Did You Learn Useful Stuff in School?

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My class nuked Cuba.

While studying the Cuban Missile Crisis in Honors American History, our teacher broke us into two groups, one to promote history by arguing against nuking the island, and one to try to persuade the class to eliminate the threat. I was put in the group that argued for launching our own missiles before our enemies had a chance.

I'm not going to say that I single-handedly swayed the vote, but we launched the missiles. A great victory for us. I remember my teacher being upset that the class had resorted to violence.

That was a fun opportunity to practice persuasive rhetoric, but aside from fear, I learned nothing about the historical situation. The motivations, observations, and negotiations that took place were lost. I don't think we ever discussed it. Instead, we were told that missiles were being assembled near our coast and asked to debate the merits of a first strike. Of course violence was the proper response!

I thought about Cuba after reading a thought-provoking post about immigration and realized that I know next to nothing about the issues surrounding border control. My class never discussed Ellis Island and the civil unrest of major immigration. Instead, we discussed nuking an island. Had we actually learned about the situations of history (and not just the events), I'd feel a little more capable of making informed decisions about what to support today. As it is, I'm told that people are crossing the border--things are terrible in Mexico--and these illegal immigrants being misused here. But without any lessons from history, any decision feels about as rash as a first strike.

When was the last time I learned anything substantial about immigration?

20 years ago, in Sonlight's Core D and Core E.

I was under the age of 10. Sonlight did a great job of introducing me to the issue, but there's a reason ten-year-olds don't vote. But now I wonder: Isn't a complete lack of knowledge about an issue a good reason to give pause?

While chatting about this with a friend, he asked, "Did you ever learn anything about the national budget in school?"

No. I didn't.

As a life-long learner, this isn't barrier. I can learn. But I'm struck by just how much I learned through Sonlight, even as a young child, and how little I learned when I finally went to "real" school. I'm not alone, as I see many comments from parents who talk about how much they love Sonlight because of all the stuff they learn. But I thought I'd bring it up again: Did you learn useful stuff in school? Have you been enjoying learning (or relearning) the whys--and not just of the whats--of history?

 ~Luke Holzmann
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester

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