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I hate homework, take 2

January 14, 2010

Perhaps I’m crazy, but I tend to think that history is pretty interesting. I’m fascinated whenever I see old photos. I love to study them, look into the staring eyes of people now long dead and wonder about their lives. I also love reading the words of those who lived ages ago. I imagine the world as it was then-devoid of the grind of car engines, the whine of planes in the sky. I marvel at the fact that horses were the primary means of travel (and of this, I am a bit wistful…I wanted so badly as a child to live in a place [in a time?] where I could ride a horse all day long).
I ponder the fact that wars were fought not on the television but in the streets of our own country. I was recently reminded of the story my mom told me about my great great great great (?) grandmother being handed through a window to safety by slaves, wrapped in a quilt with the family Bible, as Sherman marched to the sea….


So I was dishearted and upset when I read the following passage, this evening, in Mira’s history text book:

The English competed with the French for furs. Also, different Native American groups competed to supply furs to the Europeans. The fur trade created economic and military alliances between the Europeans and their Native American trading partners. The Huron and Algonquin peoples of the Great Lakes region were allied with the French. The Iroquois of upper New York often were allied with the Dutch and, later, the English.
Alliances between Europeans and Native Americans led to their involvement in each other’s wars. For example, by the mid 1600s, the Iroquois had trapped all the beavers in their own lands. To get more furs, they made war on their Huron and Algonquin neighbors, driving them west. Eventually the Iroquois controlled an area ranging from Maine west to the Ohio Valley and north to Lake Michigan. Iroquois expansion threatened the French fur trade. In response, the French armed the Huron and Algonquin peoples to fight the Iroquois. The Iroquois were armed by the English.
When France and England declared war on each other in Europe in 1689, French and English colonists in America also began to fight. With their Native American allies, they attacked each other’s settlements and forts. During the 1700s, two more wars between France and England fueled wars in their colonies. Neither side won a clear victory in these wars. A final war, the French and Indian war, (1754-1763), decided which nation would control the northern and eastern parts of North America.

Did you get that? Are you now just completely overwhelmed with excitement about the conflicts that lead to the French and Indian War?

Didn’t think so.

Neither was Mira. That passage I just typed out was just one of eight such passages that she was supposed to read and write her own thoughts about. Problem was, simply reading it was enough to make her eyes glaze over. Honestly, even I had to read this one over a couple of times to get the main thoughts out of it and begin to visualize the events in such a way that I could help her navigate them in her own words.

To me, it’s all a bunch of blahbedyblah, and a waste of our evening.

Amount of time Mira spent on homework tonight: 2 hours. And she burnt out before she was finished so she’ll have to go back to it in the morning.

I am slowly working on what to say to her adviser. I’m still not entirely sure how to address this. What I really want to do is single-handedly overhaul the educational system in this country. I want to mandate interesting textbooks…assuming textbooks are the best choice. Mostly I think they’re a waste of paper. Try writing schlock like that in a commercial history book for adults.

Bet it wouldn’t even be published.

It’s a problem on a massive scale, and I don’t have all the answers. But I do know this: In order to help kids maintain a love for learning and a passion for the all the ways this world works, we have to stop treating education in this country like a forced march toward the nebulous goal of graduation.

You know what I did on the day I graduated from high school? I smoked a cigarette on the soccer field and rejoiced in the fact that I was finally free to learn on my own terms.

Along those same lines, I have to confess tonight that I have given up on The Facts About Shakespeare. I plodded through the first bit of it, trying not to yawn…it was written much like Mira’s history book. It’s a dry body of research conducted a very very long time ago about the Bard himself, complete with dates thrown about and references to documents that seem to prove or disprove Shakespeare’s standing in society and the timelines within which he wrote. Fascinating, perhaps, for those with a vested interest in the idea that Shakespeare didn’t actually write any of the stuff thus attributed to him. But even for them, this book may be a touch dry. I’d rather read the Bard himself.

So without further ado, I move to the next book on that shelf:
Arctic Dreams,
by Barry Lopez.

“On a warm summer day in 1823…”
it begins.

Ah, history. 🙂

6 Comments leave one →
  1. January 14, 2010 9:02 am

    I feel your pain. And I can only imagine Mira’s pain… Why do we dumb and dilute and distill life into little zip-lock baggies of insipid mush and then expect clever kids to dig it? Yawn. Give them life, Ana June, unprocessed and riveting. Let them learn on their terms, with you as their guide. And picker-upper if/when they fall. But you know all this. As this: “Try writing schlock like that in a commercial history book for adults. Bet it wouldn’t even be published.” Home run!

    • ana june permalink
      January 14, 2010 9:48 am

      Life, unprocessed and riveting–YES! Definitely. Learning should never be painful.
      By the way, I was wrong about one thing when I wrote this last night. I mentioned that Mira had 8 passages, like the one I wrote out, to read and write about…but in fact she had TWENTY-ONE. 21. Twenty. One.
      To do over the course of one week.
      And they all sucked as bad as the one above.
      Good grief.

  2. January 15, 2010 10:50 am

    I think you’re a Johnnie at heart, my dear. How long till Mira can make her way up there?

    • ana june permalink
      January 15, 2010 12:38 pm

      You’re SO right. I’d always rather read the real thing than the abridged version. I remember how much it pissed me off when in AP English, senior year at Santa Fe High, we were assigned to read the Iliad.
      The 40 page overview version.
      ‘Scuse me, but you can’t grok the Iliad until you read the ILIAD. Which I’d already read in 8th grade at Prep! I think with a few more years maturity and a thicker skin, Mira would be a perfect candidate for St. John’s.

  3. hallie permalink
    January 23, 2010 9:00 pm

    dude, this is why john holt and john taylor gatto were are my heroes!

    the only thing i remember about graduation is a huge sense of relief, and freedom.

  4. Beth permalink
    February 7, 2010 6:28 pm

    So. I have not been following all your posts. But I will say this, if you are looking for a truly refreshing book about Shakespeare then Stephen Greenblatt’s Will in the World book is wonderful.

    As for as teaching history in school. Nothing like a social studies class to kill any interest a kid might have about history. If you don’t have it you should get Zinn’s A Young People’s History of the U.S.

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