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  1. #1
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    Americans' Lack of Education in History Is a Worry .

    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB1000...?mod=djemITP_h

    Education Our Economy Needs
    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB1000...324914730.html

    What do you think about the US education on history? I'm kinda disappointed that whenever the news talk about a lack of history education, the focus is on US history. Grrrr....world history, which usually is covered as a one-year high school course, is totally inadequate. If you cover a few hundreds years of US history in a one-year course, then world history should be a 3-year course.

    I'm more converned about the lack of global focus in the US curriculum in general (I'm sure different states differ but mostly I don't think there's an emphasis in studying about the world, foreign languages and so on--at least compared to other countries. Though I must admit that powerful countries in the past had been just as "egocentric" in their outlook--China back several hundred years ago, Japan in the 80s, etc. ).

    Thoughts?

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    I couldn't read more than a couple of paragraphs of the article, as I am not a subscriber, but what I did read talked about standardized test results.

    Standardized tests do not measure what is taught; they measure what students have learned. There is a difference, and it is a critical one, especially for history, which has been ranked as the least interesting and least relevant class by high school students for years.

    If my experiences with history in school are anything to go by, history is indeed a dreary subject, one that mostly focuses on memorizing dates of battles and important pieces of legislation year after boring year. And I actually LIKED history, just not in school. Yet my understanding is that that is still how history is taught in many schools, because dates are nice and safe and the sort of rote information that impresses some people. If you want to know why schools would stick with nice, safe dates, you need look no further than the Texas school board history book war. History in intensely political. The whens are easy and clear; the whys and hows can be very problematic.

    I would agree that kids need more world history, but disagree that they get only one year in high school. Here, at least, the kids do world history all through school, and did when I was a kid, too. It does tend to be very Western-centric, but it is still world history, not US history.
    "The secret to creativity is knowing how to hide your sources."-- Albert Einstein.

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    People do world history in lower grades here too--again as a one-year course in middle school and there's some elementary school coverage too; I meant as a high school graduation requirement, it's usually one year of world history that covers BC to the present. I believe the lower grades cover history the same way--survey courses over and over.

    It took me 3 years to do world history in secondary school, from BC to present. And after that, I picked a period to do in-depth study on, instead of doing one-year survey courses. Since medieval or early modern Euro history was not considered political hot potatoes by Asians, we didn't have to worry about history just being facts.
    Last edited by jlai; 10-01-2011 at 05:22 AM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by jlai View Post
    we didn't have to worry about just being factual.
    No one, in theory, has to worry about just being factual. But what exactly is a historical fact? That's not always clearcut. As Mark Twain said, "The very ink with which all history is written is merely fluid prejudice."
    "The secret to creativity is knowing how to hide your sources."-- Albert Einstein.

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    I apologize in advance to any coaches on this board, and I do know that yes, there are many great coaches who are also great teachers.

    I'm a History teacher. I do not teach by dates. I'm dysgraphic, dyslexic, and a few other dyses as well. With the exception of ten, and I do mean exactly ten, dates, I don't teach that way. I can't teach that way. Usually, I follow the AP model in teaching--relationships between events, causality, and connections. I focus a lot more on cultural-social history rather than military history. I incorporate a lot of other disciplines--I don't believe you can talk about the Renaissance without showing art or the Enlightenment without talking about science. You can't discuss Japan without discussing resources and resource allocation.

    This is the bullet list of things I find troubling about history education. A long-winded explanation of each follows:
    • The education of history teachers is sorely lacking.
    • History is "not that important" and can be taught by anyone, usually a coach.
    • History is controversial
    • History beyond American History and Civics is often classified as an elective
    • History programs are underfunded


    1. When you go to college to become a teacher, and this is true of most any subject , you take more classes in pedagogy and educational theory than you do in your actual classes. It's great to know how to teach...but you have to have something to teach. I've seen so many history teachers that can't pronounce things correctly, give incorrect info, or skip chapters out of fear of pronunciation or being wrong. Also, most education programs focus on US History, and the first indication they get they might have to teach something else is when they take the PRAXIS. At LSU, you have to take American History I and II and Western Survey I and II , a "specialty" history class, which is everything from women's history to African history, intro to economics and intro to geography. That's IT. Lots of history teachers, the first time they're seeing certain ideas...or certain countries...is when they get the textbook. It's hard to be creative in teaching when you're so focused on pronouncing "Byzantine." (Yes, I knew a history teacher that did not know how to pronounce that word.)

