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gkelly
10-02-2011, 06:07 PM
Sort of off-topic, but sort of related:

I was at the grocery store last night. The bagger asked the cashier "How do you say goodbye?" I was curious what language they were referring to.

He said "Au revoir." OK, French, got it.

She said "Au like A-U?"

I'm surprised she knew the correct spelling of the word if she'd never studied French. Alternatively, I'm surprised she didn't know how to say goodbye if she had studied it -- that would be something you'd learn during the first week, I'd expect.

vesperholly
10-02-2011, 06:36 PM
If people wanted to read for four hours (or even one hour) a day instead of watching television, they would do so.

:rolleyes: If wishes were horses ... it's lovely that girls at Brearley are learning lots of French. Would that I had all the time and money in the world to culture myself so thoroughly! Alas.


Making every American bilingual may not be practical or realistic, but that is only because we, as a society, have chosen to make it impractical and unrealistic, just as we have chose to undervalue instruction in History and Geography.

It is impractical and unrealistic for the majority of Americans to spend many years worth of time, energy and money to become bilingual for a good reason. Teach what people need first.

Prancer
10-02-2011, 07:09 PM
Maybe. I do wonder whether people in other countries are brought up to look things up more than Americans do. (And, yes, I did try looking that up on Google just now.)

"People in other countries" is such a broad statement that I am not at all surprised that you can't find information on it. Which people? What other countries? What are they looking up? And where?


It's a great idea teaching everyone in the US to be bilingual. It just isn't practical or realistic.

Considering that we have so few fluent foriegn language speakers in the US, and fewer still who are teachers, it certainly isn't at this time.


I'm talking about general geographic knowledge, which includes big cites other the prominent ones which people everywhere pretty much can't avoid knowing the names of (i.e. London, New York, Paris, Tokyo).

Well, frankly, I would be shocked if most Americans couldn't name three major Canadian cities, too, because we pretty much can't avoid knowing the names. However, I have no evidence at all to support this belief, as I have never seen any kind of objective survey on the subject. I don't even have anecdotal evidence, as I don't think I have ever asked anyone to name some Canadian cities. And even if I did, I don't know how useful such a conversation would be, as most people I know have actually been to three Canadian cities (or more), and I don't know how common that is.

I do know that my kids could both name more than three Canadian cities because they learned more than that in school. But that's one school, so that doesn't say anything about the schools in general.

So again, I would be surprised, but I don't know if it's true or not.

However, I know that Canadians like to think of Americans as people who think they live in igloos and have year-round winters and don't know much about anything, so I didn't see much point in arguing that you don't have any real basis for your assertion, either (and I don't get the "even Californians!" bit at all. Why would Californians be expected to know more about Canada than anyone else?). And it is true, I think, that most Americans just don't think about Canada very much. I do have at least some anecdotal support for that.

As for general goegraphic knowledge, the same surveys that show how ignorant Americans are also show that "the rest of the world" is ignorant, too--maybe not quite as ignorant, but certainly the knowledge of geography in general is anything but impressive. As I pointed out at least once or twice in other threads beating on this particular hobby horse, Americans get an F in geography, but the Western world's average is a D-.


That's a pretty sad statement and point of view IMO. It precludes a lot of countries that America has relationships with. And certainly reflects an isolationist stance.

And yet, as Canadians like to remind us, Canadians know so much about America because we're the elephant, yes? You can't avoid us. And so your knowledge of the US, such as it is, is not based on some sort of native curiousity about the world in general, but on basic self interest, the very same thing that drives the average American's interest in other countries.


And, I seriously question whether the average American is concerned about Greek's financial crisis (though I'd say the same for the average Canadian).

But again, you have no actual evidence at all of that, and neither do I. I could tell you that I have had several conversations with people about the Greek economy--and the ramifications of what appears to be an inevitable bankruptcy on the EU, particularly Germany, and the world economy in general, with side forays into Ireland's economy, the euro in general, and how the UK will do since they didn't adopt the Euro. But again, I have no idea how common that is, or what the average American knows about any of this, or how common such conversations are.


