Mr. C.S. shared this article, and since it concerns two of my "hot button" issues - my home state, South Dakota, and the Common Core standards and assessment process - I simply have to talk about it.
South Dakota is a wonderfully backward place, culturally speaking. And I always appreciated this fact about the state. The latest trendy fad coming out of the northeast or, worse, the left coast, always arrived a decade late and much diluted once it reached the Dakotas, or Montana, Wyoming, or - barring Omaha and Lincoln - Nebraska. But by "culturally backward" I do not mean to imply illiterate. Quite the contrary. Its backwardness assured a certain grounding in the essentials. I grew up in a state surrounded by Germans, Dutch, Swedes, and Norwegians, who insisted that (1) I learn a foreign language, and learn it reasonably well enough to carry on a conversation in it (I chose German, which one heard a lot in South Dakota anyway, along with healthy dollops of Norwegian and, if you ventured a few miles from Sioux Falls, Dutch), (2) learn the arts, which meant actually having to read Shakespeare, Dostoyevsky, to learn about Degas and Cezanne from my elementary school art teacher Mrs. Olson(there's that Norwegian influence again), and to actually listen to Mozart or Edvard Grieg or (of course) J.S Bach, and not simply the Beach Boys. We had to read about Lakota history and Chief Bull-Who-Sits-Down (Sitting Bull), Wounded Knee, and the sad history of the local Native American Indian population, long before it became trendy or politically correct to do so. We had endless map tests in grade school and junior high school, of blank countries with rivers, which we had to name, place dots for the major cities reasonably close to where they actually were, and spell them correctly. We had to do this for Europe, North and South America, and significant chunks of Asia. My eighth grade shop teacher, Mr. Goering (yes, that was really his name!) who spoke with such a heavy German accent was a hard task master in drafting class(yes, drafting, in the eighth grade). My second year German teacher, Frau Gunhilde Brakas, began her class that fateful year with this sentence: "Good afternoon students; I am Frau Brakas, and this is the last English sentence you will hear in this class this year," and for the next few difficult sink-or-swim weeks, it was. In the seventh grade, we learned about the huge shale oil reserves in the the northwest corner of the state, where unbeknownst to me at the time, one of my god-children was growing up on a sheep ranch and learning to play the pipe organ. More Norwegians, more Bach on the prairie. And mathematics? Well, this too was a constant staple. And even music theory.
And now, looking back on it all, I see not only how fortunate and blessed I was, but also I see and notice something else: through it all, my teachers seldom if ever "taught to the test", which in our case were the endless ACTs, Iowa Tests of Basic Skills, and so on. We had them, but they didn't teach to them, and perhaps that is why South Dakota neither did well, nor poorly, on national averages of "standardized test scores" at the time. And thank God for that, for there was a Texas-like independence to the state, but of a subtler and quieter sort than one encounters in the Lone Star republic, though I am resorting to a bit of Texas noisiness here, and for a purpose, and the purpose is this article:
I find this article interesting for a number of reasons, chiefly being that once again teachers and professors in South Dakota find themselves at odds with the federally mandated claptrap called common core, and this time over whether or not the US Constitution and (much more importantly) Bill of Rights and Declaration of Independence are to be taught. As one gathers from the article, these have already been denuded from the cirruculum in the Dakotas (shame on you, Pierre and Bismarck!) and it is actually the college professors who are complaining. There's the usual bit of edgykayshunal psychoblither, such as history not really being about "timelines" but about "informed decision making", and I won't bother to rehearse that bit of pabulum here. Suffice it to say, when I was in school, I had to memorize timelines, names, and dates, and I don't think I'm any the worse the wear for Mrs. Zimmermann or Mrs. Rosine insisting I do so. After all, knowing when something happened is crucial to knowing the why and the how events and decisions relate.
But what I found rather encouraging is that the Sioux Falls newspaper, the Argus-Leader that my dad read every night, seems to be rethinking the commitment to all the claptrap, and advocating for a thorough and detailed knowledge of the Constitution. And that's good, because once one opens that box, and peers inside, one also has to look at the Federalist Papers and, much more importantly, at the Anti-Federalist papers and the Declaration of Independence, at the Stamp Act, at the history of Great Britian and its constitutional evolution. If we keep invoking the Constitution, wouldn't it be a nice idea to read it? To understand its Federalist defenders and Anti-Federalist detractors, and to have read them too?
So, my initial reaction of horror, when I first read this article, has tempered just a bit. For I recognize the quiet South Dakota pattern that I remember, that pattern of "pass what laws you will, we'll obey the letter, and circumvent the spirit, and do our own thing anyway."
I hope that spirit not only lives there still, but that it spreads.
The proof is in the pudding, I suppose, and here's my proof, for after many years, it's appropriate to thank all those people, all those teachers, who so blessed me, and the fact that I remember them all, is a testimony to their virtue and quality as individuals, and teachers, who - Bill Gates, Jeb Bush, Hillary CLinton and other twitified elites' advocacy of machines and standardized tests and online education and "common core" and individualized adaptive standardized assessment processes notwithstanding - managed to impart a hunger for learning, and a desire for truth mediated the time-honored way, through their sheer ability to communicate the human essence of each discipline. So a belated, long overdue, and huge thank you to my teachers: Miss Cantrell (first grade), Miss McKillop (second grade), Mrs. McClain (third grade), Mrs. Johnson(fourth grade), Mrs. Zimmermann(fifth grade, and her passion for reading and music), Mr. Roth (sixth grade, and his passion for reading in all subjects), Miss Klosterboer, Mr. Hochstetter, Mr. Selnes, Mrs. Rosine(and her passion for the "antiquated" discipline of recitation), Mr. Aschbauer, Mr. Goering, Mrs. Olson, Miss Trisch, Mr. Fialkowski, Mrs. Connors (who taught me the joys of epigraphs and footnoting in the "Chicago" manner, and not the short-cuts and pseudo-referencing that passes for it now: you made Oxford possible!) and so many other specialized teachers throughout junior and senior high school: thank you. And to the principals who had the good sense to hire them: Mr. Johnson, and Mr. Oyan: a thank you as well.
See you on the flip side...