History exam vs. Service
And then I came across the following post on his blog:
Last weekend we went to a school-sponsored Santa Shop. The idea of the Santa Shop is that while the parents eat cookies and sip punch and listen to carols, volunteers help the kids do their Christmas shopping and wrapping so that the parents and siblings won’t know what they’re getting until the big day.
As we dropped our son off, we noticed that a large number of the volunteers seemed to be high-school aged, and shortly after that I ran into a former student who is now a history teacher at a well-regarded high school in the area. During the ensuing conversation, I remarked on the many high-school volunteers helping out, and the history teacher told me that most were students from his class.
It turns out, he explained, that he thought many of his students seemed stressed about their end-of-term history essays. So he decided to give them an option: Either (a) do the paper or (b) volunteer for a day at the Santa Shop.
Hmmm …. I found myself thinking: Equivalent academic credit for writing a history essay and helping kids buy and wrap gifts. (Insert sarcastic remark here.)
Which naturally raises the question of how much such teaching explains the dismal results from surveys of students’ historical knowledge such as this, this, and this. (links are live in original)
And I can’t help but wonder, as I work my way through grading a stack of essays and exams this week, whether part of the teacher’s calculation was to avoid having to read and evaluate those papers. Mutual accommodation reached by teacher and students, and the downward spiral continues.
There are many problems with Hicks' reflection but the one that stands out to me the most can be summarized as = knowledge of history as demonstrated on an exam > helping others. Hmm.
So, just to be sure, high school students doing something for others is the reason why students have a lack of historical knowledge?
What about writing a paper in a history course demonstrates academic credit? Does paper written = historical knowledge?
Beyond that - and I am going out on a limb a bit - does historical knowledge really equate or point to something? I mean, I'm as embarrassed as the next guy when some late night talk show host finds some random person on the street and asks them who the 23rd President of the United States was and they say Prince Charles.
But you know what?
I am perfectly okay with students who don't know their dates and names if they have compassion and an attitude/ethic of service.
I'm not totally done with Hicks - I'm still intrigued to learn more about him and his work. This reflection makes me pause, however, considering he also teaches a course in the philosophy of education.