However, I should qualify my statement by acknowledging that many Americans are interested in other countries/the world and seek out knowledge of countries/the world.

Yep, even those who aren't particularly interested in Canada.

Vagabond
10-02-2011, 07:42 PM
If wishes were horses ... it's lovely that girls at Brearley are learning lots of French. Would that I had all the time and money in the world to culture myself so thoroughly! Alas.

I did say that it was only the privileged few who were getting that type of education.

On the other hand, if parents, teachers, principals, and entire communities understood how children of the elite in this country are being educated, we wouldn't be hearing all the stories about the demands for easy, feel-good classes with multiple-choice answers that were recounted upthread.


Teach what people need first.

What, exactly, do you believe they need? And, more specifically, since this thread is at least ostensibly about History instruction, what would be your practical and realistic suggestion for a History curriculum for primary and secondary students?


"People in other countries" is such a broad statement that I am not at all surprised that you can't find information on it. Which people? What other countries? What are they looking up? And where?

I was looking for statistics about dictionary use by country, among other things. My surmise is that countries whose people have reputations for doing plenty of reading (Iceland and the Netherlands, for example), would have high rates of dictionary ownership and, more importantly, dictionary use. More broadly, I (like you) would be interested to know of any studies of what people in countries where there is free, compulsory education until the age of eighteen or so, use reference materials, what they look up, and what materials they use. I couldn't find anything, though.

Maybe I'll go to the neighborhood library and ask the reference librarian for assistance. :shuffle:

numbers123
10-02-2011, 07:48 PM
Re: people looking up things/dates if they need to know. I may not always have the facts right or may not have looked up something that I was posting about, but I do use Google to research things. My kids do too. We know that Wiki isn't always accurate. We had the encyclopedias and reference manuals in our house while the kids were growing up. The difficulty with the printed word is that it is quickly outdated. Sometimes before the ink is dry.

When I was in high school a billion years ago, I had to memorize the order of amendments to the Constitution. So did my kids. Wouldn't it have been better to learn what was happening that caused that amendment be part of the Constitution rather than the dates/order.

I learned about the World history in dates again - but still think that it is better to know what the Renaissance period was about than it started and ended ~ 14th Century and lasted 17th Century? as if the dates are the better part of history, why?

What about those cultures who have a different calendar? Not everything is BC and AD.

I do know some Canadian history, some European history, some Eastern history but specific dates, no. I do know in which countries some of the major cities of the World are located: Moscow, London, Toronto, Singapore, Beijing, Paris, Barcelona, Oslo, Sydney, Rome, Athens, Tokyo, Kuwait City, Cairo, Bogota etc. I have a fairly good idea of what their government structure is, but wouldn't want to rely on my memory alone. I would look it up.

I think that it is unreasonable for people outside of the US or really within the US to name all US states and territories. Especially not dates when the states were admitted to the US, something else I memorized for one or more tests than quickly forgot.

ETA: regarding the Greek economy crisis, I don't have specific numbers or data as Prancer pointed out, there isn't a survey or other research tool that I am aware of to tell me if they are or are not worried/informed about the crisis. I know that I am, that my kids, my siblings and other people that I know are. I could probably say with some degree of confidence that there are people who are living day to day with their own economic crisis (like how to feed or shelter themselves and their family) who do not know or are not aware of what the world crisis would be with that situation. They know that they are living moment to moment in their small corner of the world.

PDilemma
10-02-2011, 08:01 PM
When I was in high school a billion years ago, I had to memorize the order of amendments to the Constitution. So did my kids. Wouldn't it have been better to learn what was happening that caused that amendment be part of the Constitution rather than the dates/order.


My government students learned both the reasons and the order. That is possible. Discussion of Constitutional amendments in the press, legal sphere, etc...usually references them by number. You can't understand the commonly used phrase "First Amendment rights" if you only learned the circumstances of the First Amendment without bothering to learn the rights in it and the number it is designated by.

