Tuesday, August 19, 2014

I can't expect my college students to walk in the door knowing whether the US is a communist nation or not.

20 years ago this week, I taught my very first college history course as a grad student - LAH1093, Latin American Civilizations at FSU. Since then I've finished my PhD and taught US, Latin American and World History courses at Loyola University, St. Thomas University, Barry University, Nova Southeastern University, Broward College and Tallahassee Community College where I've been full-time since 2005.

 I've learned over the past 20 years that I can't expect college students to enter my classroom with anything but the ability to read and write English.

My job is to diagnose what they know about the world in general and the US in particular, figure out what they NEED to know and connect it all into a memorable and meaningful college history course.

Maybe other colleges can expect more.

Maybe the limited admission colleges that require SAT/ACT scores,  essays, recommendations and application fees get a different breed of student. 

I only know what I have seen. 

I can't expect my students to know what country the US gained independence from, or when the US became a nation.

 In the most recent pre-tests I gave my class only 12 out of 40 students identified "Great Britain" or "England" or anything along those lines as the country the US won our independence from. Other answers ranged from China to France to "Germany? and/or Cuba?"

I can't expect them to know if the US is a state, a city, a country or a continent.

I can't expect them to be able to articulate the difference between the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, and I certainly can't expect them to name the first colonies and states. 

 I know for sure that less than 1/3 of my students have a clue what the Louisiana Purchase was, and fewer have any idea of the importance.

I can't expect my students to know that the Mexican-American War was between Mexico and the US (really, I have documentation to back this up) or that the Spanish-American War was between the US and Spain (again, I can't make this up). 

I can expect my students to put WW1 and WW2 in order, but I can't expect them to list major battles, identify our allies or give an overall description of the war.

I can't expect them to find Puerto Rico on a map or know what language(s) might be spoken there (much less why). 

I can't expect my students to know the basics of geography, to name the 7 continents or find the major waterways that have shaped world history. 

I can't expect them to name capitals, empires or oceans.
I can't expect my students to name 5 countries in Latin America. 
Example #1:  Ala; Africana; Arlllia; Elkia; Ewe
Example #2: Brazil, Equador, Amsterdam, Phillipines, Alamo

I can't expect my students to name 5 countries in Africa.
Example #1: South Africa, Lapos, Lapa, Lauppas, Lapps
Example #2: Madagascar, Nigeria, Korea, Bam-Bam, NaNa

I can't expect my students to know who the Commander in Chief is or how someone becomes the Secretary of State.  

I can't expect a student to know when or how slavery ended in the US or when the Civil Rights movement was.

I can't even expect students to know whether the US is a communist nation or not.

I can't expect my students to know what the United Nations is, what NATO is, or who attacked the US on 9/11.

The next generations deserve a richer understanding and appreciation of the US and our role in the larger world. 

I don't know what changes are coming in the K-12 curriculum, but if anyone wants a little feedback, call me up.  

I want better for them.