Stupid Education in the U.S.A.
Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach.” Thus goes the old saying. We take exception to this, as there are many fine teachers and other educators out there who are certainly doing a great deal—and a great deal of good.
Of course, there’s a flip side to this. . . .
Bad Moments in Innovative Education
We Americans are innovators; we don’t like doing stuff the old ways; we proudly invent new ways of doing everything. And today’s modern American teachers are innovators like everyone else—they boldly try to get kids interested in school by throwing away the textbooks and introducing new, fun, exciting, different ways of learning. But maybe, just maybe, there’s something to be said for just reading the dull old textbooks, as these innovative teaching disasters show.
Teacher innovatively uses banana prop in sex ed
Students learned one thing from this class: Mood music, bananas, and sex ed don’t mix. A teacher at Gulf Coast High School in Naples, Florida, decided to put on a demonstration of safe-sex practices. A laudable idea. He picked two volunteers, a boy and a girl, to come up in front of the class. Then he dimmed the lights and put on some “mood music”: Christmas carols. (It was the only music he had.) He gave the boy the banana and told him to hold it while the girl gently put a condom over it. Some of the kids in class weren’t amused; nor were parents when they found out about it; and nor, for that matter, were school administrators. As the teacher put it, “It wasn’t merely a demonstration of how to place a condom over a banana.” No, indeed. School officials decided to flunk the sex-ed teacher: They fired him.
Teacher innovatively feeds cute puppies to giant snakes in bio class
In retrospect, it was not one of the better ideas in biology pedagogy. A teacher at the Bluestem High School in Kansas who kept two boa constrictors wanted to show students how snakes eat. Three puppies were donated by a schoolboard member who operates a shelter where dogs are put to sleep. The problem was that the puppies were “soft” and “cuddly,” and people got very upset about the planned demonstration—the idea of cute puppies yelping in pain while being squeezed to death didn’t sit well with them. They began complaining loudly, and there were sugges- tions that the teacher be fired. The teacher defended his actions but realized he might have been a bit . . . insensitive. “I’m not sure I considered the sensitivity of some people when it involved what’s considered a pet.” But he also defended his choice of doomed puppies, saying, “I hate to see any life wasted.” But now he’s trying to find nonsnake- owning homes for the puppies.
Math worksheets innovatively ask the question: “How many bazookas does it take . . . ?”
The idea that learning must be fun has taken over the education industry, but there are limits—which were reached with math worksheets published by a Minnesota company called MindWare. In 2001, education officials complained that math worksheets for 12-year-olds contained jokes about unruly kids being shot. Another, called Five Foolish Rabbits, had a farmer using different kinds of weapons like bazookas to wipe out rabbits eating his crops. The company president said the worksheets were supposed to “liven up” math.
Teacher innovatively adds roadkill to curriculum
The fact that North Shore Technical High School of Middleton, Massachusetts, didn’t have a taxidermy course didn’t stop a bold, innovative carpentry teacher and amateur taxidermist from deciding to give the kids a little lesson in skinning animals for fun and profit. Finding a dead coyote on the side of the road on March 15, 2003, the intrepid teacher tossed it into his pickup and brought it to school—and skinned it outside, to show his pupils just how it was done. The aftermath of this school exercise was more painful: Although the brain of the coyote was too deteriorated to tell if it had rabies, two students opted for vaccinations, just in case. Superintendent Amy O’Malley said the entire incident was under investigation and added, “Of course, this was not a school-sanctioned activity.”
Science exhibit innovatively teaches “grossology”
It’s supposed to be the latest thing in “science” education: highlighting the gross aspects. In 2001, at a Chicago exhibition about the human body, children were treated to a vomit machine and a fart pinball game and a huge, sneezing nose. The exhibit organizers said, “There’s a lot of yelling and screaming.” And, supposedly, a lot of learning, although what kind of learning is perhaps more problematic. According to the organizer, “ ‘We smell the butt!’ becomes a 4th-grader’s Eureka! moment.”
