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Author Topic: College Student Ignorance: When should we despair?
Logoboros
We Three Blings


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Okay, this semester I taught a 1000-level Literature topics class on Norse Myth and Saga. This means the students were mostly sophomore and junior non-majors. For the students' first test, they had to be able to identify the major Scandinavian countries (Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Iceland), England, Scotland, Ireland, and the Faroe Islands on a map of the North Atlantic. For the most part, they did okay.

At the end of the semester, having only told them to review their previous tests, I had them fill in the same map, but only labelling Norway, Sweden, Iceland, England, and Scotland.

Now, if they mixed up Norway and Sweden, that's maybe understandable. But out of a class of twenty-three, I had seven students who still couldn't identify England correctly. And it wasn't like they just reversed England and Scotland. They were putting England and Scotland on completely separate landmasses.

Is it too much to think that someone who's in college should be able to locate England on a friggin' map? Would it really have been outrageous if I had chosen to dock an enormous amount of points from those tests (I didn't, but I was supremely PO'd)? Should someone be able to pass a class that studied almost exclusively Icelandic writing if they still haven't bothered to learn where Iceland is, or pass an English class not knowing where England is?

These kids did, but I feel like I've let society down by letting them through.

Interestingly, I don't feel like I somehow failed to educate these students -- I had maps attached to virtually every presentation I gave, there were maps in the book that I referred them to regularly -- and, hell, it was on the first test. You'd think a student might assume there'd be some value in actually committing to their long-term memory the location of England. If I failed, it was in not making the consequences of failure disasterous enough.

Or maybe it is my fault. Anyone got another viewpoint? Should we be able to expect decent minimum standards of knowledge, or at least better standards of achievement?

And is it any wonder that getting a B.A. is increasingly being seen as little more than high school Part II? And taken just about as seriously?

--Logo"AAARRRGGGHHHH!"boros

Edited to add Denmark to the original list of Scandinavian countries, lest I offend our Danish friends -- it was on the original test. As was Lappland (only roughly indicated, though).

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"If Men were Wise, the Most arbitrary Princes could not hurt them. If they are not wise, the Freest Government is compelld to be a Tyranny."

--William Blake

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Nick Theodorakis
We Three Blings


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quote:
Originally posted by Logoboros:
Okay, this semester I taught a 1000-level Literature topics class on Norse Myth and Saga. This means the students were mostly sophomore and junior non-majors. For the students' first test, they had to be able to identify the major Scandinavian countries (Norway, Sweden, Finland, Iceland),...

Is Finland part of Scandinavia? If so, why?

Nick

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Lydia Oh Lydia
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I'm not saying that's not frustrating ... I would think most college students should know where England is for goodness sakes. But, do you think they thought: I'm not studying the maps, this is a lit class? Do you think the map portion caught them by surprise? I mean, I know you said to review the previous tests, but did you specifically tell them maps would be on the test?

BTW, I have taught graduate students (as an adjunct). I can't tell you how many times I've said something like, "Before you do this assignment, make sure you read these five pages. You must read these five pages." Then, upon reviewing their papers, it is obvious that 90% of them did not read those particular pages.

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"My name is the symbol for my identity and must not be lost." Motto of the Lucy Stone League.

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Logoboros
We Three Blings


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Nick: Well, it's a debatable question. Finland has been called part of Scandinavia, though today this is somewhat out-of-fashion for official usage. But for my class (and for the medieval time period) it was fair enough to cluster the three countries together.

Lydia: My response would be that maybe there are some things that any self-respecting person should feel they ought to know. If you're an English-speaking American, or living in Western culture generally, being able to find England on a map is one of those things.

Though it makes me a touch uneasy, I think I have to side with some of the more conservative educational theorists and support the idea of a certain canon of basic knowledge. There's a real push (especially at state schools like the one I teach at) for student specialization -- that's partly because college (four-year Bachelor's style) is increasingly understood to be essentially Vo-Tec school for white-collar jobs. You learn what you have to to get the job you want, and everything else is seen as a waste of your time. That's a very poor conception of higher education, to my way of thinking. If that's what society wants, it would be far more efficient to create some kind of corporate apprenticeship -- don't clog my humanities classroom with people whose intention is to give only the bare minimum necessary effort to get the credit they need, and who have little better than contempt (or at least absolute indifference) to the course material. I'm tired of exerting my energy trying to motivate students who aren't in college to learn but just to get their required credentials.

