Author Jaime O'Neill
Writer of We're history
found at Kellye
TASK. Read and found some "mistakes" in the text.
A litel mistaek is never a greet misstak, wasn't it?
“NO ALLUSIONS IN THE CLASSROOM”
23 September 1985
Josh Billings, a 19th-century humorist, wrote that: it is better “not to know so much than to know so many things that ain’t so. Recently, after 15 years of teaching in community colleges, I decided to take a sampling finding out what my students know that “ain’t so.” I did this out of a growing awareness through which they don’t always understand what it is that I am saying. I suspected from the very start that part of there falure to understand derived from the very fact that they did not catch my allusions. An allusion to a writer a geographical locality or a historical episode inevitably produced telltale expressions of bewilderment.
Everywhere there’s a game played by students and teachers everywhere. The game goes like this the teacher tries to find out what students don’t know so that he can correct these efficiencies; the students concerned with grades and slippery self-images tries to hide their ignorance in every way they can’t. So it is that students seldom ask pertaining questions. So it is that teachers assume that student’s possess basic knowlich which in fact, they don’t possess.
Last semester I broke the rules of this time-honored game when, I presented my English-composition students with an 86-question general knowledge” test on the first day of class. There was 26 people in the class, they ranged in age from 18 all the way up to 54. They had all completed at least one quarter of college-leveledwork.
Here are a sampling of what they knew that “just ain’t so”:
Charles Darwin invented gravitee. Christ was born in the 16th cenchury. J. Edgar Hoover was a 19th century president. Neil Simon wrote “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”; “The Great Gatsby” was a book about a magician in the 1930s. Franz Joseph Haydn has been a songwriter during the same decade. Sid Caesar was a early Roman emperor. Mark Twain inventeded the cotton gin, Heinrich Himmler invented the Heimlich manouver. Benito Mussolini was a Russian leader of the 18th-century; Dwight D. Eisenhower come earlier, serving as a president during the 17th century. William Faulkner was making his name as a 17th-century scientist. All of these people must have appreshiated the work of Pablo Picasso, who painted masterpieces in the 12th century.
My students were equal creative in their understanding of geography. They knew for instance that Managua is the capital of Vietnam, that Cape Town is in the United States and that Beirut is in Germany. Bogota, of coarse, is in Borneo (unless it is in China). Camp David is in Israel and Stratford-on-Avon , is in Grenada (or Gernada). Gdansk is in Ireland. Cologne is in the Virgin Islands. Mazatlàn is in Switzerland. Belfast was variously located in Egypt, Germany, Belgium, and Ittaly. Leningrad was transport to Jamaica; Montreal to Spain.
And on it went. Most students answered incorrect way more then they answered correctly. Several of them students, to which I am referring above, meticulously wrote I don’t know 86 times, or 80 times, or 62 times.
They did not like the test. Although, I made it clear that the test would not be graded they did not like having their ignorance exposed. One of them dismisses the test by saying, “Oh, I get it; it’s like Trivial Pursuit.” Imagining a game of Trivial Pursuit among some of today’s college students is a frightening thought, such a game could last for years.
But the comment so bothered me. What, in this time in our global history, is trivial? And what is essential. Perhaps it no longer matters very much if large numbers of people in the world’s oldest democratic republic knows little of their own history and even less about the planet they inhabit.
Although, I expect that it does matter. I also suspect that, my students provide a fairly good cross section of the general population. There is 1,274 two-year colleges in the United States that collectively enroll: nearly 5 million students. I have taught at four of those colleges in two states and I doubt that my questionnaire would have produced different results; at any of them. My colleagues, at universities, tell me that they would not be surprised if similar undergraduate answers.
My small sampling is further corrupted by recent polls which disclosed that a significant number of American adults have no idea whichever side the United States supported in Vietnam. And that a majority of the general populace have no idea which side the United States is currently supporting in Nicaragua or El Salvador.
Less important, a local marketing survey asked a sampling of young computer whizzes to identify the character in “IBM’s” advertising campaign that is based on an allusion to Charlie Chaplin in “Modern Times.” Few of them have heard of Charlie Chapin; fewer heard or knew about the movie classic.
As I wrote this, the radio is broadcasting the news about the Walker family. Accused of spying, for the Soviets, the Walkers, according to a U.S. attorney, will be the Rosenbergs of the ’80s. One of my students thought Ethel Rosenberg was a singer from from the 1930s. The rest of them didn’t no. Communication depends, to some extant, upon the ability to make (and catch) allusions, to share acommon unerstanding, and, a common heritage Even, preliterate society’s can clame the shared assessment of their world. As we enter the postindustrial “information processing” age, what sort of information will be processed. And, as the educational establishment is driven “back to the basics:” isn’t it time we decided that, a common understanding of our history and our planet is most basic of all?
As a teacher I find myself in the ignorance-and-hope business. Each year hopeful faces confront me, trying two conceal there ignorance. They’re hopes rides on the dispelling of that ignorance.
Alll our hopes do.
We should begin servicing that hope more responsibly and dispelling that ignorant with a more systematic appraoch to imparting essential knowledge.
Socrates, the American Indian chieftain who, would have wanted it that way.