September 28, 2009

Knowledge Matters

author_janis By Janis Prince Inniss

On September 8, 2009, President Obama gave a back-to-school speech described by the White House as inspirational and pro-education to elementary, middle, and high school children in the U.S. Even before the speech there were reports of parents who thought this was inappropriate. (President Obama is not the first U.S. president to hold such an address; President George H. W. Bush did so in 1991 and President Ronald Reagan talked politics with students in 1988.)

Some parents worried that the president’s speech would be political, and that it was a way to reach parents through their children. Other parents complained that they were not notified about the event before-hand and asked to give consent via a permission slip as they do with activities such as watching R-rated movies. In response to parental complaints, some school districts allowed parents to opt-out and have their children take part in a different activity while other upset parents kept their children at home.

Some of the furor about President Obama’s speech may have been related to an assignment created by the Education Department to have students write essays to say how they could help the president. When some critics of the president protested that the assignment was too partisan, the lesson plan was revised to ask students to write about how they can achieve their short and long-term goals.

Recently, Former President Carter said “an overwhelming portion of the intensely demonstrated animosity toward President Barack Obama is based on the fact that he is a black man”. (The former president was responding to Rep. Wilson’s outburst during the President’s speech to Congress.) Whether President Carter is correct and whether the president’s race is related to the fears parents expressed about him addressing their children is a debate I’ll leave for another time.

The furor over the President’s address does raise the question of what constitutes information that should be central to our education. What should you be learning? Have you ever thought about who decides what you learn? Clearly your teacher does. But what influences your teacher to make the choices he or she does in selecting class materials?

There are the so-called three Rs: reading, writing, and arithmetic. These are considered the basics, seen as fundamental to other knowledge acquisition. Do you agree that these are fundamental? What about all the other subjects taught in school? I took a music appreciation class as a college freshman. The class was designed to give me an appreciation of classical music. Who decides what classical music is? Turns out that we only studied classical European music (two words that tend to go together—classical and European), but should music from other areas of the world have been included in such a class?

What about in your English literature classes? In my overview American literature course, we read from an anthology that is more than 2500 pages thick. (Yes, I still have the book and just checked!) Given the racial/ethnic make-up of America, should such a course include non-white authors? (About four African Americans are included in the edition we used.) Who makes decisions about what is considered classical literature and decides what books you should read?

clip_image002A 16 year-old International Baccalaureate (IB) student in Florida objected to passages in the highly regarded book The Wind-up Bird Chronicle, a book on the list of the prestigious IB English class curriculum. The student objects to sexually graphic content in the Haruki Murakmi novel and has been allowed to select an alternate book. Have you or your parents ever objected to any material that you were being taught? On what grounds? How likely do you think it is that you would be able change the information you are responsible for knowing in any of your classes?

While most of us now take education for granted, schooling is a relatively recent phenomenon—its modern form was developed in the early nineteenth century. This change was related to industrialization which created a need for an educated workforce. In the modern era, job opportunities have increased with education; today higher education is associated with increased income and less likelihood of unemployment (see chart in previous post). Is this how what is taught is decided—based on the kinds of information that are likely to keep us employed?

If you think about some of the more recent changes to curricula it seems that what is “worth knowing” changes. For example, after the civil rights movement and student activism, fundamental changes were made that resulted in the inclusion of more information on people of color and the creation of ethnic study departments on several university campuses. As you may recall from an earlier posting, standpoint theory suggests that even what we know depends on our affiliations. And is all knowledge ”equal”? Do you think there is an objective way to decide what knowledge matters?


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I don't find it in any way amusing that the president would choose to lean his speech towards his own ideals, in fact I would expect something like this and find it completely normal. Do the people, more specifically the parents that complain, even realize that that is how this entire country, or any nation for that matter, is run? Everything we learn in school is made to be centered around feeling like our country is the "best," anywhere that you are. For example, have you ever learned in "global" of America ever making the wrong move? Even as we learn about Native Americans and how we stole the land, there is still of sense of "we didn't really do anything wrong." Or how in Germany they act oblivious to the fact that concentration camps and the Nazis did in fact exist. This is completely normal behavior, subliminal encoding, if you will, and comes as no shock to me.

"What should you be learning?" is such an intriguing question because it reminds us that at a youthful age you aren't given the opportunity to choose what you learn. I believe it is the government and the norms of the society that you live that sculpt what you learn begin the reason why student in the south may learn less about slavery and racism than students in the north. I do find it unfair though that the subjects that we are taught are only specific to the ideal form of that subject (i.e european music as classical music). It causes me to wonder would societies be the same if a more open and versatile curriculum was instilled in schools across the nation?

As a college freshman, I just recently ended my high school career asking myself if everything I learned was relevant to what I plan on doing in life. There is no real way of determining what knowledge is useful or useless. Most of the time the knowledge is not even what we are after, but in mostly everyone's case, it is the credits. A lot of the information we learn normally is not remembered unless needed for a test or it is of interest to us. I am not sure if there will ever be a way to determine what knowledge matters, but as long as there is an incentive like credits behind learning...put me in any class needed to graduate and get my dream job.