--Logoboros

ETA: also, a further defense of the maps beyond the "basic knowledge" point: 90% of the literature we were reading involved people travelling to and from Iceland and Norway, with regular expeditions and adventures in England and Scotland. That's why every saga had a map attached to it. To understand the stories adequately you needed to understand the basic layout of the geography. But you could "get by" without consulting the maps, and that's probably what a fair number of the students did.

Edited further because proofreading is important, even on message boards.

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"If Men were Wise, the Most arbitrary Princes could not hurt them. If they are not wise, the Freest Government is compelld to be a Tyranny."

--William Blake

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Cervus
Ding Dong! Merrily on High Definition TV


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quote:
Originally posted by Logoboros:
Should someone be able to pass a class that studied almost exclusively Icelandic writing if they still haven't bothered to learn where Iceland is, or pass an English class not knowing where England is?

Well, according to the Florida public school system, I guess the answer's yes, since at no time in any English class did we ever look at a map or have to demonstrate knowledge of geography.

quote:
My response would be that maybe there are some things that any self-respecting person should feel they ought to know. If your an English-speaking American, or living in Western culture generally, being able to find England on a map is one of those things.
The attitude of "there are some things any self-respecting person should ought to know" is rather antagonistic, don't you think?

Unfortunately, the specialization you mentioned is probably a factor here. Too many students don't want a "liberal" education where subjects and information overlap. You mentioned most of the students are non-majors. Does this mean they're not English majors, or not in the humanities field at all?

(Do I dare point out the irony of your grammatical error? [Razz] )

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"There is no constitutional right to sleep with endangered reptiles." -- Carl Hiaasen
Won't somebody please think of the adults!

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Logoboros
We Three Blings


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Antagonistic? Well, perhaps a bit. I guess what I'm getting at is that I would expect someone to feel embarrassed or even self-reproaching at not being able to locate England on a map -- that you would feel bad about this kind of ignorance and desire to rectify it.

Instead I keep encountering people who seem to just shrug and say "Yeah, I don't know it. I don't care" (admittedly I haven't gotten this from any of the students in this class -- I haven't gotten to talk to them since the last test). Even worse are those who actually take pride in how far they've gotten without learning anything. One of my friend's brothers after his graduation boasted that he'd gotten his 2.8 and couldn't tell you a single thing about most of his classes (he didn't "need" them, anyway, since his future career was going to train him up from scratch anyway). From his point of view, he had "beaten the system" by not having ever to do more work than an absolute minimum -- and being able to spend the rest of his time getting wasted.

So, yeah, maybe I'm a little bitter. I'm willing to grant "to each his own," but if "your own" doesn't involve committing yourself to college learning, get the hell out of my college classroom.

--Logoboros

PS: I make no guarantees about the quality of my typing of homophonic contractions and/or possessives on message-board posts! [Big Grin]

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"If Men were Wise, the Most arbitrary Princes could not hurt them. If they are not wise, the Freest Government is compelld to be a Tyranny."

--William Blake

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Robofication, Lightly Roasted
Jingle Bell Hock


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What's even more depressing is that high school students identified Canada as Mexico.

I have the worksheets to prove it. Scary, non?

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"As convenient as it may be, it's time I started taking responsibility for the messes I've created instead of always blaming everything on the law of entropy"

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Lydia Oh Lydia
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Mixing up Canada and Mexico? Wow, that is scary.

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"My name is the symbol for my identity and must not be lost." Motto of the Lucy Stone League.

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martin-at-work
I'll Be Home for After Christmas Sales


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quote:
Originally posted by Robofication, Lightly Roasted:
What's even more depressing is that high school students identified Canada as Mexico.

I have the worksheets to prove it. Scary, non?