College teacher innovatively teaches with rotting animals
Artist Ben Jennings wanted to capture the essence of decay for students in his art class at the University of Wisconsin–Marathon County. What better way than to put up an art display featuring a disemboweled raccoon and a dead crow? Unfortunately for the intrepid art teacher, school officials objected to the smell. Said Dean Jim Veninga, “I sort of like raccoons, but I don’t want them in the university’s gallery, dead or alive.” Jennings defended the project, insisting that “it wasn’t to be disgusting or grotesque.” Nevertheless, it ended up behind the college greenhouse—on a compost heap.
Roll the “probability cubes” and hope for a lucky seven! Probability cubes? That’s what math teachers in the U.S. are now encouraged to call dice, which are used in class to teach various probability concepts. Apparently, calling dice “dice” encourages gambling.
“Is Our Children Learning?”
As we know, President George W. Bush asked this rhetorical question during his first campaign for the presidency.
Unfortunately, perhaps they is not. . . .
•Number of correct answers out of 100 needed to get an A on the Palm Beach County final exam in history (for high school seniors): 50
Number of answers to get a B: 39
Number of correct answers to pass: 23
•Percentage of U.S. citizens ages 18–24 in 2002 (post-9/11) who couldn’t find Afghanistan on a map: 83% Percentage who couldn’t identify Israel: 85%
Percentage who could correctly place the 2001 Survivor TV series island in the South Pacific: 86%
Percentage who couldn’t find the U.K.: 69%
Percentage who couldn’t find France: 65%
Percentage who couldn’t find Japan: 58%
Percentage who couldn’t find the Pacific Ocean: 29%
Percentage who couldn’t find the U.S.: 11%
Rank of U.S. respondents compared with those of the other 8 countries polled: second to last
Rank of U.S. respondents in estimating the population of the U.S.: last
—National Geographic 2002 Global Geographic Literacy Survey
•Percentage of high school seniors who thought that Italy, Germany, or Japan was a U.S. ally in World War II: over 50%
Percentage of high school seniors who thought the Gulf of Tonkin agreement ended the Korean War: 43%
—2001 U.S. History National Assessment of Education Progress Survey
•Percentage of 17-year-olds who correctly placed the Civil War in the period 1850–1900: 33%
Percentage who thought the Civil War happened in the 18th century: more than 25%
Percentage who correctly identified Abraham Lin- coln as the author of the Emancipation Proclamation: 66%
Percentage who said Lincoln wrote the Bill of Rights: 14%
Percentage who said Lincoln wrote the Missouri Compromise: 10%
Percentage who said Lincoln wrote abolitionist novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin: 9%
—Wilson Quarterly 24, no. 2 (spring 2000), quoting a national assessment test given in the late 1980s
•Percentage of college seniors at the 55 top colleges in the country who knew that the phrase “Government of the people, by the people, for the people” comes from Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address: 22%
Percentage who could identify James Madison as the “Father of the Constitution”: 23%
Percentage who could identify and correctly place in time the Reconstruction: 29%
Percentage who knew George Washington was the American general at the Battle of Yorktown: 33%
Percentage who were familiar with the name “Snoop Doggy Dogg” and could identify him as a rapper: 98%
Percentage who knew Beavis and Butt-head are cartoon characters: 99%
—2000 American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) survey (asking questions culled from high school textbooks)
•Percentage of Ivy League students who didn’t know the name of the U.S. Speaker of the House: 44%
Percentage who couldn’t identify the chairman of the Federal Reserve Board: 35%
Percentage who didn’t know how many U.S. Supreme Court justices there are: 23%
—Reader’s Digest, September 1993
Excerpted from Unusually Stupid Americans by Kathryn Petras and Ross Petras. Copyright © 2003 by Kathryn Petras and Ross Petras. Excerpted by permission of Villard, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.