Steven Spielberg, the TIMSS and the PIRLS: It seems to be the world’s oldest story.
We refer to the pleasing tale about the manifest dumbness of These Kids Today. In this morning’s New York Times, Timothy Egan offers a lightened version of this relentless old tale:
EGAN (12/14/12): History is always utilitarian, and often entertaining. It stirs the blood of any lover of the past to see Steven Spielberg’s majestic “Lincoln”—at its core, a drama about politicians with ZZ Top beards writing legislation—crush the usual soulless, computer-generated distractions at the box office.Will someone get These Kids Today off this columnist’s lawn?
But history, the formal teaching and telling of it, has never been more troubled. Two forces, one driven by bottom-line educators answering to corporate demands to phase out the liberal arts, the other coming from the circular firing squad of academics who loathe popular histories, have done much to marginalize our shared narratives.
David McCullough, the snowy-headed author and occasional national scold, says we are raising a generation of Americans who are historically illiterate. He cites Harry Truman’s line that the only new thing in the world is the history you don’t know. And today, in part by design, there’s a lot of know-nothingness throughout the land. Only 12 percent of high school seniors are “at or above proficient” in American history, which, of course, doesn’t mean they’re stupid.
Are these claims and implied claims true? Has the formal teaching of history “never been more troubled?” Are we “raising a generation of Americans who are historically illiterate?”
If only 12 percent of seniors are rated proficient, does than mean they know less than kids knew in the past? And how high has the bar for "proficient" been set on the unnamed test to which Egan refers? Does that statistic mean “there’s a lot of know-nothingness throughout the land?”
Like Egan, we don’t know how to answer those questions. But we’ll have to admit it: We’re sick of casual complaints about These Kids Today, even modified putdowns like Egan’s.
For ourselves, we saw Lincoln this Wednesday afternoon; we'll admit we didn’t find it majestic, or even see much of a point. It hasn’t stirred our blood to see liberal intellectuals fighting over relatively minor details of this history when these same people can't even seem to explain what Susan Rice said this fall.
We’ve also been reviewing the latest international test scores, the scores from the 2011 TIMSS and PIRLS. What do these test scores say and suggest about These Kids Today? And how did our big press organs cover the release of these scores?
We think these new scores are quite intriguing, in various ways. We found the coverage intriguing too. Once again, USA Today struck us as much more insightful in its education coverage than the mightier Post/AP/Times. For our money, the Christian Science Monitor drained a deep three right there in its third paragraph.
We’ll discuss various topics next week. To review results from the TIMSS, click this. To check out the PIRLS, just click here.