On your next worksheets, put a big arrow up the top with the words "This end up".
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Robofication, Lightly Roasted
Jingle Bell Hock


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quote:
Originally posted by martin-at-work:
quote:
Originally posted by Robofication, Lightly Roasted:
What's even more depressing is that high school students identified Canada as Mexico.

I have the worksheets to prove it. Scary, non?

On your next worksheets, put a big arrow up the top with the words "This end up".
I thought Florida served that purpose. [Wink]

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"As convenient as it may be, it's time I started taking responsibility for the messes I've created instead of always blaming everything on the law of entropy"

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woohmom
Remembrances of Things Bass


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Well I graduated college with a respectable GPA, I'm darn good at my job (that involves knowing a lot of things useless to the average person on a daily basis), have a number of other skills (that involve useless facts to the average person), but labeling countries (and even US states) is definitely not a strong suit. I would have looked at a map in your class and to understand the story would have said, "Yep, that's a long way through ice/tall trees/mountains/whatever" and not learned the countries. I am seriously geographically impaired. (I think it might be related to my inability to understand spacial concepts and my name and date impairment.) In history classes I learned maps long enough to pass the test (and that was with all my memory tricks), but it didn't stick. I'd be annoyed to have a map test in a literature class quite frankly. Map tests in general seem silly. If I need to know where a Scandinavian country is, I'll look at a map. I don't need it memorized.

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Logoboros
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But do you think it would be useful to know at least that England and Scotland are on the same landmass?

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"If Men were Wise, the Most arbitrary Princes could not hurt them. If they are not wise, the Freest Government is compelld to be a Tyranny."

--William Blake

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Trowa
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quote:
Originally posted by woohmom:
Map tests in general seem silly. If I need to know where a Scandinavian country is, I'll look at a map. I don't need it memorized.

I'm going to agree with Logoboros and say that geography is just one of those things everyone needs to know. It's essential to an understanding the world.

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If you shut up truth and bury it under the ground, it will but grow, and gather to itself such explosive power that the day it bursts through it will blow up everything in its way. -Emile Zola

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Ramblin' Dave, quietly making noise
Markdown, the Herald Angels Sing


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quote:
Originally posted by Cervus:
quote:
Originally posted by Logoboros:
Should someone be able to pass a class that studied almost exclusively Icelandic writing if they still haven't bothered to learn where Iceland is, or pass an English class not knowing where England is?

Well, according to the Florida public school system, I guess the answer's yes, since at no time in any English class did we ever look at a map or have to demonstrate knowledge of geography.
Same with when I was a kid. Which might be why a classmate of mine in high school was asked to point to his home-state on a map, and pointed at Florida when we were really from New Hampshire. [Eek!]

Which sums up my view of this pretty well. American schools in general don't teach geography. So I can see why the OP is bothersome, but it doesn't surprise me.

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Another lifetime I'd have fallen in love with you
Swept away by my feelings, ashamed and confused
But just now it's enough to be walking with you
Let the mystery play as it will! -Lui Collins

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Logoboros
We Three Blings


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I'm not sure I'm saying that everyone "needs" to know geography, exactly. But people should recognize that geography is important. One should make a good faith effort to learn what geography one can. I realize some people may not be able to do very well at it, even with good intentions, because they have some significant spatial-cognitive impairment. But I seriously doubt that this explains the 30% who failed the map in my class. Judging by their failures on purely literary-based terms as well that they just don't care.

I can understand them not caring about Norse sagas. Fine. But the location of England strikes me as one of those things that even a cynical student might assume would be useful to learn whether or not they were going to be tested on it.

--Logoboros

--------------------
"If Men were Wise, the Most arbitrary Princes could not hurt them. If they are not wise, the Freest Government is compelld to be a Tyranny."

--William Blake

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Cervus
Ding Dong! Merrily on High Definition TV


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quote:
Originally posted by Logoboros:
But do you think it would be useful to know at least that England and Scotland are on the same landmass?

Apparently it hasn't been useful for me, because after reading this I thought "They are?" and I actually pulled out a map to check. I knew there was an island to the west of England, but I had confused Scotland with Ireland.

