Public education in America has today morphed into something I barely recognize as education. Yes, there are still thousands of dedicated teachers working hard (in many cases for little pay) to ensure that America’s children know how to read, write, and do basic math. However, when large portions of American high school graduates do not know basic, simple geography or history, something is really wrong. It’s not just that kids are being misinformed about the world around us; it appears to me (and to many other educators and concerned parents) that schoolchildren are simply not being taught certain disciplines and subjects that we all took for granted just a generation or two ago. Here is a quick list of the subjects that many public schools no longer teach, and why that matters.
1. Cursive handwriting
Public schools have been eliminating the teaching of cursive handwriting. You may be thinking this is no big deal. When do we use cursive handwriting? Nobody writes long letters anymore; we just text on a keyboard, so who needs cursive?
This video makes the point that learning cursive writing is good for your brain!
Fortunately, some public schools are bringing this back. In this article, the author lists several historical, artistic, and cognitive reasons why learning cursive handwriting is critical. Here is another article making some of the same points. I know I remember things better when I write them down in my cursive writing. I know I use my signature several times a day. And I know that as a historian, it is important to be able to decipher the handwriting of original documents (like the Declaration of Independence or the U.S. Constitution).
2. American history
There is a special dearth of knowledge about the history of our nation in many “social studies” classes in our nation’s schools. And you see this blatant ignorance whenever you try to hold a conversation with someone who repeats the slogans that America was founded as a racist/bigoted/patriarchal/unfair/homophobic (name your cultural Marxist term of the day) nation. The ones I have spoken to could not tell me the names of the founding documents of our country (the Mayflower Compact, the Fundamental Orders of Connecticut, the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, the Declaration of Independence, and the Constitution), or even in what century the American war for independence was fought.
I am a Civil War reenactor, and a few years ago I was asked to come in uniform to speak to a fourth-grade class. The teacher told me that she just got finished teaching the kids about the surrender at “uh-POM-uh-tocks” (that’s how she pronounced Appomattox (properly pronounced “ap-o-MA-tucks”). I could not believe the teacher mispronounced a name that everyone familiar with U.S. history should know. (I quietly told her the correct pronunciation.) If she got something as basic as the pronunciation of a great historical event wrong, what else was she teaching erroneously? I have met teens and adults who didn’t have a clue as to who Robert E. Lee and Ulysses Grant were, or what color uniforms the two sides used. The same people had no idea when World War II was fought, how long it lasted, who fought whom, and who the major leaders were (including our own president). Shouldn’t kids be learning all this in school?
Here is a video of blissfully, embarrassingly uneducated Americans who are at the lowest level of ignorance (they don’t know what they don’t know — and they don’t care).
How long can a nation last when its kids do not know and value its founding or the greatness of its victories as well as the shame of some things in its past?
Do you know what continent the longest river in the world is on? Did you say Africa? Great! Yes, the Nile River is on a continent, Africa, and stretches through several countries on that continent (Egypt, Sudan, South Sudan, and Uganda are some of the nations the river touches, with the Blue Nile flowing into Ethiopia). I am surprised at how many teens and adults still do not know that Africa is NOT a country! It is a continent with 54 countries (like Egypt, Congo, Nigeria, Kenya, Zambia) within that continent.
Here is an interview between Jay Leno and some Americans about their knowledge of geography. It is painful and embarrassing to watch.
In this video, the question is, “What does D.C. stand for in Washington, D.C.?” Note the response of the college history major at the 33-second mark:
Can your kids name all fifty states in the U.S.? Do they know all the state capitals? Do they know where the U.S. is geographically in relation to other nations? Do they know where our trading partners (and competitors) such as Japan, China, France, and Great Britain are? How can we know our history if we don’t understand and appreciate the great lengths people took to get here?
How can we appreciate the enormous sacrifice of our military in World War II if we do not see on a map how the U.S. could field and supply not just one, but TWO massive armies on opposite sides of the earth in order to defeat the Nazis and the Imperial Japanese? Just look at the Pacific Ocean — the entire field of operations against the Japanese was larger than the entire continental United States! And we fed and clothed and armed our armed forces over that vast expanse for four years to defeat the Japanese. Geography is essential in order to know history — and to understand how to get around from point A to point B. Without a good knowledge of geography, we’re just ignorant.
