Monday, June 20, 2005

No geography in NAEP

While looking for something else, I came across this blog entry on NAEP's "geography" questions. The blog is called CalPundit written by Kevin Drum, but unfortunately it appears that this blog is now defunct.

I guess you can't really test something that isn't taught in the "social studies" muddle. What a disgrace.

Here is that entry, minus useful links. (Go to the original for the links).

GEOGRAPHY IS DESTINY....Joanne Jacobs blogs today about geography education:

American students rarely study geography as a distinct subject, and I'm not sure they study it at all. Geography is part of the great social studies muddle, but it's in disfavor: Too many facts. That's why homeschooled kids dominate the Geography Bee.

I think that's putting it kindly. A couple of months ago I was trying to find the results of one of those international tests of high school students — you know, the ones that generate annual horror stories about how American kids rank just behind Swaziland in useful knowledge — and I ended up skimming through the NAEP geography test. It was edifying.

First of all, here are the three categories of questions on the test:

· Space and Place
· Environment and Society
· Spatial Dynamics and Connections (my favorite)

And the questions? There are some questions that you would normally think of as geography questions (identify Lake Superior, what is the southernmost country, etc.), but they are few and far between. Instead, most of them are like this:

· Read the passage above. What does Chief Seattle believe about owning land? Many other people in the United States hold views on owning land different from those of Chief Seattle.

What are these views?

· Environmental issues are viewed differently by people in different circumstances. Explain how the artist makes this point in the cartoon.
· Many children all over the world know what rock-and-roll music is. What has made this possible?
· What contributes to the greenhouse effect?
· What is an important reason that skyscrapers were built in American cities?
· What is one argument in favor of developing nuclear energy for peaceful purposes? What is one argument against developing nuclear energy for peaceful purposes?

I can't figure out even a tenuous connection between that last question and the study of geography.

I'm aware that it's all too easy to mock efforts to make education more interesting and stimulating by de-emphasizing rote facts. What's more, I don't believe that international comparisons have as much value as some people seem to think. After all, low scores or not we somehow keep churning out the youngsters who start up the companies and make the discoveries that the rest of the world depends on.

Still, in a country where one-third of fourth graders can't find their own state on a map of the United States, some back-to-basics is probably in order. After all, if we're going to spend all of our time hating France, shouldn't our kids at least know where France is?


Sapient Educator said...

This article is an excellent example of the results of progressive education!

Anonymous said...

My husband heard, just this past week, the following exchange on talk radio. The upset caller was discussing Gitmo with the host.

Host: Ma'am, do you even know where Gitmo is?

Caller: Yes, it's in Viet Nam.

Host: No, you're wrong. It's in Cuba.

Caller: Cuba? Well, that's close.

Anonymous said...

Joanne Jacobs continues to blog daily and does a wonderful job. Here is the link to her site --


Instructivist said...

"Joanne Jacobs continues to blog daily and does a wonderful job. Here is the link to her site --"

The defunct blog I referred to and from which the entry was taken was called CalPundit and written by Kevin Drum. He now blogs at Washington Monthly

CalPundit in turn cited Joanne Jacobs. It can all get so confusing.

I am very familiar with Joanne and read her daily.

Anonymous said...

one of those international tests of high school students — you know, the ones that generate annual horror stories about how American kids rank just behind Swaziland in useful knowledge

I love it!

I'm gonna have to Steal This Quote for Kitchen Table Math.

A while back I told our interim principal, whose wife teaches high school math in another district, that U.S. kids rank down somewhere with Kuwait.

He said, 'Yeah, and they've got oil.'

Instructivist said...

I posted this comment at Rob Kremer site.

That's right.... the kids have to try to figure it out by themselves. Now that's a pretty efficient way to teach a theorem that's been around a few thousand years. No, the teacher can't actually directly teach the students something that she knows - how oppressive. Better to have the students spend hours cutting construction paper to shreds in cooperative groups. [Rob Kremer]

And here my bold "thesis" on why the progressive ed cult -- which should be laughed out of court -- keeps going:

Sometimes I think the very idiocy of the progressive/constructivist ideology is its great strength and helps its perpetuation. This may sound like an odd statement, but my reasoning is as follows: I think normal people -- who should be mounting the barricades and chase these constructivist charlatans out of town -- simply cannot imagine the sheer absurdity of making non-instruction one of the core tenets of an educational creed. Non-instruction in schools of all places! What sane person can conceive of something like that?

Quincy said...

Instructivist -

It's not that they think that the progressive mis-educators are insane, it's that they've been convinced that, because these people are at the forefront of education theory, their ideas are far too deep for the common man to understand.