Geography is important, but often there's just so MUCH of it that I think some people get overwhelmed. For example, I know a few major rivers of the world but I don't remember if the Rhine's in France or Germany, or both. It's just not important enough for me to know that. Perhaps the students felt the same? However, that's no excuse for mixing up Canada and Mexico when you're American.

quote:
Now, if they mixed up Norway and Sweden, that's maybe understandable.
So it's "maybe understandable" if I mixed up Scotland and Ireland, I guess.

I have a good grasp of geography and when I was younger I enjoyed looking at maps because I liked all the pretty colors. [Smile] But usually I have a general idea of where countries are, but I don't think about them unless they directly affect me. I am not making excuses for the students, but perhaps they figured knowing the general area was good enough, especially if they had no plans to visit and weren't affected by anything relating to the country.

When I was in elementary school we had to learn all the countries on every continent (and their capitals) over the course of the year. I remember students complaining even back then. But after 7th grade, geography was dropped entirely and we all skated through high school without ever being required to learn it.

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"There is no constitutional right to sleep with endangered reptiles." -- Carl Hiaasen
Won't somebody please think of the adults!

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Logoboros
We Three Blings


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Also, lest I be misunderstood, I'm not complaining just that they didn't know where England was as though they'd never been taught geography at all.

Even though I wouldn't have thought I should need to teach college students where England is -- I did it anyway. The biggest failure is that after having been taught this and having been tested on it, they forgot it in less than 10 weeks.

They didn't learn it in any meaningful way the first time, since they didn't retain it. And yet they'll be able to get through the rest of school using exactly the same kinds of "learning" techniques. This is not obscure or trivial information. It's not something that only has one purpose. It is something we were using and referring to throughout the entire course.

That information should have been learned. And if I were vicious enough (though I'm not) I'd say you shouldn't have successfully passed the course without it. And -- and this is the real point -- you should have felt bad about not having learned it. And I don't believe the majority of these kids did.

--Logoboros

--------------------
"If Men were Wise, the Most arbitrary Princes could not hurt them. If they are not wise, the Freest Government is compelld to be a Tyranny."

--William Blake

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Christie
The Bills of St. Mary's


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quote:
Originally posted by woohmom:
Map tests in general seem silly. If I need to know where a Scandinavian country is, I'll look at a map. I don't need it memorized.

But it would be useful, surely, to have at least a basic idea of where to look on that map? I can certainly understand not knowing precisely where Norway (for example) is on an unmarked map - but I would hope that someone trying to locate it would be looking on the right section of the right continent.

ETA: And I don't believe that college students should have to *learn* where England is on a map. That's just something I would have thought (obviously wrongly!!) that they would know by then.

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If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs, it's just possible you haven't grasped the situation. - Jean Kerr

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Cervus
Ding Dong! Merrily on High Definition TV


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quote:
Originally posted by Logoboros:
I can understand them not caring about Norse sagas. Fine. But the location of England strikes me as one of those things that even a cynical student might assume would be useful to learn whether or not they were going to be tested on it.

Personally, it would never occur to me that England would play heavily in Norse sagas. I suppose since many of your students were non-majors in an introductory class, they assumed they'd just be reading mythology.

And don't you know not to assume that "cynical students" think anything is worth learning if it's not on the exam? [Wink]

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"There is no constitutional right to sleep with endangered reptiles." -- Carl Hiaasen
Won't somebody please think of the adults!

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Logoboros
We Three Blings


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To complicate the issue a bit further (perhaps) I can say that most of the students didn't even know what the topic of the class was until they walked in on the first day -- they told me so. They had just registered for a class # that met their gen-ed requirements.

So virtually none of them (even the good students) had any vested interest in the material. It was just a hurdle they had to overcome.

And I'm very familiar with mercenary student attitudes. But that doesn't make me any happier that "education" is more and more being defined as the passing of a set of tests (even, or especially, at the grade-school level) rather than the genuine acquisition (and retention) of knowledge. It has become a credentialing process, not a developmental one.

--Logoboros

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"If Men were Wise, the Most arbitrary Princes could not hurt them. If they are not wise, the Freest Government is compelld to be a Tyranny."