    2. History teachers are the first cut because we can replaced by coaches and English teachers. I went to a job fair in Texas and was told flat-out it was more important for their districts to have coaches willing to teach social studies than social studies teachers willing to coach. The coaches and English teachers, at the middle school level science teachers, don't care all that much about the subject, or knowing too much beyond the next chapter, because their interest lies elsewhere. Incidentally, I got certified in English and middle school science in the hopes it could be a backdoor to teaching social studies. (And no, I'm not totally a hypocrite--I do have minors in English and Chemistry, so I am more than one step ahead of the kiddies in both subjects.)

    3. Lots of people have all sorts of interesting opinions of history and historical events. You get five historians in a room and show them the Magna Carta, you'll get at least eight different interpretations of how that document came into being. And when you teach World History or World Geography and have to teach other religions... I have parental horror stories that would you recoil in horror. How DARE you teach Buddhism to my seventeen year old! He's young and impressionable! Why don't you just shove a hooker and cocaine under his nose. Not, btw, an exaggeration. Now, seriously, is there a single more benign religion in the world than Buddhism? Most teachers start out with good intentions, but after the seventh or eighth irrate parent comes to your office accusing you of preaching ideas that will send their kid into atheism, drugs, and sex, or worse, socialism, you just decide dates are safer.

    4. Most schools only require three years of social studies at the high-school level. Two of them must be Civics/Free Enterprise and American History. The other one can be either World Geography, World History, or European History. Some schools only require two. Middle schools, and this is in Louisiana today, are only required to have three hours of social studies per week. Same is also true of science. More importantly, YOU DO NOT HAVE TO PASS SOCIAL STUDIES TO PASS THE GRADE. You must pass English. You must pass Math. You must pass Social Studies/History OR Science OR pass all other electives and agree to double up on Science OR Social Studies the next school year. As soon as you say that, kids don't care. It's not a priority--if you struggle in school and know that SS is not going to help you pass, but English will, which homework would you do? I don't blame the kiddies. I know in school if I was told I didn't have to pass algrebra to pass eighth grade, I sure as hell wouldn't have. It's an elective. A really dull one. The middle school I was at last year and maybe mouthed off a little bit too much to the administration was like that. I did not have my own class room. I had twelve sections of Social Studies. Not all of them had books. They did not have to pass SS OR Science to get to the next grade, or even retake them. It was a JOKE, and not a funny one.

    5. Given the above, history programs are constantly underfunded. We are the last department to get new books...if we have books at all. Don't even talk about technology upgrades. Promethean boards? What are those things? "You teach history! You don't have technology in history!" (actual quote.) History can be fun--propoganda posters, making battle plans, making maps, debates--but if you ask for a budget for paper, markers, scissors, borrow the camera or recording equipment, the principal looks at you like you're from Mars.
    "The practice of sport is a human right. Every individual must have the possibility of practicing sport, without discrimination of any kind and in the Olympic spirit, which requires mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play." –Olympic Charter

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    And geography as well. I'm always amazed at how many Americans don't know the three major cities in Canada. Even in California!!

    I heard of a map used in East Texas schools which eliminated Canada all together and placed Alaska on the northern boundary of the US. . .

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    Quote Originally Posted by Matryeshka View Post
    I'm a History teacher. I do not teach by dates. I'm dysgraphic, dyslexic, and a few other dyses as well. With the exception of ten, and I do mean exactly ten, dates, I don't teach that way. I can't teach that way. Usually, I follow the AP model in teaching--relationships between events, causality, and connections. I focus a lot more on cultural-social history rather than military history. I incorporate a lot of other disciplines--I don't believe you can talk about the Renaissance without showing art or the Enlightenment without talking about science. You can't discuss Japan without discussing resources and resource allocation.
    That is awesome. And not, I think, terribly typical.

