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Teaching U.S. History: We didn’t start the failure…

By See-Dubya  •  May 30, 2008 01:13 PM

This is anecdotal, so I don’t know whether the Billy Joel History Curriculum is part of a trend, but it’s just so depressing:

He’s in 11th grade. His course in American history — or whatever name they disguise that by these days — is coming to an end and the finale is a big project that will largely determine his grade for the quarter. In my high school, the college-tracked kids were taking electives by that time, and I remember writing two 20-page papers, on topics of the student’s choice, approved by the teacher. One of mine was on the legal challenge to Reconstruction after the Civil War, the other was on the Congress of Vienna.

My son’s comparable assignment: To write about the significance of the lyrics of “We Didn’t Start the Fire” by Billy Joel.

And it gets worse. I might be able to grasp that assignment if this was a class of low-achievers who were hyped about nothing but pop music and this was a current hit song. It’s not, they’re not, and it’s not. These are the the district’s college-bound kids.

There’s more, and worse. Don’t worry, though. Those college history departments will no doubt fill in the gaps with a thorough, unbiased, and sympathetic picture of American history. Pretty soon they’ll be able to pass the Diplomad’s “intern test” with ease.

AFTERTHOUGHT: You know, I’d never thought about it, but the song’s message is pretty much conservative–history has been driven by the same forces “since the world was turnin'”. It’s not at all utopian, and it’s rather pessimistic. Fashion and technology change, human nature and the problems we face don’t.

Regardless of which, I can’t see basing a major high school project around the song. Hello, here’s the culmination of my vast research on “Dacron”. I am now a full-fledged American citizen. Next, my classmate Shirley will present in two minutes everything you need to know about “Revolution in Iran”.

MORE: Commenter BrianF1967 reminds me how much worse it could be.

{Post by See-Dubya. H/t to Isaac Schrodinger. Another relevant rumination here.}

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