--William Blake

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Silas Sparkhammer
I Saw V-Chips Come Sailing In


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A geographical map is one of the densest forms of information available. A map is absolutely packed with data. Geographical, political, environmental, meteorological.

Kids should be exposed to maps at an early age. Kids should be *using* maps at an early age, to see where they are. Kids should be able to find their house, their street, their town, their state or province, their country, their continent, and their planet, all before they're able to leave their house on their own.

Ignorance of *place* is every bit as unforgiveable as ignorance of history, spelling, or arithmetic.

And don't turn it into a memorization drill: "What is the capital of Kentucky?" That's just rote crap, and adds very little to true understanding.

Silas

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Joe Bentley
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I have an almost infinite amount more respect for critical thinking skills then I have for the raw accumilation of facts.

My main problem with the way modern schools are ran is their total devotion to simple memorization. The main reason for this is that 4 hour long, 150 question clusterf*ck that is the SAT. I've always said that they need to remade the American Public School System "The 12 Year Long SAT Prep Class." After all if that's all you're going to care about, be honest.

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"Existence has no pattern save what we imagine after staring at it for too long." - Rorschach, The Watchmen

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EthanMitchell
Deck the Malls


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Logob-

I think your last post really gets to the heart of the matter. Here's my view--and please don't take this as an attack on teachers. I teach, a little bit. This is an attack on a kind of schooling:

Most students coming into college, and many students even going into grad school, have not really come to terms with the idea of learning something because it is (a) fun, or (b) intrinsically useful to know. If they have had that experience, it has been practically beaten out of them by the constant chant that learning is functionalist.

You know what I mean, I'm sure. When I ask an eighth grader who I mentor why she is studying Algebra II, she says she is studying it so she can take pre-calc, and she wants to take pre-calc so she can take calculus, and she wants to take calculus so that she can get into a good college. She doesn't know what she wants to study in that college, but she definitely wants to have a college degree. Oh, and she hates math.

I think she's insane, but it isn't her fault. No one in her entire life--not her teachers, not her parents, not her peers--is willing to point out that it is odd to spend a thousand hours of your mortal life studying something you hate, will never use, and will promptly forget, in order to obtain some completely unrelated social benefit.

Canons are not the issue. I don't think you can make people excited about learning by making them ashamed of ignorance. I think you make them excited about learning by showing them that learning is either fun or useful.

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YudanTaiteki
Deck the Malls


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While that is true, critical thinking doesn't do much absent facts. They're both important.

To respond to another poster:
quote:
I think she's insane, but it isn't her fault. No one in her entire life--not her teachers, not her parents, not her peers--is willing to point out that it is odd to spend a thousand hours of your mortal life studying something you hate, will never use, and will promptly forget, in order to obtain some completely unrelated social benefit.
It's not odd at all. I would think it much more insane to be idealistic at the cost of potential scholarship money and future career opportunities.

Also, if you think it's bad in the US you should see a country like Japan with entrance exams. The Japanese school system literally and unashamedly teaches what is on the exams and only what is on the exams. Memorization of lists of authors, works, and birth and death dates is more important than actually having read their work (as long as you can identify the first sentence, you're fine). Critical writing is not taught at all. The teachers are there to help the students pass the entrance exams, not to instill a love of learning or anything like that.

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Cervus
Ding Dong! Merrily on High Definition TV


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quote:
Originally posted by YudanTaiteki:
Also, if you think it's bad in the US you should see a country like Japan with entrance exams. The Japanese school system literally and unashamedly teaches what is on the exams and only what is on the exams. Memorization of lists of authors, works, and birth and death dates is more important than actually having read their work (as long as you can identify the first sentence, you're fine). Critical writing is not taught at all. The teachers are there to help the students pass the entrance exams, not to instill a love of learning or anything like that.

We do have that in Florida; it's the FCAT. Florida Comprehensive Academic Test. The entire school year is based on having all students pass this exam, so the only things taught are what is on the exam at the expense of a rounded, liberal education. We didn't have the FCAT when I was in school, but in 8th grade my class was one of the "test-subjects" when they were developing it.

