I got to thinking today, and we all know how dangerous that is. The following is just some thoughts on modern education, sparked by a discussion about history, which I happen to have some opinions about.
So last night Ensign was studying for her American History class, and she mentioned that she was very confused because, while studying the American Revolution, her professor had maintained that the revolution had little or nothing to do with taxation because the American colonies paid relatively low taxes as compared to the rest of the British Empire. Her book on the other hand, claimed that taxation was a primary motivator behind the American independence movement.
Unfortunately for her, both the text and her professor are correct, though to varying degrees. The professor is correct when he says that the American colonies paid lower taxes than the rest of the Empire, however, the text is correct in claiming that the additional taxes following the Seven Year’s War (or French and Indian War here in America) was one of the top concerns of the Continental Congressional Conventions.
The problem becomes compounded when the issue of representation is introduced. There is much debate on whether the colonists’ objections to the new taxes were primarily financial or philosophical. While recent scholarship tends to imply (if not outright state) that the leaders of the colonies were motivated by greed and financial gain, the evidence is stacked pretty strongly in favor of ideological differences. For example, the majority of colonial leaders were financially devastated by British political and military maneuvering. Nor were they so foolish as not to forsee this. Benjamin Franklin famously summed up the danger they all knew was in store saying, “If we do not hang together, we shall certainly all hang separately”. The colonial leaders, at least, understood the question of independence to be not a matter of money, but of principle.
However, it is likely that the average colonist was far more concerned about his wallet than any grand philosophical ideas of society or rights. Not that they would have disagreed with he Lockean ideals of the revolution had they been aware of them, but for the most part they probably had no idea who this Locke fellow was. It is hard to believe that the sort of mob actions which characterized the early years of rebellion could have stemmed from well developed philosophical principles. Such events as the “Boston Massacre” and the “Boston Tea Party” are more likely the result of an inflamed mob than a reasoned strategy, and mob rule is scarcely motivated by reason. With this in mind, it seems likely that the majority of American colonists were motivated by financial concerns, and it cannot be denied that without the support of the people the revolution could never have succeeded. Therefore, the actual dollar amount of the new taxes was a primary motivator of the rebellion.
While Ensign’s class is only a basic American History course, it is unfortunate that her professor cares so little about truly educating his pupils, and seems only intent on overturning their presuppositions in order to keep their attention. This man has a wonderful opportunity to truly educate young adults in the rich heritage and history of this nation, afforded him by an educational system which mandates such education for all who would desire to be called “educated” Instead of recognizing his responsibility to his students, to the educational system and ultimately to his nation, he marginalizes his subject by reducing it to a series of sensational “reinterpretations” of established history calculated rather to entertain that the educate.
A striking example of the dismal failture in American historical education can be found in another part of the same discussion which initiated my thoughts on this subject. At another point during her studying, Ensign turned to me and asked whether there was a war which Britain had just recently gotten finished with just before the American rebellion began. I have a habit of making people discover the answers to their questions on their own, and so, thinking that any high-school grad should have learned this, asked her what George Washington had done before leading the Continental Army. She was unable to answer the question. Due to her high level of intelligence, her dilligent and studious habits, and her near-perfect high-school grades, I can only assume that she was never taught about the critical role which the French and Indian War played in training most of the Continental Army’s leading officers.
Sadly this is not an isolated situation. The American educational system, in its earnest desire to offer a quality education to all, has merely proven that only those who seek shall find, and only unto those who knock shall the door be opened. Such programs as standardized testing, No Child Left Behind and a myriad of others have created a system which empathizes with the (dare I say it!?) stupid, rewards the mediocre and restrains the excellent. Only by returning to the unentitled and earned-rewards mentality of those who founded this great nation of ours can we hope to carry on the legacy forged by our national forebears.