Sunday, August 18, 2013

Don't Know Much About Geography

In Sam Cooke's classic 1959 hit "Wonderful World," the lyrics downplayed formal learning with lines like, "Don't know much about history ... Don't know much about geography."

Over a half-century after Cooke wrote that lighthearted song, such ignorance is now all too real. Even our best and brightest -- or rather our elites especially -- are not too familiar with history or geography.

Both disciplines are the building blocks of learning. Without awareness of natural and human geography, we are reduced to a sort of self-contained void without accurate awareness of the space around us. An ignorance of history also creates the same sort of self-imposed exile, leaving us ignorant of both what came before us and what is likely to follow.

In the case of geography, Harvard Law School graduate Barack Obama recently lectured that, "If we don't deepen our ports all along the Gulf -- places like Charleston, South Carolina; or Savannah, Georgia; or Jacksonville, Florida ..." The problem is that all the examples he cited are cities on the East Coast, not the Gulf of Mexico. If Obama does not know where these ports are, how can he deepen them?

Obama's geographical confusion has become habitual. He once claimed that he had been to all "57 states." He also assumed that Kentucky was closer to Arkansas than it was to his adjacent home state of Illinois.

In reference to the Falkland Islands, President Obama called them the Maldives -- islands southwest of India -- apparently in a botched effort to use the Argentine-preferred Malvinas. The two island groups may sound somewhat alike, but they are continents apart. Again, without basic geographical knowledge, the president's commentary on the Falklands is rendered superficial.

When in the state of Hawaii, Obama announced that he was in "Asia." He lamented that the U.S. Army's Arabic-language translators assigned to Iraq could better be used in Afghanistan, failing to recognize that Arabic isn't the language of Afghanistan. And for that matter, he apparently thought Austrians speak a language other than German.

The president's geographical illiteracy is a symptom of the nation's growing ignorance of once-essential subjects like geography and history. The former is often not taught any more as a required subject in our schools and colleges. The latter has often been redefined as race, class and gender oppression to score melodramatic points in the present rather than to learn from the tragedy of the past.

The president in his 2009 Cairo speech credited the European Renaissance and Enlightenment to Islam's "light of learning" -- an exaggeration if not an outright untruth on both counts.

Closer to home, the president claimed in 2011 that the Texas had historically been Republican -- while in reality it was a mostly Jim Crow Democratic state for over a century. Republicans only started consistently carrying Texas after 1980.

Recently, Obama claimed that 20th century communist strongman Ho Chi Minh "was actually inspired by the U.S. Declaration of Independence and Constitution, and the words of Thomas Jefferson." That pop assertion is improbable, given that Ho systematically liquidated his opponents, slaughtered thousands in land-redistribution schemes, and brooked no dissent.

Even more ahistorical was Vice President Joe Biden's suggestion that George W. Bush should have gone on television in 2008 to address the nation as President Roosevelt had done in 1929 -- a time when there was neither a President Roosevelt nor televisions available for purchase. In 2011, a White House press kit confused Wyoming with Colorado -- apparently because they're both rectangular-shaped states out West.

Our geographically and historically challenged leaders are emblematic of disturbing trends in American education that include a similar erosion in grammar, English composition and basic math skills.

The controversial Lois Lerner, a senior official at the IRS -- an agency whose stock and trade are numbers -- claimed that she was "not good at math" when she admitted that she did not know that one-fourth of 300 is 75.

In the zero-sum game of the education curriculum, each newly added therapeutic discipline eliminated an old classical one. The result is that if Americans emote more and have more politically correct thoughts on the environment, race, class and gender, they are less able to advance their beliefs through fact-based knowledge.

Despite supposedly tough new standards and vast investments, about 56 percent of students in recent California public school tests did not perform up to their grade levels in English. Only about half met their grade levels in math.

A degree from our most prestigious American university is no guarantee that such a graduate will know the number of states or the location of Savannah. If we wonder why the Ivy League-trained Obama seems confused about where cities, countries and continents are, we might remember that all but one Ivy League university eliminated their geography departments years ago.

As a rule now, when our leaders allude to a place or an event in the past, just assume their references are dead wrong.


Who Teaches The Teachers?