    Quote Originally Posted by Matryeshka View Post
    3. Lots of people have all sorts of interesting opinions of history and historical events. You get five historians in a room and show them the Magna Carta, you'll get at least eight different interpretations of how that document came into being.
    This is something that a lot of people--usually people who really don't know much about history--don't understand. If it were all about cut and dried facts, we would need one series of books that laid out those facts and we would be done with it. Instead, we have many different interpretations of motives and events and causes and effects and personalities.

    But you have all these people who say "History shouldn't be political! It should be about THE FACTS." THE FACTS invariably being what those people were taught in school, because education then was right and correct and superior .

    Quote Originally Posted by Matryeshka View Post
    And when you teach World History or World Geography and have to teach other religions... I have parental horror stories that would you recoil in horror. How DARE you teach Buddhism to my seventeen year old! He's young and impressionable! Why don't you just shove a hooker and cocaine under his nose. Not, btw, an exaggeration. Now, seriously, is there a single more benign religion in the world than Buddhism? Most teachers start out with good intentions, but after the seventh or eighth irrate parent comes to your office accusing you of preaching ideas that will send their kid into atheism, drugs, and sex, or worse, socialism, you just decide dates are safer.
    Ding ding ding. And it's not just parents. There are plenty of "concerned citizens" and school board types who, shall we say, take an intense personal interest in what is being taught to our impressionable youth.

    Quote Originally Posted by Matryeshka View Post
    4. Most schools only require three years of social studies at the high-school level. Two of them must be Civics/Free Enterprise and American History. The other one can be either World Geography, World History, or European History. Some schools only require two. Middle schools, and this is in Louisiana today, are only required to have three hours of social studies per week. Same is also true of science. More importantly, YOU DO NOT HAVE TO PASS SOCIAL STUDIES TO PASS THE GRADE.
    Whoa, really? And this is not perceived to be a problem anywhere along the line???? Social studies is a core course here; the kids have to take it and pass it every year of school.

    Quote Originally Posted by Matryeshka View Post
    History can be fun--propoganda posters, making battle plans, making maps, debates--but if you ask for a budget for paper, markers, scissors, borrow the camera or recording equipment, the principal looks at you like you're from Mars.
    My kids get to do things like that most years (they have had some death-by-date-drilling teachers , but not too many), but the students I get in classes rarely remember doing things like that. They don't remember much history, either. I sometimes bring up things that I KNOW are part of the standard state history curriculum and they all swear they've never heard any of it before.
    "The secret to creativity is knowing how to hide your sources."-- Albert Einstein.

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    Yes, geography is often included with history, and those are two different interests. I sweated bullets my first semester teaching geography, but I did make the effort, checked out books, studied maps, asked for help, etc. and by the second semester, it became my favorite subject to teach.

    The problem with geography is that to be taught correctly, it has to be taught from a true interdisciplinary style. Most regard it as "that class that colors all the time." IMO, geography has as much in common with science as it does with history. When I teach geography, I teach it kind of as a current events class, as I believe it's important for students to know why countries change names/boundaries, and how resources affect everything from a country's culture to their political ideas. It's not enough to know, or shouldn't be enough to know, that the diamond icon in the legend shows there's lots of diamonds in Africa. Students should know how that affected Zimbabwe. They should know why older maps show the same country as Rhodesia.

    It's in that grey area of subjects that many history teachers are loathe to teach, along with economics. I've often thought that maybe geography should be moved to science and Free Enterprise to Math.

