Thursday, December 19, 2013

To Quote My Grandmother: "Why Are Teenagers So Stupid?": A History Lesson

As the semester draws to a close and I read over student papers that reflect their newly acquired knowledge, I've come to a realization.

My students haven't acquired shit.

All juniors at my high school are required to write a research paper on one of America's greatest speeches. The content should cover the historical setting of the speech, a bit about the speaker him/herself, and why the speech qualifies as a great one.

Of course, we guide them through the rhetorical analysis part, but the historical setting we leave to Google and what they've picked up from their history classes. Not that I'm opposed to sprinkling historical tidbits into my instruction, but figure what I know they can easily find themselves on the Internet, or God help them, in their history textbooks. 

Recently, all the junior teachers gathered to grade the final drafts of these papers in order to share our success and bemoan our failures.  On this particular occasion, there was a lot of bemoaning.

Here is what we learned from our student papers:
  • Malcolm X read the Torah while in prison
  • The Cold War started in 1985
  • Martin Luther King Jr spoke in 1929
  • Teddy Roosevelt saw Patrick Henry speak
  • "The Japs bombed us; it's time to retaliate!" (The teacher whose student produced this gem--Japanese.)
  • "The Allied Powers accept the Armistice agreements so we could have Veteran's Day."
  • Twins are the same age
And my favorite line: "If America is the land of the free, where the fuck is the freedom?"

We could have blamed the history teachers, but we English folks are kissing cousins to you history folks.  Besides, I know that my school's history teachers are stellar. And my colleagues of Language Arts?  Let's just say that one of them was recently a California Teacher of the Year--so you know we ain't playin' around.

Nevertheless, as an educator, I feel a certain responsibility to set a few things straight.
  • Malcolm X might have understood Moses' demand to "set my people free" and approved of the violence rained down on Egypt for not doing so, but I think a black man trying to empower his oppressed race would not turn to the Torah.  Islam and Judaism--a wee bit at odds.
  • In 1985, the only build-up in weaponry was happening in our hairstyles. 
    Headman for Flock of Seagulls
  • Even though Martin Luther King Jr would have had contention with labeling the day the stock market crashed in 1929 as "Black Tuesday," his "I have a dream speech" probably would have included that he dreams that one day the sons of slaves and the sons of former slave owners can walk into and bank together and find their money still there.
  • I know Teddy was known for his physical prowess, but unless he lived to be 144, he did not see Patrick Henry speak at the Virginia convention in 1775.  But if he had, he would have definitely jumped on the "Give me liberty or give me death" bandwagon.
  • As for retaliating against the "Japs" we did that. Dropping the A-bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki is the mother of all retaliations. I think we can call it even-steven.
  • Yes, Veteran's Day is based on an armistice which started on November 11, 1918 but countries don't end wars so that another holiday can be added to their calendars.
  • As for twins being the same age, that is true.  I got nothing to correct there.
And as for "where the fuck is our freedom?" I can blog, can't I?


  1. Not too long ago I was subbing an English class. The assignment was called "So You Think You Can Edit". They had turned in some big essay a week or so previous, and the teacher had lifted sentences from each essay with the instruction that the students were to fix them.

    Some of the sentences were practically unreadable. Deciphering them was interesting.

    Perhaps you all should do something similar. Copy some of the worst "facts" and ask the students to fix. Might make for some good laughs.

  2. Don't be too quick to write all of these off.

    •Martin Luther King Jr spoke in 1929

    He was born in January-so certainly before December 31, it is not unlikely he may have been saying "mama" and "dada."

    However, I bet he said "I gotta go potty" long before "I had a dream."



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