I took a brief American Civic Literacy Exam today. I passed with an 85%. That's not great. But I console myself with the idea that I was answering based off information I learned while homeschooled prior to 9th grade. My college and high school American history classes were terrible; I don't think I learned much of anything in them.
As I read through the questions, I was struck afresh by just how absurd tests like these are. What difference does the name of FDR's government programs make to history?
What matters is what the New Deal tried to solve, how it got enacted, and the outcome thereof. That matters to history. The title not nearly as much (unless you're trying to write a paper on the subject and need to know what to google).
So let's try this: What do test results tell us?
- How much the student learned.
- How smart the student is.
- The student's grasp of the subject matter.
- The student's willingness to please.
- How well the student can recall/recognize key elements.
Granted, the ability to recall and recognize stuff is tied to your retention of the data... which does relate to learning. So tests are very effective at getting us data on how much a person can regurgitate back to you.
But education should be much more than that. So what if I know what Lincoln and Douglas debated? Doesn't it matter more why they held the positions they did and the outcome of the exchange?
My growing suspicion is that we do not learn from history not merely because we can't recall the titles, names, dates, and other testable material, but we've failed to remember or consider the reasons why things happened as they did. We repeat history because we do not understand what was done before us. And recalling the proper labels for the branches of our government isn't going to help.
That's why I love Sonlight's approach to history. Not only can I recall more about American history than, apparently, the majority of my fellow Americans, but we also spent time talking about what these events mean. It was more than points of data. We studied history in the context of people's lives, seeing how their actions created outcomes.
How'd you do on the test?
Filmmaker, Writer, Empty Nester
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