Wednesday, June 15, 2011

American History and an Unlikely Hero

Thought for the day:  The moon is always full, even if you only see a sliver.

Not to sound like an old poop, but what kind of education are our children getting these days? It's no secret that American students have been lagging students in other countries in subjects like mathematics and science for a number of years, but according to data released yesterday by the U.S. Education Department, their grasp of  history is circling the drain, too.

I will grant you that young people today easily use and evidently understand a plethora of hi-tech devices and gadgets that weren't even in existence when I was in school, but isn't it troubling that in a recent test,  only 12% of high school seniors demonstrated proficiency in American history? And what' s even more discouraging is that this is approximately the same sorry level of proficiency shown by high school seniors when the test was last administered five years ago. In addition, fourth-graders and eighth-graders also did poorly, showing proficiency rates of 20% and 17%, respectively. Sure, I'll also grant you that there was (ahem) a helluva lot less history to learn when I was in school, but achieving a basic understanding of history, not to mention geography, math, literature and science, SHOULD be a given in our public schools. And it concerns me that it isn't.

Let me add a caveat here after the fact. I am in no way intending offense to any teachers, parents, or students. I am merely passing comment on the latest results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress testing. The percentage of students who passed these tests is appallingly low. I'm not passing judgement as to why that's the case, only that it is the case. 

Although today's teens may know more about the latest American Idol than they do about our American presidents, I'll betcha they all know something about a certain Representative Anthony Weiner. Unfortunately, we ALL know much more about America's latest "folk hero" than we ever wanted to know. For those of you who live beyond American soil, this foolish man rocketed into our collective consciousness when pictures he took of himself and then sent to a number of young ladies came to light. When the first round of photos became public, he tried to tell us he "couldn't say with a certitude" that it was his underwear in those pictures, and that someone had obviously "hacked his twitter account". Not an easy position to maintain, however, when the next round of pics came out, because unfortunately for him, they showed his face. Not to mention other anatomical parts. Got the (ahem) picture?

Now, I wasn't planning to write anything about him. I really wasn't. I mean, what can you say about a politician whose current claim to fame is wiggling his (ahem) weiner at young women via twitter and facebook? But after reading this morning's newspaper, I simply cannot resist.

                                     Would you believe there is now an action figure in his likeness?

That's right, people. Called Little Anthony, the figure is offered by the Connecticut-based online company and is available in two different versions. One, which can be posed in all kinds of possible photo op positions, is going for $39.95, but for a mere ten dollars more, you can purchase the more anatomically correct "adult" version. (One can only speculate as to what kind of "action" this model demonstrates.) Both versions are clad in underwear, with the words Tweet this emblazoned on the shorts.

Not into dolls, you say? Fear not. Everybody wears tee shirts. Now, you too can own your very own Weiner tee shirt. Here you can find shirts with such unforgettable logos as

  • Tweet your meat, lose your seat! 
  • A bigger weiner than Dick Nixon
  • Don't tweet your meat
and, to be a little different, 
  • Junk mail
And here you can find shirts with such logos as
  • Try not to trip over my weiner   and
  • I can't say with certitude that this is my shirt
I mean, you've gotta love the enterprising spirit of America, don't ya? It seems that no matter what happens, somebody in this great country comes up with a tee shirt to mark the occasion. So we've pretty much come to expect the tasteless tee shirts, but how about some genuine Weiner condoms??? I kid you not. About these only-available-for-a-limited-time condoms, the webpage says, Sure to last longer than his marriage.

I'm sorry.

It isn't very kind to pick on someone when he's down. After all, Weiner claims to be going into treatment, so perhaps I should show a little more charity and compassion toward him than our late night comedians have shown. But I ask you, exactly what kind of treatment is available for what ails this man? The best I can tell, his only remorse is over getting caught, and I suspect he rather likes the notion of an action figure in his image. 

For our students of today, there is always opportunity to further their education. For politicians like Weiner, all I can say is, You can't fix stupid.

Until next time, take care of yourselves. And each other.


  1. This makes me sick. I can't even tell or understand if it is actually true. The face looks a little photoshopped to me.

    You are right - you can't fix stupid.

    I will say tho' that our 13 yo just tested out of all her final exams, so she doesn't have to take them. Kids can't be pigeonholed to say they "all do this..." or "they all do that..." It is sad when they are labeled. It makes their lives harder, I think.

    A blogger was complaining the other day about the scourge of teenage pregnancy and how something should be done about it - if this adult blogger had done any research she would understand that teen pregnancy has dropped 30% since 1978 - so, the point is, in some ways teenagers are improving due to education and outreach.

    I completely agree with everything you said regarding Weinie - but maybe we could cut the kids a little slack. They're trying - even if they have a lot more access to hi tech gadgets then we did.

  2. I've seen his name pop up a few times but I wasn't aware of what he had been "up" to.

  3. Hi, Skippy. Oh, I agree with you 100% that there are some extremely intelligent kids out there. There are kids who, blessed with a combination of great teachers, supportive parents and a good deal of self-motivation, kick major butt in spelling bees and geography bees, create amazing science projects, not to mention become Eagle Scouts, win awards, take advanced courses, skip grades (and exams) and do a whole range of wonderful volunteer projects within their communities. But what I'm talking about specifically are the results of the standardized exams administered by the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Those tests are supposed to provide insight into what kind of education as a nation our kids are getting, and the results indicate that the majority of our students aren't learning the basics. I'm glad your daughter is, and I'm glad my grandchildren are, but too many children aren't. I'm not blaming the kids, the teachers, or the parents. I'm just pointing out what I consider a serious problem.