By the end of high school many of my teachers had started chanting the phrase "I teach to the test", which meant they only taught material that was on the exam and nothing else. That phrase was like a mantra. I hate it, and most people who deal with the Florida public school system hate the FCAT - parents, students, and teachers alike.

It's my understanding that all students have to pass the exam for the school to receive a good "grade", so the entire school year is focused completely on making sure students pass this exam, much like the SAT that Joe Bentley described. Only the FCAT begins in elementary school.

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"There is no constitutional right to sleep with endangered reptiles." -- Carl Hiaasen
Won't somebody please think of the adults!

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mags
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quote:
Originally posted by Silas Sparkhammer:
A geographical map is one of the densest forms of information available. A map is absolutely packed with data. Geographical, political, environmental, meteorological.

Kids should be exposed to maps at an early age. Kids should be *using* maps at an early age, to see where they are. Kids should be able to find their house, their street, their town, their state or province, their country, their continent, and their planet, all before they're able to leave their house on their own.

I agree, but unfortunately it is something that took me the first 20-some years of my life to discover. I do remember around 12 or so discovering how useful the map of an amusement park was, after I had been going there for years. It helped me to really understand how to get around to see everything's relative location (by nature, I tended to be a landmark navigation person rather than a mental map navigation person). What really made me understand the use and value of maps was moving to a suburb of Los Angeles, and becoming the navigator for my SO whenever we were going anywhere. I became amazed at the density of information within my Thomas Guide. Not just streets and freeways, distances and cities, but approximate street numbers, road sizes, locations of certain types of buildings, zip codes, everything. I got to appreciate the map so much, now that we've moved back to Ohio to more or less the area I grew up in, I got a map similar to my Thomas Guide (spiral binding, many pages rather than one big fold-out) for this area. And, I actually use it a fair amount.

When I was a freshman in high school, my History teacher (one of my favorite teachers, a surprise because I always hated history because I can't memorize names and dates for the life of me, actually any rote memorization is beyond me) gave us a test, matching the states' names to their location on a map, and matching certain countries to their capitals. We were able to repeat taking the test until we passed it. The first time I took that test was one of only two times I've ever failed a test (the other was a couple years before that, matching New World explorers' names to what they were known for). I only ever managed to pass the states and capitals test by looking up all the answers after the first test, and figuring out how he had gone about developing his answer key. There was a pattern to it (actually a couple different patterns) that allowed me to answer about half the test, and I was able to match enough of what was left to actually pass.

Three or four years ago, I decided it was silly that I still didn't know the locations of all of the states, and I put up a print-out of the US with the names of all the states on the wall across from my toilet. I am a little better than I was in high school, but I still have problems with the big rectangular states in the middle, and the little states in New England. I have most of the midwest, the west coast, the Dakotas, and the larger states of the east coast and the south more or less down. Driving across country really helped on getting the relative locations of states.

There are people whose intelligence just doesn't lend itself easily to remembering locations they have never visited. I always did very well in other classes (I graduated seventh in my class from high school, and have a bachelor of Mechanical Engineering, graduating with honors), but I just always totally sucked at geography.

However, as sucky as I am at it, I am confident I would be able to place England on a map. I would be able to approximate it even without country divisions. That one is pretty darn easy.

My SO still does make fun of me for the time I forgot where Antarctica was, and I argued with him for awhile about it being north before he showed me a global picture. I know I once had known it was south, but at some point that information went screwy in my head. It blew my mind for a few minutes after he showed me that picture.

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Louise
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They do that for the PSSAs in Pennsylvania also. And then if someone fails it, they get tutoring from the school and have to retake it, which I think is ridiculous.
I'm going into college next year, and I can say for a fact that they don't teach us any geography. I remember vaguely learning how to plot in 9th grade and some US maps in 7th grade. That's the extent.