    Hey, Japanfan--I'll give you an even scarier statistic. According to a 2008 Gallup Poll, 37% of Americans can't recognize the US on a map. Asking them for Canadian cities is really too much.
    "The practice of sport is a human right. Every individual must have the possibility of practicing sport, without discrimination of any kind and in the Olympic spirit, which requires mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play." –Olympic Charter

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    Quote Originally Posted by Matryeshka View Post
    Hey, Japanfan--I'll give you an even scarier statistic. According to a 2008 Gallup Poll, 37% of Americans can't recognize the US on a map.
    Um, Matry? Please read the first line of the article: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/steven..._b_150933.html
    "The secret to creativity is knowing how to hide your sources."-- Albert Einstein.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Prancer View Post
    No one, in theory, has to worry about just being factual. But what exactly is a historical fact? That's not always clearcut. As Mark Twain said, "The very ink with which all history is written is merely fluid prejudice."
    What I mean is I didn't just do dates and places in high school history. True enough, I still learned just one or two interpretations of historical events in secondary school but we at least read bits from AJP Taylor and J K Fairbank and other fairly famous writers (Now replaced by Jonathan Spence in the reading list I'm sure). That's nothing more boring than doing survey courses over and over.

    An above average student is smart enough to know if the textbook is biased. (e.g. if the author keeps talking about how "Dream of Red Chamber" espouses Communist revolutionary ideals )

    That being said, I find that most students I knew as a teen also found history boring, for different reasons. I had fairly knowledgable history teachers (ie they at least had a history degree), but the vast amount of coverage of Chinese and Western history for thousands of years require remembering so many names, places, and dates, and that scared off most students. I always thought students of US history have it easy.

    ETA: the one big upside to doing European history in secondary school is learning to write proper essays. Exposure to good non-fiction writing helps! (My English teacher only did grammar--totally useless in teaching writing)
    Last edited by jlai; 10-01-2011 at 06:56 AM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Matryeshka View Post
    The problem with geography is that to be taught correctly, it has to be taught from a true interdisciplinary style. Most regard it as "that class that colors all the time."
    Interdisciplinary is sometimes what some universities lack, as sometimes the academic departments have become so overspecialized. I know many non-native speaking ESL teachers who took more education class than English proficiency courses and they are in their Master's TESL degree and cannot handle a basic English conversation.
    Last edited by jlai; 10-01-2011 at 07:02 AM.

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    Are things any better in other countries?

    In the U.K., for example, History is not a required subject after the equivalent of eighth grade (except, possibly, in Scotland, for which I couldn't find any definite information). And here is an extract from a short, fascinating article that appeared in The Guardian in 2008:

    Young people are far less knowledgeable about British history than their elders, a nationwide quiz has found.

    Just 23 per cent of those aged 18 to 24 knew which English monarch signed the Magna Carta, compared with 83 per cent of those over 65 who correctly named King John. One in four of the younger group identified James Watt with the steam engine, whereas three in four pensioners got it right.

    In the ICM survey of 1,041 people for the History Channel's 'Great British History Quiz', people aged 18-24 scored an average of 49 per cent, the 25-34 group scored 51 per cent, while the over-65s scored 78 per cent.
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2008/au...ritishidentity

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    I taught history for 13 of the 16 years I taught. I would like to say first that certification requirements for teachers and graduation requirements for students differ tremendously by state.

    I taught in Nebraska. To be certified to teach history, I had to take a full history major. At my college that was 30 hours of history, over half of which had to be upper division and a senior thesis. Education majors were additionally required to have approximately equally divided credits between world and American history courses and a three hour methodology course. I also taught English and had a field endorsement in that area which included drama, communications and journalism as well as writing and literature. That endorsement required 52 hours. Then I had to take 30 hours of education courses. That ladies and gentlemen was three majors and in terms of credit hours--nearly three and a half. I never took less than a maximum load for a semester and three times paid for extra hours.

    In Nebraska, students have to take 3.5 years of social studies in high school. They are required to have one semester of government, and one year each of American history, geography, and world history. Some schools require four full years and kids can choose between courses in international affairs, current events, psychology, economics, etc...for the last semester. State curriculum standards require world history and cultures and American history in middle school.