What should we be learning? well its not always what we wanna learn but at least were doing it and getting somewhere in life and trying to get the credits so we can graduate and move on. That's the real deal.

There is a sad amount of prejudice and lack of open views even in the world of education. Often people only learn or teach what they believe is useful, and push all other opinions to the side. Afterall, what if someone is moving to another country to get a job? Wouldn't his job requirements change? Wouldn't learning foreign languages suddenly be a educational priority? We need to learn to keep an open mind in these things.

I am a sociology student and we were just discussing education in America. We talked about how views of what we learn have changed in the past as well. Look at older history books, they have more praise of white males than they do of women and minority groups. This then brings me to what you said about making our knowledge equal. History books today do contain more equal cultural views than they did before, but is everything still all that equal? Look at SAT test scores, the wording on these tests is considered to have a cultural bias, minority groups consistently earn lower scores. I believe that reforms should be made in our educational system, these reforms might be hard to come by, though, because like you have mentioned; who is it that decides what information we need to know?

From being a college student i can certainly tell you that school is always going to be hard, but always the best thing. in my perspective president Obama speech on education was inspiring. It was a speech that every kid (and even adults, because is never too late) needs to hear. In our society today education is not valued as it needs to be. Kids today are putting their education to a bargain and not taking the opportunities. Parents that decided to opt out their kids from listening to this speech, in my perspective, did this due to their racial views.

I am a high school student and I expect that whoever decides what knowledge we should learn should be open minded and willing to create education reforms according to the changing needs of the the changing times. The standardized tests are not impossible they were projected earlier and the affluent people can do better with the training courses. The kids that want to go to political science had to answer a difficult AP Physics level problem in the ACT science section. Their scores go down because their last physics class was in the 8th grade. The chances of getting admitted into a prestigious political science program at a nationally top ranked university are reduced. I sincerely wish that the decision makers decide objectively on which knowledge matters.

It very hard to make schools equal. Social status often interfers with this because many lower class citezens don't have equal opportunity. Making the material equal in classrooms shouldn't be solely left up the teacher. They have their own opinions and bias so even their efforts could be diluted. A higher power needs to determine without any bias what is appropriate and inappropriate for schools. This is extremely hard considering the set backs of hidden curriculm and the tendecy of text books to support certain opinions. As a high school student i used to everyone simply just complaining about school and how nothing we learn is useful. These are just excuses because most of them are lazy and don't wish to be challenged. It's really hard to say who is right or wrong on what education should include. Considering reading and writing is a required skill in America that should definately be required. Some form of math is useful but most struggle with it find it useless so maybe less in better. Not to metnion how many times have you heard someone say "I have no clue what i was doing when i look back at my college calculus work". Though me being a science enthusaist would say that science is important in school while other woudln't. It all really just points to the fact that homeschooling would be better tailored to todays students.

I found this article very interesting. I do no think it was inappropriate for Obama to give a speech. Students need to know that education is important and will help them to have a great future.

I am a student in sociology. I read a chapter on education and knowledge, and it also showed how education is changing. Different people are deciding what we need to know in life, and classes and subject are important, and who was important in history. I don't think that President Obama was wrong to give this speech. It was a great speech. Education is obviously very important if you want to get somewhere in life, but I do feel that some subjects and things students are forced to sit through that they will never use in their life or career are just a waste of time. You should take classes that will benefit you in the long run, and you should also take classes that will teach you things that you need to work on, classes that will challenge you.

In my sociology class, we covered education and different aspects of it, such as the performance of different races, different school types, and the like. I don't think it was necessarily wrong for President Obama to give the speech, because it was just a speech. I feel that he was trying to reach all students of all races and try to tell them to do their best, which I don't find fault with, because you should do your best anyway. I think the issue of "Do I really need to learn this?" can be answered depending on the person. If you really want to learn specific areas, there are different types of schools that you can attend under the right circumstances, but I think the basics of english, math, and science are most likely useful at some point either way.

"What should you be learning?" is such an intriguing question because it reminds us that at a youthful age you aren't given the opportunity to choose what you learn. I really feel like this is greatly impacted by what kind of school you attend. For example, the things we learn in a private school might not be the same as in a public school system. your article really makes me think about wanting to see a study of what's being taught where. I know, being in a public high school, some things are talked about enough. I'm always asking myself, " Who decided this was more important then the other thing." I feel like we should determine what would be right to learn about and what could help us understand something rather then you shoudl know this because someone said so.

I don't know that there is an objective way. The most ideal way is for people to learn what they think is important at any given time. Imposed/coerced curricula doesn't make much sense to me. If a school program will allow you to participate in a job in society that is meaningful to you, go for it...But, there are so many ways we can teach ourselves, through experience and mentorship... people are much more capable than given credit for. The school system(s) are a place where children learn to 'play the game' and are 'sold' an idea that it is the necessary route to a successful life. There are other ways, just think outside of the box.

Some time before, I needed to buy a good car for my business but I did not earn enough cash and could not order something. Thank God my colleague proposed to take the home loans at trustworthy bank. Thus, I acted that and used to be satisfied with my consolidation loan.

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