    Oh, and by the way, those dolls are absolutely on the up-and-up. What's interesting is so many people tried to order them, the website crashed. Go figure.

  4. Oh, Baby John, you're so "bad" ... HA!

  5. Thanc goodnes I went to skule and lernt how too spel.

  6. As a trained educator I can say there are two problems with education in my country these days (and I guess it is similar in the US).
    I knowledge and learning are not valued for their own sake.
    And kids are taught how to perform in national tests which just means their over all education suffers which of course feeds back into poorer national test results. Testing is not education.

  7. There is a wide gulf in academics these days, just like in the socio-economic world in this country. The poor kids don't stand a chance while the rich kids get all the perks.

    I've seen it first hand. Depending on your tax bracket and where you live, better taxes mean better schools. That's the bottom line.

    In Barrington Rhode Island, the tax rate is one of the most expensive in the state. The kids who go to the high school have a lacrosse team. (Who plays lacrosse anymore?) As well as all the other major sports, drama club, band, chorus, debate team, and whatever else. The town next door, Warren, can't even keep the football team alive so they melded theirs with Bristol a few years back. As for debate, chorus or even basketball, forget it.

    It's a shame our kids can't get the same education whether poor, rich, black, white, green or purple.

    With so much rhetoric from our politicians, it's a wonder our kids can even get into college. And don't get me started with the No Child Left Behind Act or the Title One Programs.

    Sorry for the rant, both my parents were teachers and I listened to this stuff for years.

    As for Weiner, he should do us all a favor and step down. The one I feel the most for is his poor wife. Bet she's regretting that marriage.

  8. Cro- Mee two.

    Al- Absolutely. Many teachers here complain bitterly about how much time they have to devote to "teaching to the test" as opposed to teaching to instill knowledge and understanding.

    Anne- Higher tax-bracket areas certainly provide students with more perks and opportunities than low-income areas, but the lack of perks doesn't bother me nearly as much as the lack of a basic solid education. Since your parents were teachers, you may or may not agree with me, but I think a major part of the problem began with the politically correct, but intellectually ridiculous, main-streaming of students in our public schools. When I was a kid, students were segregated according to ability. Top students were together, average students were together, and "slower learners" were together. There was no big deal about it; that's just the way it was. A student with difficulty in math might be in a slower class there, but a more advanced class in history or English. By doing things that way, each student was able to get a more personalized education and had a decent shot at living up to his potential. As one of the "eggheads", being in classes with other overachievers made it OK to be smart. In fact, it was expected. We competed with each other for grades, and we excelled. Likewise, the slower learners benefited as well, because the teachers were able to take the time to help them learn. When all learning levels became merged, I think all students lost. My kids were considered "gifted" from an early age, but in elementary school, were in class with students who had trouble grasping simple concepts, so the poor teachers had the lousy choice of either leaving the slower students hopelessly behind or boring the brighter students so badly they lost motivation. It wasn't fair to the teachers, and it wasn't fair to the students. And in these "mixed classes", being smart wasn't exactly the key to popularity. When our kids got bored in school, we made darned sure their intellects got stimulated at home, (whether they liked it or not!)but I suspect many many bright kids never lived up to their potential because the powers that be decided it wasn't OK to separate classes by ability. And thereby ends MY rant.

  9. So true about our kids not knowing enough about history. The Weiner doll is unbelievable! BTW, I mentioned you and wrote my version of the "Lucky Seven." I hope you don't mind that I combined my awards, as I've never done this before. Thanks again, Julie

  10. Hi, Julie. I just read your blog on the lucky sevens, and thought it was super.

  11. Just a few thoughts from a teacher of 23 years on History:

    1) The kids come to me knowing nothing. As far as they know, Egyptian pyramids were built at the same time as the Civil War, and wasn't that the one where George Washington chopped down the cherry tree and the Pilgrims were in there somewhere, right? Basically, if there's not a holiday associated with it, they don't know it.

    2) When I actually start teaching them history, they LOVE it. They are fascinated! Who knew the past was so exciting?!

    3) The state doesn't test it, so therefore class time for history gets smaller and smaller. Need time for a fire drill, an assembly, choir practice, or a principal announcement? Why, take it out of history class. The kids protest: "But I thought you were going to teach us how Magellan got killed today, Mrs. Salerni?" Oh sorry, kids.

    4) Why doesn't the state test history with the other subjects? Check the news. Most special interest groups would rather the public not be educated in history, so they can spread the version that supports their own agenda.

    5) I write historical fiction. I'm told over and over it's a hard sell for teens, who supposedly aren't interested (although see #2). And I'm also told by some adults that they "don't read that stuff." (see #4)

    6) All this makes me a sad, sad history teacher/historical fiction author. :(

  12. Hi, Dianne. It's a sad story, for sure. I don't believe kids are that much different now than when I was in school. I craved knowledge, and I think today's kids would too, if teachers were actually allowed to teach them ... and to teach in their areas of proficiency. But you hang in there. I have no doubt your efforts are making a difference. You can't reach every kid in the country, but you can make a difference for all the kids in your classes.