    The politics of teaching history is a nightmare. I also had irate parents when I taught world religions in world history to tenth graders. I had irate parents constantly when I taught government class. In 2008, I had government students follow the elections. Teaching them how the electoral college worked using the election as it unfolded worked brilliantly when we followed a website called 270toWin which was forecasting the election based on polling in the states. One memorable Monday, the state of Minnesota changed from neutral (too close to call) to blue (Obama leading), that change on the projected map gave Obama his first real projected lead. I spent the next two days with irate parents yelling at me that I had no right "to give Obama the presidency". I badly wanted to say that I was unaware I had that much power. Many teachers react to this idiocy by simply avoiding the topic. I had already been screamed at by many parents (supported by the dumbass principal) for showing Obama's convention speech to the students before McCain's. We started school in mid-August. I showed the speeches the day after they were given. You may recall that in 2008, the Democratic convention was first. Sadly, I had to point this out to the principal who was unaware of that fact. If I were still teaching, I would give serious consideration to not teaching directly about the 2012 election in any class.

    I taught American history for 10 years. The biggest problem with American history is that many people expect it to be taught as an exercise in patriotism. The state standards here are to some degree written with that purpose in mind, particularly in terms of the early period. The parents I dealt with for the most part expected that. And when they perceived that I wasn't doing so, I heard about it. I taught very near to the place where the Pawnee tribe teaches that the world was founded. I taught about the removal of the Native Americans in depth, particularly on the Plains. Parents complained bitterly about that section of my course. Students shouldn't be made to believe that the country ever did anything wrong. Oh, and Custer was a hero, don't forget that. I even had multiple parents complain when I let the students have a glimpse of the real personalities of the founding fathers. They are not supposed to have real personalities. They are to be taught as faultless demi-gods.

    I taught multiple interpretations. I tried to tell history as a story. I incorporated interdisciplinary aspects--art, music, literature, science when appropriate (and when I felt comfortable explaining it). I gave essay evaluations to make the kids think and analyze.

    The response I generally got was varied. Many students said they liked history for the first time. But a lot of parents were pissed. Many of them complained that their kids should just be learning "facts" and it was too hard. The academic counselor and principal agreed completely. The world history teacher was held up to me as one of the best teachers in the building, but kids would come into my class not knowing who Napoleon was. She "covered" all of the material and gave multiple choice or matching tests and had the kids build lots of models of stuff only tangentially related to what they were studying. I was told by the academic counselor that juniors (the level that takes American history) have a lot of hard math and science classes and social studies needed to be easy for them--a break in their curriculum. And, sadly, that is an idea that I think pervades schools. One of the largest districts in this state has cut social studies time down to 30-50 minutes a week in their elementary and middle schools so kids can spend more time on math and science. And as Matryeshka already noted, the budget is not there for social studies. In the ten years I taught at my last school, the science department got new textbooks three times while social studies never did. We had to fight tooth and nail to get new maps for geography. As late as 2003, the whole department still had maps with the Soviet Union, etc...on them. I kind of liked them for history, but the geography teacher should have had new ones years before.

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    I have a family member who is in high school and has had two years of middle school World History/Geography + Civics, plus two years of high school history (I think US + World History). Recently I have been told:

    1) The last president of China was Ho Chi Minh
    2) Who on earth is Winston Churchill???
    3) Karl Marx once worked for George W. Bush and is now in jail.

    I couldn't decide whether to or

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    I guess my question is "Has this gotten worse over time with new curriculum in schools?" When I was in elementary and High school, when my kids were in elementary and high school History was a core class every year with lots of individual options for specific classes, looking at theme,geography, age and philosophy ( that started about 7th grade) they also were required to pass 2 constitution tests, one in middle school and one in high school.

    Granted it was a private elementary school, but public HS. Of course the youngest ( now25) had even more because she was home schooled for 2 years.
    (Thank you skating schedule) her University experience was even more interesting because she took an English class based on "philosophical literature)
    It was taught by Noam Chomsky's daughter Avi...fascinating, coming from a semi-conservative household.