As for the rest of your argument, learning specific dates is really not all that necessary. But trying to learn history without putting it in order is extremely difficult. In that respect, students need to be able to identify centuries and sometimes decades. Knowing that the Depression occurred in the 1930s and what the phrase "roaring 20s" means puts history in cause/effect perspective and gives better understanding of the relationship of events. Nothing happened in a vacuum. The Red scares of the 50s contributed to our involvement in Vietnam in the 60s--being able to identify those events by decade helps to put that causal relationship into perspective and to understanding the big picture. That doesn't mean anyone has to learn the date McCarthy died or that LBJ announced the deployment of combat troops.

Prancer
10-02-2011, 08:22 PM
On the other hand, if parents, teachers, principals, and entire communities understood how children of the elite in this country are being educated, we wouldn't be hearing all the stories about the demands for easy, feel-good classes with multiple-choice answers that were recounted upthread.

:lol: Well, again, I have no evidence, but I don't think that's a safe assumption at all.


I was looking for statistics about dictionary use by country, among other things. My surmise is that countries whose people have reputations for doing plenty of reading (Iceland and the Netherlands, for example), would have high rates of dictionary ownership and, more importantly, dictionary use.

Interesting choice. I read all the time, everything from trash to treasure, and I can't remember the last time I used a dictionary, or even considered it. I don't find dictionaries particularly useful.

Never mind, I DO remember the last time I used a dictionary, or at least considered using a dictionary. A few months ago, one of my colleagues asked me to look up the word rodomontade. One of her students used it in a paper and she asked me to look because I have the most comprehensive reference book collection in my office. I Googled it instead, though, so I'm not sure that counts.

Vagabond
10-02-2011, 08:39 PM
Never mind, I DO remember the last time I used a dictionary, or at least considered using a dictionary. A few months ago, one of my colleagues asked me to look up the word rodomontade.

You had to look that up?! :wideeyes: :eek: :scream:

;)

Matryeshka
10-02-2011, 09:11 PM
As an educator, I've never found dictionaries particularly useful for students younger than high school. Definitions are often unclear, and when you get to words that have different meanings depending on how it's used/what part of speech it is, you can see students' eyes starts to roll back into their heads. I've seen relatively smart students look up a word...then have to look up a word in the definition...then look up another word, and by the end of all that, the student has a very interesting notion of what the original word means.

I've found a thesaurus to be much more helpful than a dictionary for most students. Usually, if the list has five or more synonyms, the student is familiar with at least one. For the word sticking, IME, it's been better for me to just give a definition with at least three examples that I know are relevant to the student, and ask the student to give me his own definition. It makes my teeth cringe as a substitute when the assignment involves the students writing def of vocabulary, reading the section, answering the question. I don't think anybody ever really learned anything doing that, and if they do, teachers are relatively pointless.


I


I was looking for statistics about dictionary use by country, among other things. My surmise is that countries whose people have reputations for doing plenty of reading (Iceland and the Netherlands, for example), would have high rates of dictionary ownership and, more importantly, dictionary use. More broadly, I (like you) would be interested to know of any studies of what people in countries where there is free, compulsory education until the age of eighteen or so, use reference materials, what they look up, and what materials they use. I couldn't find anything, though.


So you don't actually have any evidence that dictionary use has anything to do with anything.

My surmise is schools use the resources they have available to them, and in every country, some schools have more resources than others. Schools do the best with what they have. Ideally, students are using materials that will help them the most to become productive adults.

I would also surmise that percentage-wise, at most, 10-15% of any country that enforces compulsary education really takes advantage of the resources available and are truly interested in learning rather than doing well enough to get on with things. I don't care if it's Russia, the US, Canada, Ireland, Japan, whatever--the amount of people truly interested in the world around them are typically people that have more time, more money, and more of a vested interested in the world at large. I would further surmise that the majority, from 55-70% remember some vague things from school, had a vague notion that they talked about amendments, string theory, and the quadratic formula in school but can't really explain them. The remaining 10-15% are those people who make you weep for humanity, and those people exit in every country. Yes, even in the Netherlands. Even in Canada :eek: The willfully ignroant are everywhere.