The Kansas City Public Library recently hosted a presentation by and conversation with National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) President Kate Walsh. The discussion focused on the NCTQ’s new release, “Teacher Prep Review: A Review of the Nation’s Teacher Prep Programs.” The study was supported in part by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation.

According to its release:

The Review looked at 1,130 institutions that prepare 99 percent of the nation’s traditionally trained teachers.

Overwhelmingly, it found that U.S. colleges and universities are turning out first-year teachers with inadequate knowledge and classroom management skills. On a four-star scale, less than 10 percent of rated programs earned three stars or more.

One startling finding that Walsh highlighted: There often are higher academic standards to play football than to get into a school of education. In fact, many of the report’s findings were damning of schools of education, including in Missouri and Kansas.

Walsh saved her most pointed comments for early education approaches to teaching reading. She said many schools do not emphasize the proven methods for teaching reading. Too often education students are told they will figure out their own methods of class management and reading instruction, even when there is research indicating some approaches are better than others.

University of Missouri administrators may have expected they would perform poorly, as they actually denied researchers access to teacher syllabi, claiming they were intellectual property and protected under federal copyright law. A judge has ruled in favor of the school’s refusal. That’s right, the university system did not want to share even an outline of what it teaches its students, the same outlines that are distributed to students at the beginning of the course.

That is too bad, but their resistance won’t last long. NCTQ will be conducting a study of education schools each year and publishing the results in partnership with U.S. News & World Report, which has become the standard-bearer for university ratings. Missouri will eventually have to share with everyone exactly what it teaches its would-be teachers. We can’t move forward without knowing where we are right now; universities should support this. Moreover, students should have access to this information when deciding which college they would like to attend.


GCSE students collecting A* grades 'like Boy Scout badges': Number has QUADRUPLED in just nine years

The sheer scale of GCSE grade inflation under Labour has been laid bare by new figures.  There has been a fourfold increase in the numbers of pupils achieving more than ten A*s in nine years.

Thousands of teenagers have been routinely collecting a raft of top A* grades, like ‘boy Scout or Girl Guide badges’, experts say.

In 2003, the number of pupils in England gaining more than ten A* grades – meant only for exceptional students – was just 379. But by 2012 that had risen to 1,577.

The figures, coming ahead of this years’ GCSE results next week, show there has also been a doubling in the number of students racking up at least seven A*s. That is up from 9,176 to 18,620.

The number achieving at least two A*s has gone up by 50 per cent and there has been a 40 per cent rise in those getting at least one A*.

The figures revealing how the qualification has been devalued over the last decade came to light as part of data released by the Department for Education yesterday under the Freedom of Information Act.

Professor Alan Smithers, of the Centre for Education and Employment Research at Buckingham University, said the figures reveal ‘blatant’ grade inflation.

‘A* was brought in for exceptional achievement so that we could distinguish between those who were doing extremely well and those who were outstanding,’ he said yesterday.

‘The fact that some candidates are clocking up a host of them like boy Scout or Girl Guide badges means they haven’t been doing their job properly.’

‘Children have been getting inflated ideas about their capabilities and in many cases would have been disappointed by what they could actually do at A-level and university.

It’s good that this has now been recognised and the Government and Ofqual are getting on top of the problem,’ he added.

The A* grade was introduced in 1994 when it was awarded to just 2.9 per cent of entries.

Last year, almost two decades of grade inflation ground to a halt when 7.3 per cent of entries were awarded an A* – down 0.5 percentage points on 2011.

There was also a fall in the proportion of A* to C grades, the first since GCSEs were first awarded in 1988.

It followed a directive to exam boards from standards watchdog Ofqual that they must do more to contain grade inflation.

Pupils passed 69.4 per cent of GCSEs at grades A* to C last year, down 0.4 percentage points on 2011.

The figures come as hundreds of thousands of teenagers across the country brace themselves for a further stalling in GCSE results next week.

Grades are expected to dip, particularly in science, amid a toughening up of papers.

Damian Hinds, Conservative MP for East Hampshire, said: ‘The Government is getting rid of modules, scrapping excessive coursework and stopping grade inflation in its tracks.

'Yet Labour opposed every one of these measures. It’s becoming clearer than ever that a vote for Labour is a vote for dumbing down.’


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