    So do you think that it's a situation being created by bad curriculum choices within the district? Changes in priorities with an easier base line? Parent and group pressure? Government program incentives for grades and test scores?
    Student attitude? What?
    I get it's getting bad. I taught first grade for years and am now looking at my grandson's options.. I voted private school. But for how long and why?

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    Quote Originally Posted by icecat View Post

    So do you think that it's a situation being created by bad curriculum choices within the district? Changes in priorities with an easier base line? Parent and group pressure? Government program incentives for grades and test scores?
    Student attitude? What?
    I get it's getting bad. I taught first grade for years and am now looking at my grandson's options.. I voted private school. But for how long and why?
    I can't speak for everywhere. Because as I already pointed out, things are very different from state to state.

    The problem of parent and group pressure is the one that I think exists everywhere. In the current political climate where teachers are demonized, parents think they must monitor everything we do. The loudest ones also believe their kids should never be exposed to a new idea, a different religion or culture, or anything mom and dad disagree with. And history is full of ideas and other religions and cultures that mom and dad disagree with.

    Social studies curriculum standards here were made by a committee of politicians and random citizens. Not a single historian or social studies educator was part of the group. The standards are politically biased to the conservative side to the point that the Populist movement is not included in William Jennings Bryan's home state. Politics is playing a huge role in history education right now. Someone else already pointed out the Texas text book issue. American history and government courses are the real battleground as the very conservative side favors history taught as a patriotic exercise that doesn't ask questions or espouse multiple interpretations.

    Testing mania is also part of the problem. In most places math and reading are heavily tested with results released to the local media and used to some degree to determine funding. Other subjects are being pushed aside to focus on those and the scores. This has decimated the arts in the lower grades and social studies is the next victim in some districts (as I pointed out). Science will remain safe, I'm sure.

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    Thanks PD and Matry for the inside scoop. IMO, part of the problem is what we adults learned. My "history", taught at the height of the Cold War, was about why America and it's allies were good, and why the USSR and its allies were bad. In college, I took comparative religion, and it sparked a "redo" of independent reading on history.

    Today's parent's history was taught as the former Soviet dominated countries were crumbling. Again, it was "why Communism is/was bad." My niece, now 34, is now very interested in the history of the Middle East and is doing a "redo" again focusing on the interconnections between religion and availability of natural resources.

    The safe stuff is the "what" and that's what's taught.
    AceOn6, the golf loving skating fan

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    Quote Originally Posted by Aceon6 View Post
    Thanks PD and Matry for the inside scoop. IMO, part of the problem is what we adults learned. My "history", taught at the height of the Cold War, was about why America and it's allies were good, and why the USSR and its allies were bad. In college, I took comparative religion, and it sparked a "redo" of independent reading on history.

    Today's parent's history was taught as the former Soviet dominated countries were crumbling. Again, it was "why Communism is/was bad." My niece, now 34, is now very interested in the history of the Middle East and is doing a "redo" again focusing on the interconnections between religion and availability of natural resources.

    The safe stuff is the "what" and that's what's taught.
    I had parents explain to me that the kids didn't need to learn history because if they needed to know a date or name, they could google it.

    The notion that history is just a collection of names and dates is a huge part of the problem. Even within schools, the notion that the history classroom is a place to learn analysis, problem-solving, reason, debate, etc...is highly doubted. I have a relative who considers himself an intellectual and informed me that a master's in history is "bogus" because "you just collect some dates". And my sister-in-law still doesn't understand why my graduate history courses require me to read when "it's just dates". Even as an undergrad, I had to read and write more for history courses than English lit. But not enough people even inside education see social studies as a place to hone those skills.

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    Quote Originally Posted by mkats View Post
    Karl Marx once worked for George W. Bush
    Hence the use of the word "red" in the term "red states."

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    I have a nephew who keeps telling me history and geography are easy. (I thought to myself "You mean they made the subjects easy...")

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