Most people, no matter what their country of origin, pay more attention to politics during an election cycle or if there's some cataclysmic/unexpected even in the world, but for the most part just skim the headlines while taking their coffee break. There's nothing wrong with that either. I can name all the countries and capitals of Africa AND put them in their proper place WITHOUT the borders being shown. I can impress people who are easily impressed. But I'm still unemployed, and it's not something I'm going to put on a resume. It's little more than a parlor trick. It would be more useful if I knew programming languages or statistics or how to cook a steak without it being burned on the outside and cold in the middle.

The single mother working three jobs and raising two kids alone--knowing about the Greek financial situation or the three most populous cities in Canada is just not important. Knowledge is a luxury a lot of people don't have. And it's very easy for people on a skating site to look down their nose and be judgmental about those that aren't as "aware" as we are, but just the fact that we can participate in a discussion like this shows how privileged we are. People prioritize. Everyone does this, and as a result, some knowledge goes by the wayside.

As educators, not just in history but other subjects as well, our job is to show students why what we're teaching should be a priority to students, for example, it's important to know about Asian countries to understand why so many jobs are going overseas, or why we have that perception that all our jobs are going overseas. It's about making information relevant, and it's something woefully lacking in a lot of teaching. It's not just history teachers that suffer with this--ask a math teacher about the frustrations of getting grumbling students to learn about imaginary numbers (square root of -1. I have no idea what it's used for and if I think about that concept for too long, my head hurts. But I know I learned it, kind of. I'd have remembered it more though if I just knew who used it, and what they used it for.).

jlai
10-02-2011, 09:50 PM
the assumption that Americans are somehow less than other people is annoying & typical. Why are we the constant target of this kind of thread? Every nation has a huge part of the population who will never have the money to travel to other countries, even those countries close by.

The thread was originally meant to discuss the articles in the link, which are articles by Americans. Unfortunately, those are Wall STreet Journal links that many posters don't have a subscription for, and so the discussion drifted into a "what's wrong with American education?" and less so about the articles.

As discussed upthread, I mentioned that powerful nations in the past had similar issues with their outlook, and big countries with few neighbors also have this problem. AND a lack of interest in history is not purely an American issue. Other students in other countries have that too. But...the focus of this thread is on American history education, or the consequence of a lack of coverage of it.

ETA:

Interesting choice. I read all the time, everything from trash to treasure, and I can't remember the last time I used a dictionary, or even considered it. I don't find dictionaries particularly useful.
.
I suspect dictionaries are more useful if you're learning a foreign language. Do you use dictionaries with Spanish or French, Prancer? I'm more likel to use it when I read, say, Japanese.

vesperholly
10-02-2011, 09:56 PM
What, exactly, do you believe they need? And, more specifically, since this thread is at least ostensibly about History instruction, what would be your practical and realistic suggestion for a History curriculum for primary and secondary students?

The original accusation of this thread was that Americans are woefully undereducated in history. I do not believe that to be true, and I shared the education I received in history as an example. I think American history education is fairly competent, therefore I have no suggestions to improve it. I won't pretend to be knowledgeable about educational curriculum, other than what I experienced. I only ever addressed the impracticality of the foreign-language component of your argument.

Speaking generally, I do think history and geography are a need. Bilinguality is not a need, but some education in a foreign language should be a high priority. Just because I can't converse in Spanish or read Voltaire in French doesn't mean that the years of instruction I received were worthless. Same thing with all those math problems I did until I was 17. The critical thinking still applies even if I can't solve math proofs on a daily basis.

PDilemma
10-02-2011, 09:59 PM
Benefits of language instruction:

http://www.actfl.org/i4a/pages/index.cfm?pageid=4724

Nekatiivi
10-02-2011, 10:00 PM
I am not from USA, but I would want to comment the topic of language teaching in USA.

If I am not mistaken, most of the students in USA start a second language in high school. From biological stand point that is way too late. We are much more adapt for learning languages before puberty. Basically, it is the earlier the better.