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"Better to keep your mouth shut and be thought a fool than to open it and remove all doubt." -- Mark Twain

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monkey
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quote:
Kids should be exposed to maps at an early age. Kids should be *using* maps at an early age, to see where they are. Kids should be able to find their house, their street, their town, their state or province, their country, their continent, and their planet, all before they're able to leave their house on their own.
I couldn't agree with you more. Knowing how to read and draw maps is a pretty important skill, IMO. My son is not quite a year, and he's got two huge laminated maps on his bedroom walls just so that he can get used to them and get interested in them. One is of the U.S. and the other is a global map. They hang right above his changing table, one on each wall in the corner of the room, and after he gets his diaper changed I hold onto him while he stands on the table and points things out to me on his maps. Of course it means nothing to him yet, he's just looking at the picture, but I want those maps to be a very familiar picture for him.

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Radical Dory
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My cooperating teacher was lamenting the fact that it seems that between testing and history, there seems to be very little time for geography in public schools (at least in our state, anyway). I worked with a third grade class as part of my early training that had many students that had trouble locating states on a map. I'm talking kids I knew had lived in the U.S. most of or their entire lives and gone to the same school every year. When I was in second grade, our teacher made sure we at least had a general idea where each of the fifty states were; most of these kids had no clue.

I do agree with Logobros and Silas; knowing where something you're studying is is just as important as knowing the culture. When we studied Ireland as part of a unit on St. Patrick's Day, I got out a globe on the first day and showed my first-graders where Ireland was in relation to the United States. They were surprised at how small it was compared to the U.S. In their words, they thought all countries were supposed to be big! [Smile]

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"But about the reindeer...what kind of a nose shines? How did he get it? Maybe it's not a reindeer after all. It could be something else."

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CheseJRS
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I went to a private catholic k-8 school and we had to take geography tests that became more and more complicated as we got older. We took tests on each continent, and learning Europe and Africa werent easy, let me tell you. At least with communism the maps were easier. I remember some of it, but couldnt pinpoint Eritrea or Macedonia, etc, exactly, but I could ball park them. It was worth learning I think.

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-- John

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Logoboros
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In response to Joe and some of the others who have expressed anxiety over rote memorization: memorization of facts is not a technique that can be dismissed out of hand.

I mentioned earlier having some sympathy for a certain conservative approach to knowledge. I'll go ahead and expand on that here. Basically, it all stems from having read E.D. Hirsch's essay "You Can Always Look It Up -- Or Can You?" last year as part of my training as a freshman comp instructor. Hirsh is the guy responsible for the Core Knowledge movement and all those "Everything Your X-grade Should Know" books. I think he makes too much of a hobgoblin out of the progressive counter-position, but he's not a demagogue. He does concede the importance of balance between traditional and progressive approaches.

Basically his position is that the progressive model, which stresses problem-solving over "factual knowledge", has come to unfairly dominate our educational approaches (essentially the opposite of Joe's claim that rote memorization is still dominant). He says:

quote:
There is a consensus in cognitive psychology that it takes knowledge to gain knowledge. Those who repudiate a fact-filled curriculum on the grounds that kids can always look things up miss the paradox that de-emphasizing factual knowledge actually disables children from looking things up effectively. To stress process at the expense of factual knowledge actually hinders children from learning to learn. Yes, the internet has placed a wealth of information at our fingertips. But to be able to use that information to absorb it, to add to our knowledge we must already possess a storehouse of knowledge. That is the paradox disclosed by cognitive research.

[...]

For instance, there is a domain of cognitive science called "expert-novice studies." Two of its leading figures are Herbert A. Simon, the Nobel prize winner, and Jill Larkin, who has co-authored articles on this subject with Simon. Their studies provide an insight into the paradox that you can successfully look something up only if you already know quite a lot about the subject. In these studies, an expert is characteristically a specialist who knows a lot about a field say a chess master or a physicist, whereas a novice knows very little. Since the expert already knows a great deal, you might suppose that she would learn very little when she looked something up. By contrast, you might think that the novice, who has so much to learn, ought to gain a still greater quantity of new information from consulting a dictionary or encyclopedia or the internet. But, on the contrary, it's the expert who learns more that is new, and learns it much faster than the novice. It's extremely hard for a novice to learn very much in a reasonable time by looking things up.

