May 15, 2002
Letters to the Seattle Times

Borrowing a page from the playbook of the Daily Pundit, I have a beef about one of the letters to the editor in today's Seattle Times. Here is the letter, in its entirety:

The Mundane Doctrine
The National Assessment of Educational Progress results showed that 60 percent of high-school seniors could not explain the Monroe Doctrine. I would be willing to wager that if you did a random sample of 1,000 American adults, they would do no better, in fact probably much worse ("Don't know much about history... " editorial, May 13).
The tests are designed by academic scholars, those people who spend years and years in college studying history. The average person memorizes this stuff in school only to pass a history test, and then forgets it because it has no day-to-day real-life application.
This is the problem with the current high-stakes testing bandwagon. Too much of what it tests for is irrelevant to the real world of working, dealing with people, and making a good life. Becoming a history teacher is the only job you will ever apply for that requires knowing about the Monroe Doctrine.
I agree that 100 percent of history teachers should know about the Monroe Doctrine. For the rest of us, I think it would be much (more) beneficial to America to test our students for more practical knowledge, like how to do taxes, get along with people who are different than you, or how to spot political propaganda techniques.
Rob Sandelin, Monroe

I will agree that some of what we learn in school is a bit arcane and has little real-world application for the general public (Geometry, Chemistry), history is not one of them. George Satayana once noted "Those who fail to study history are doomed to repeat it," a truism that still applies today. While studying specific dates may seem to be a bit much for some, it is necessary to establish a chronology in order to understand the consequences of actions taken. As to the specific example of the Monroe Doctrine, its application had a very strong effect on the actions of the European powers and their attitudes towards the new world, effects that are still being felt today, and politicians and sociologists (as well as history teachers) would do well to understand its ramifications.

Mr. Sandelin then goes on to cite examples of subjects he feels the schools should be teaching. The first—how to do taxes—is something that is ostensibly already taught in school; we call it mathematics. To cover all the tiny loopholes and exemptions and schedules is something that no high school teacher is (or should be) equipped to do. Perhaps a simplification of the tax system would make this wish a reality. His other two suggestions are apparently a product of a left-wing mindset—they are social engineering dreams. They are not something that should be part of a core curriculum, or even taught as separate subjects, although some of their salient points could be covered in other courses. (While his last statement might be value-neutral, its positioning after the "getting along" request suggests to me that he is thinking primarily about countering conservative propaganda, not liberal. I could be wrong on this point, however.)

posted on May 15, 2002 07:21 PM


I found it fascinating that a letter to the editor I wrote ended up on a website, without my permission, being critiqued by someone not obviously signing his work. Am I allowed a rebuttal of the critique?

George Santayana's quote is often given as if it were fact. Do we just take this as truth? It seems quite unlikely that if we forget the civil war, the causes of that particular conflict will manifest themselves again. In fact, a strong argument could be made that humans are pathethically bad at learning from history, and we repeat the same mistakes over and over again anyway.

Getting along with people different than yourself is a key skill to survive in the real world of business. Multi-national corporations learn this or fail. It is a key skill for success in a multi-cultural America which is the reality of today. It is hardly a left-wing conspiracy, it is the reality of America. For example, If you can't deal with Japanese, you better not live in Seattle, because far-east trade is a huge part of our economy here, and there is a huge Japanese cultural presence here.

As a teacher, I have to report that my students are woefully unprepared to recognize propaganda and, from what I can see, the majority of Americans seem to do little critical examination, they just parrot what they are told, and obey authority. And why shouldn't they? That is what the school system spends 12 years teaching them to do. Being able to define propaganda, critique it, and see it for what it is, would go a long way to debunking the political process, and make people better voters, and smarter citizens.

In a recent study by HR Block, The mathematical computation involved in simple tax prepartion is beyond the capicity of 40% of Americans. Now, since the study was done by the very people who would obviously benefit from this, I question that number, but I have found many students I work with do not know how to calculate percentages.

There are many more practical and important skills to have than knowing the Monroe Doctrine beyond passing your history test.

posted by Rob Sandelin on January 18, 2003 08:46 AM

Post a comment

Email Address:



Remember your info?

Back to Horologium