In Finland we can't start learning a second language later than at 3th grade (then you are 8-9 years old). For most the first language is English, but it can also be German, French, Russia or Swedish. Those are most common. Usually teachers star to teach some basic English words at 2th grade. At the 5th grade you can again start a new language. Usually it is Swedish but it can be also English if you started something else than that in 3th grade. In 7th grade everyone must start Swedish if they din't start earlier. At 8th grade you can start studying French, German or Spanish. So basically, before high school, you could be able to speak four different languages. Everyone will know at least Finnish, English and Swedish.

Learning a new language makes learning a second new language easier. It must be very difficult to learn to be bilingual if you start in high school without any earlier experience. :eek: With languages, it is not "teach them what is important first". You can learn history, geography, biology etc. at any age, but with languages, it simple isn't so. Early is effortless, late might be impossible.

jlai
10-02-2011, 10:01 PM
It is impractical and unrealistic for the majority of Americans to spend many years worth of time, energy and money to become bilingual for a good reason. Teach what people need first.


There's no denying that learning a foreign language is beneficial and worthwhile. But is it worthwhile enough? I'm sure anyone who has tried knows how difficult not just learning but retaining a foreign launguage is. It takes a lot more time and commitment than many high school kids are willing to give it. And realistically, how many of them are truly going to use it later on? Many adults don't use their time to read in their own language, let alone a different one.

That time is better spent improving students' critical thinking, writing, and math skills. Many kids go to college or the workforce and struggle because they did not learn these subjects well enough in high school. It's much better spending time preparing them for what they're going to do after high school. That time can also be spent letting them further explore subjects they find interesting and might want to pursue, be it a foreign language or something else.

It's a great idea teaching everyone in the US to be bilingual. It just isn't practical or realistic.

Okay, perhaps it's not practical or realistic...but then if you read books like "Every I need to know I learned in Kindergarten (or whatever grade you think is right), then technically most things you study in high school you don't need day to day either. How does one justify needing 4 years of high school literature when you can study business writing and technical writing? Or chemistry or physics? Or gasp...Algebra 2 and pre-calculus? WHy do we need 4 years of Math unless we are pursuing a career in science, as opposed to 4 years of a foreign language?

A lot of the curriculum are based on our cultural conceptions of what is important, and that in turns shapes what we think are important to our education or our lives.

WHile I'm not saying everyone needs to be bilingual to the point of reading literature, I do think the world is getting smaller and there's no getting around a more global-oriented education in the future.


The original accusation of this thread was that Americans are woefully undereducated in history. I do not believe that to be true, and I shared the education I received in history as an example.
I don't find Americans to be more disinterested in American history than Chinese of their Chinese history. History lessons are boring for various reasons eta: to many but interested students do outside reading to make it up.
But that's just from my experience and I don't have anything to back it up.

barbk
10-02-2011, 10:04 PM
In fact, for a few privileged young people in the U.S., this is exactly the kind of education they are already getting.

At the Brearley School (http://www.brearley.org/) in New York, for example, students begin studying French in fifth grade. In tenth grade, they are reading L’étranger and Rhinocéros. <snip>
Making every American bilingual may not be practical or realistic, but that is only because we, as a society, have chosen to make it impractical and unrealistic, just as we have chose to undervalue instruction in History and Geography.

I think you'll find that AP French students all over the country -- and not just kids at Brearley or other very expensive private schools -- are reading those books and others. It isn't some enormous rarity. :rolleyes:

And I hope our concept of geography has moved far beyond principal products and exports, which seemed to be the focus when I was in elementary school. (That, along with stories about "Juan of the Amazon jungle.")

I'm not convinced that it is useful or helpful to know that San Antonio is more populous than Dallas, or that Phoenix is the sixth most populous city in the US. Or even that Albany is the capital of New York. (Unless, of course, you live in NY.)

Memorizing factoids like that is pretty unhelpful. Understanding that the path and pattern of Westward Expansion was greatly influenced by the environmental and health challenges of crossing the Great Plains and the Rockies -- and the paths that (mostly) allowed pioneers to do that -- would seem to be a lot more useful. Understanding the larger concept that migration paths are strongly influenced by physical and political geography is a further abstraction that, IMO, is a lot more useful than the "biggest cities" game.