[...]

Another way of stating this is simply to say that the more you know, the smarter you are. Our students become more intelligent when they know more. So does everybody. Researchers have been telling us this fact about human intelligence for many years. Intelligence increases with knowledge. General knowledge is the best single tool in a person's intellectual armory.

It's often asserted that a student's home environment and socioeconomic status are the dominant factors in determining school achievement. But it turns out that an even more important factor is a student's breadth of general knowledge. The correlation between academic achievement and socioeconomic status (.42) is only about half the correlation between academic achievement and general knowledge (.81). "MERE facts" indeed! General knowledge proves to be more important for learning than parents, peers, and neighborhood combined (though of course those factors influence one's breadth of knowledge).

I think in his efforts to swing the pendulum back Hirsch is maybe a bit too confident in the power of "Core Knowledge" (and his tone can sound fairly self-aggrandizing). But I think the basic idea is sound, and it concords with my own experiences.

There is a place for memorizing multiplication tables, and the names of planets, and even states and capitals. You can't get very far on only memorization, but you can't do much with what you don't have, either.

You can read the entire essay here.

--Logoboros

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"If Men were Wise, the Most arbitrary Princes could not hurt them. If they are not wise, the Freest Government is compelld to be a Tyranny."

--William Blake

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Zachary Fizz
Markdown, the Herald Angels Sing


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oops - double post.
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Zachary Fizz
Markdown, the Herald Angels Sing


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I think the problem is not so much that the students don't know, but that they don't care.

Perhaps this is a result of the widespread (but to my mind very harmful) view that university is a means to an end. If the students just see it as a way to get a better job, and ultimately a bigger house, car etc., it makes sense for them not to care about the location of Scotland.

If they see university as a place to enlarge their minds, they will want to know where Scotland is.

Sadly, it seems the students regard learning as a price to be paid, instead of a privilege to be enjoyed.

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Logoboros
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Zachary, I entirely agree.

Though I think that not-caring is facilitated by the belief that if something's important, it can always just be looked up (or you can pay someone to do it for you) -- so why waste your time learning it now?

But how do you address student apathy and/or mercenary-ness (what's a better word for this?)? I know I'm just tainted enough by the Hollywood myth of the Stand-and-Deliver-Dead-Poet's-Society-Dangerous-Minds teacher (and yes, I know two of those are based on true storie) to feel guilty and inadequate that I'm not inspiring my students to start speaking Old Norse and read sagas for pleasure on their own time. But on the other hand, if a student doesn't want to be inspired (because that just makes more work for them) how much is a teacher supposed to be able to achieve?

Teachers blame the students, students (and parents) blame the teachers... what's the way out of that circle?

Though I'm still making up my mind, I'm inclined to side with the teachers. Inspiration can be a powerful and wonderful thing, and there should be as much of it as possible. But is it really the responsibility of some other person to make you care about a subject? Shouldn't caring really start from within? When did being hostile towards learning become an acceptable default position for which it's the teacher's job to overcome?

--Logoboros

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"If Men were Wise, the Most arbitrary Princes could not hurt them. If they are not wise, the Freest Government is compelld to be a Tyranny."

--William Blake

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Richard W
Ding Dong! Merrily on High Definition TV


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quote:
Originally posted by Cervus:
Personally, it would never occur to me that England would play heavily in Norse sagas. I suppose since many of your students were non-majors in an introductory class, they assumed they'd just be reading mythology.

Surely you'd have realized after spending a semester studying them, though?

I thought the most important part of Logoboros's post was this bit, that actually gave the reason why they were studying the maps:

quote:
ETA: also, a further defense of the maps beyond the "basic knowledge" point: 90% of the literature we were reading involved people travelling to and from Iceland and Norway, with regular expeditions and adventures in England and Scotland. That's why every saga had a map attached to it. To understand the stories adequately you needed to understand the basic layout of the geography.
I wouldn't have called that a "further defense" and added it as an afterthought; I would say that was the primary reason. Maybe you could make it clearer why they'll be expected to know the geography next term, then they might pay more attention...?
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