, lay and run
    5. Define Case, Illustrate each Case.
    6. What is Punctuation? Give rules for principal marks of Punctuation.
    7. Write a composition of about 150 words and show therein that you understand the practical use of the rules of grammar.

    Arithmetic (Time, 1.25 hours)
    1. Name and define the Fundamental Rules of Arithmetic.
    2. A wagon box is 2 ft deep, 10 feet long, and 3 ft. wide. How many bushels of wheat will it hold?
    3. If a load of wheat weighs 3942 lbs , what is it worth at
    50cts/bushel, deducting 1050lbs. for tare?
    4. District No. 33 has a valuation of $35,000. What is the necessary levy to carry on a school seven months at $50 per month, and have $104 for incidentals?
    5. Find cost of 6720 lbs. coal at $6.00 per ton.
    6. Find the interest of $512.60 for 8 months and 18 days at 7 percent.
    7. What is the cost of 40 boards 12 inches wide and 16 ft. long at $20 per meter?
    8 Find bank discount on $300 for 90 days (no grace) at 10 percent.
    9. What is the cost of a square farm at $15 per acre, the distance
    around which is 640 rods?
    10. Write a Bank Check, a Promissory Note, and a Receipt.

    U. S. History (Time, 45 minutes)
    1. Give the epochs into which U. S. History is divided.
    2. Give an account of the discovery of America by Columbus.
    3. Relate the causes and results of the Revolutionary War.
    4. Show the territorial growth of the United States.
    5. Tell what you can of the history of Kansas.
    6. Describe three of the most prominent battles of the Rebellion.
    7. Who were the following: Morse, Whitney, Fulton, Bell, Lincoln, Penn, and Howe?
    8. Name events connected with the following dates: 1607, 1620, 1800, 1849, and 1865.

    Orthography (Time, one hour)
    1. What is meant by the following: Alphabet, phonetic, orthography,  etymology, and syllabication?
    2. What are elementary sounds? How classified?
    3. What are the following, and give examples of each: Trigraph, sub vocals, diphthong, cognate letters, and linguals?
    4. Give four substitutes for caret ‘u’.
    5. Give two rules for spelling words with final ‘e.’ Name two exceptions under each rule.
    6. Give two uses of silent letters in spelling. Illustrate each.
    7. Define the following prefixes and use in connection with a word:  bi, dis, mis, pre, semi, post, non, inter, mono, sup.
    8. Mark diacritically and divide into syllables the following, and name the sign that indicates the sound: card, ball, mercy, sir, odd, cell, rise, blood, fare, last.
    9. Use the following correctly in sentences: cite, site, sight, fane,
    fain, feign, vane, vain, vein, raze, raise, rays.
    10. Write 10 words frequently mispronounced and indicate pronunciation by use of diacritical marks and by syllabication.

    Geography (Time, one hour)
    1. What is climate? Upon what does climate depend?
    2. How do you account for the extremes of climate in Kansas?
    3. Of what use are rivers? Of what use is the ocean?
    4. Describe the mountains of North America.
    5. Name and describe the following: Monrovia, Odessa, Denver,
    Manitoba, Hecla, Yukon, St. Helena, Juan Fernandez, Aspinwall & Orinoco.
    6. Name and locate the principal trade centers of the U.S.
    7. Name all the republics of Europe and give the capital of each.
    8. Why is the Atlantic Coast colder than the Pacific in the same latitude?
    9. Describe the process by which the water of the ocean returns to the sources of rivers.
    10. Describe the movements of the earth. Give the inclination of the earth.

    Also notice that the exam took five hours to complete.
    Gives the saying “she/he only had an 8th grade education” a whole new meaning, doesn’ t it?
    What happened to us?  It is kind of humbling, isn’t it?

    There’s a section on “orthography”.  I had to look up the word…and I’m still not sure what it means in light of the test questions.

  11. #12 Pete: Parental involvement is a good idea but only to the extent parents support, and not try to control, the classroom teachers. 

    Talk to any public school teacher and they will tell you stories about parents who think they, not the teachers, should decide what is taught and how it is taught. But do these parents spend time with their kids each night to ensure homework gets done? Do they encourage extra reading? Do they demand their children be respectful to teachers? Usually not. Yet these same parents become angry with the teacher if their kid does not get all A’s or is reading at the 4th grade level when in high school.

    Another problem is they way our society has devalued education and educators. I agree with Pete that competent teachers should earn 6-figure salaries. But this has to be based on classroom success, not some arbitrary guideline set up by the California Teachers Association or the NEA.

    Finally, let’s leave the politics out (#8) and have an honest discussion about what our kids need to learn today in order to have future success in life.

  12. I would like to correct the perception that we are a lazy society.

    I have travelled the world for business, pleasure, and military service, and our work ethic here is extremely high. We also value time here as money, more than almost any other country in the world.

    What we do have is extremely low attention spans.

    The question, given our attention spans, is whether we collectively raise our children differently, or we adapt education (as you indicate) to the age of the soundbyte, video clip, and wikipedia entry.

  13. #15

    And yes, the 8th grade exam was humbling….wow!

    Of course, the important point to understand is whether or not the exam does reflect a decline in educational standards.  Since JMO is well known for repeating and posting Urban Legends without even trying to verify the veracity of his post, we need to take all his posts with a grain of salt. 

    So, lets check out the “8th grade exam”. 


    “Ah,  but this is high school (or even eighth grade) stuff, people say it’s basic knowledge that everyone should remember and use. 

    Nonsense. The questions on this exam don’t reflect only items of “basic knowledge”, many of the questions require the test-taker to have absorbed some very specialized information, and if today’s students can’t regurgitate all the same facts as their 1895 counterparts, it’s because the types of knowledge we consider to be important have changed a great deal in the last century, not necessarily because today’s students have sub-standard educations.

    Consider:  To pass this test, no knowledge of the arts is necessary (not even a nodding familiarity with a few of the greatest works of English literature), no demonstration of mathematical learning other than plain arithmetic is required (forget algebra, geometry, or trigonometry),  nothing beyond a familiarity with the highlights of American history is needed (never mind the fundamentals of world history, as this exam scarcely ackknowledges that any country other than the USA even exists), no questions about the history, structure, or function of the United States government are asked (not even the standard “Name the three branches of our federal government”), science is given a pass except for a few questions about geography and the rudiments of human anatomy, and no competence in any foreign language (living or dead) is necessary.

    An exam for today’s high school graduates that omitted even one of these subjects would be loudly condemned by parents and educators alike, subjects about which the Salina, Kansas, students of 1895 needed know nothing at all.

    Would it be fair to say that the average Salina student was woefully undereducated because he failed to learn many of the things that we consider important today, but which were of little importance in his time and place? If not, then why do people keep asserting that the reverse is true? Why do journalists continue to base their gleeful articles about how much more was expected of the students of yesteryear on flawed assumptions?

    Perhaps some people are too intent upon making a point to bother considering the proper questions.”

  14. I understand that people think we need teacher accountability – and that is a hot topic for November’s election – but that is fraught with issues. How do you measure a teacher by just test scores?  How do you measure their caring, their willingness to make a difference in students’ lives?  How do you measure teaching kids with learning disabilities, second language students and those with mental disabilities that are mainstreamed in the classroom? It isn’t as cut and dried as many think it is….

    And yes, the 8th grade exam was humbling….wow!

  15. They’re not learning because people have too damn many of them and our resources cannot keep up. Keep pumping out kids because of your biological clock, desire to have your name heard forever, God said so, you’re a bored housewife or whatever stupid reason you want. It only makes the problem bigger.

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