The recent spate of harassment and violence (especially with the Antifa thugs) tells me that our education system has done a very poor job in educating our youth about government. In fact, this article from The Federalist makes the case that some classes, under the guise of “civics,” actually teach high school kids to hate America. It is amazing how people still blurt out that America is a democracy, or that it was founded as a democracy, or that democracy is a good thing. The United States of America was not founded as a democracy (thank God). Our nation was founded as a republic — to be exact, a constitutional republic. And there is a HUGE difference between the two. Here is a great video explaining the differences:
Do your kids know — I mean really know — the wording of the First Amendment to the Constitution? Do they know the Second Amendment, the Fourth and Fifth Amendments? Do they understand the importance of the presumption of innocence and that a court must produce evidence in order to convict — or do they want the media and crazies clawing at the doors of the Supreme Court convicting people?
Here is Jay Leno again with a citizenship test for the “man on the street”:
Are your kids learning that the Constitution was written to RESTRICT the government in our lives, and NOT to seize property and redistribute what we earn in order to give it to others the government deems more worthy?
Do your kids know the Fourteenth Amendment and the history behind it? Do they believe in an imperial presidency, or do they understand the idea of “separation of powers”? Where do we get this idea that the president is the end-all and be-all in our government? I don’t care who the president is — the Constitution was written to make Congress the most powerful branch. The enumerated powers of Congress are listed in Article 1 of the Constitution and not in Article III or VII for a reason. Do our kids even know what “enumerated powers” are? Do they know what the Electoral College is and why it is a very good thing? This is an article I wrote earlier this year about a very bad movement in our nation, led by very ignorant people, to destroy the Electoral College.
If we continue to graduate students who are barely educated in how and why our government is a constitutional republic and not a democracy (mob rule), then we are really headed for a world of hurt. If your school does have dedicated teachers who are seriously teaching a good civics curriculum, then God bless them. Support them and help them out all you can.
5. Classical literature
Western Civilization is rich and deep with meaningful stories that probe the depths of the human mind and make us think. It’s important to be familiar with the rich literature of other cultures (like from Asia and Africa, for example), but by and large, America is the product of the advancement of thousands of years of Western European civilization. I know that statement is something the Left wants to wipe out. Somehow, they believe that the civilization that gave us the freest societies ever — with the great values of freedom of speech, religion, assembly, the liberation of women, and the greatest technological and economic advances in 6,000 years of recorded history — is bad. Chinese civilization, as amazing as it is, did not give us these advances. Neither did African or Arabic civilizations. The Western Europeans did, and they left us vast literature that has stood the test of time.
It’s important to know the works of Homer, Euripides, Aeschylus, and Aristophanes. The epic stories of Julius Caesar, Beowulf, Geoffrey Chaucer, Dante, Shakespeare, and Cervantes. The tragedies, comedies, philosophies, and histories were all read and valued by America’s early founders as they thought about what America would be. (Aristotle may be a little tough for a kid in the fifth grade, but our junior high or senior high school students certainly could stand some lessons in logic from the great Greek philosophers.)
Kenneth Branagh delivers one of the greatest speeches of all time (the “St. Crispin’s Day”/”Band of Brothers” speech) in this movie version of “Henry V”:
In addition to these writings, our founders also voraciously read, admired (and in many cases steadfastly believed) the Bible. Although Christians like myself do not put the Bible on the same level as the classical writings of the ancients, it certainly has stood the test of time and should be read as English literature in classes across the land, if for no other reason than to know where so many of our figures of speech and illustrations come from. Of course, the Bible’s exciting stories, moving poetry, moral lessons, and keen insight into human nature wouldn’t hurt either.
Fortunately, there are classical schools popping up around the country, not only in homeschool communities but also as private schools and charter schools. America needs to read To Kill a Mockingbird, Fahrenheit 451, 1984 and Atlas Shrugged, but we also need a good solid foundation in the thinking of the great men and women who lived long ago.
If your public school is still teaching these things, wonderful. If not, and they are not willing to change, then it’s up to you to make sure your children get a solid education in history, geography, handwriting, civics, and classical literature. There are libraries filled with books and movies that can fill in the blanks. There are also museums and living history demonstrations. If America’s children go back to a more classical education, that will be a step toward a brighter future for America’s education. If not, then we’ll get more of the same.