Ice-cream racism

You scream. I scream. We all scream for ice cream. And racism.

When you hear an ice cream truck play Turkey in the Straw, think about the racist lyrics written for the tune 100 years ago, writes Theodore R. Johnson III on NPR’s blog.

By the time ice cream trucks existed, Turkey in the Straw was associated with farms or with its nonsense lyrics, responded linguist John H. McWhorter in the New Republic.

Johnson wants ice cream lovers to reflect on the tune’s racist history along with other minstrel songs such as Camptown Races, Jimmy Crack Corn and Oh, Susanna.

McWhorter makes The Case For Moving On in City Journal.

We should reflect often on slavery, Jim Crow, and redlining, yes. But ice cream? . . .  We are not simply to live in the present; lord forbid we look ahead with anything but wary caution and, most importantly, an endless consideration that this present was furnished by people singing about nigger this and watermelon that, and doing much worse besides.

An ice cream truck goes by, playing a tune which—if anyone in 2014 is even aware of the lyric—is about the barnyard. Your average person is thinking about getting a popsicle or cone.

Demands for a “national conversation” on race will not transform the lives of black Americans, writes McWhorter. “Shouldn’t we focus on race as it exists in the only real world we will ever know—where there has never been a way to settle old scores perfectly, but in the end, what matters is getting over? Change happens, if slowly. As blacks in America move on, we can admit that sometimes, an ice cream jingle is just an ice cream jingle.”

By the way, the lyrics to “You Scream, I Scream  . . . ” could be considered demeaning to Eskimos. Who knew?

AP claims to create ‘apprentice historians’

The New AP History course promises to turn high school students into “apprentice historians,” writes Peter Wood on the National Association of Scholars blog. Don’t hold your breath.

The newly designed course “distorts U.S. history, argue Jane Robbins, senior fellow at the American Principles Project, and Larry Krieger, a retired AP U.S. history teacher. Krieger followed up here.

The new framework — which is much more detailed than earlier versions — “relentlessly advances a negative view of America,” writes Wood. There’s lots about racism, but little about the Declaration of Independence or George Washington.

The College Board explains the course:

. . . focuses on the development of historical thinking skills (chronological reasoning, comparing and contextualizing, crafting historical arguments using historical evidence, and interpreting and synthesizing historical narrative) and an understanding of content learning objectives organized around seven themes, such as identity, peopling, and America in the world.

. . . the course is designed to encourage students to become apprentice historians.”

That’s flattering, writes Wood. Eleventh graders “are no longer merely students striving to get a foundation in facts and understanding, but rather young professionals in a learned academic discipline ready to develop their command of sophisticated analytic and synthetic skills.”

This very much falls within the zone of contemporary education where colleges and universities—and schools—trip over themselves to assure students that they possess such insight and blazing intelligence that they can skip the learn-how-to-swim courses and go straight to the Olympic relay team.

To be sure, really bright high school students should indeed begin to work on chronological reasoning, comparing and contextualizing, crafting historical arguments using historical evidence, and interpreting and synthesizing historical narrative.  But they aren’t going to get very far on these sophisticated skills if they are not also acquiring a well-landscaped understanding of the big picture, a richly detailed recall of historical sequence, and a genuine familiarity with key people and key documents.

The assumption seems to be that ignorant students can look up what they don’t know, writes Wood. But what if they don’t know what they don’t know?

Here are Wood’s updates.

An Australian writes about teaching World History at a U.S. university.  His students couldn’t “write like a historian” because they couldn’t write grammatically, he complains.

In addition, “their knowledge of events, places, ideas, and people outside the United States was sometimes startlingly limited. Ho Chi Minh may as well have been the local Asian takeaway place,” writes Jamie Miller, who taught at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut. “Some students seemed scarily unfamiliar with a world map.”

Essay: Is the Holocaust real or propaganda?

Did the Holocaust really happen or was it “a propaganda tool used for political or monetary gain?” In a Southern California district, Rialto Unified, eighth graders were told to use three sources — including one that calls the murder of Jews a “hoax” — to research the “debate.” Then they were to write an essay, citing their research, to “explain whether or not you believe the Holocaust was an actual event in history, or merely a political scheme created to influence public emotion and gain.”

In an email, school board member Joe Martinez defended the assignment as an exercise in critical thinking. “This will allow a person to come to their own conclusion.”

Their own conclusion? “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts,” said Daniel Patrick Moynihan.

After more furor, the district said teachers would revise the assignment.

Teachers, who were doing a unit on the Diary of Anne Frank, came up with the Holocaust debate idea, no doubt thinking it would meet Common Core standards’ call for argumentative writing. (Anne Frank also is a hoax, according to the assigned denial site.) They’ll think of something else.

It’s just a coincidence — really — that the primarily Latino district is run by an interim superintendent named Mohammad Z. Islam.

British Pathé releases 85,000 newsreels

Newsreel archive British Pathé has uploaded its entire collection of 85,000 historic films to YouTube.

“Spanning the years from 1896 to 1976, the collection includes footage – not only from Britain, but from around the globe – of major events, famous faces, fashion trends, travel, sport and culture,” says the company. “The archive is particularly strong in its coverage of the First and Second World Wars.”

It sounds like a history teacher’s dream.

The lines they are a-changin’

The Centennia Historical Atlas shows how European and Middle Eastern borders (not just the Crimean peninsula) changed from the year 1000 to a few years ago. I don’t think it’s completely accurate, but it’s still very cool.

How WWI got started

How Come They Don’t Teach You This In School?, asks QuickMeme.

How Come They Don't Teach You This In School? This is Brilliant... -   Misc

Carnival of Homeschooling

SmallWorld at Home is hosting this week’s Carnival of Homeschooling from the snowy South.

Sarah includes snowman photos from local homeschoolers. “For some of these kids, this was their first snowman-building experience. Just a few days after our big snow, we have daffodils starting to pop up. Such is life in the South.”

Eva Varga explores family genealogy to give her children a sense of history.

Remembering FDR’s tweets

Jimmy Kimmel’s Lie Witness News celebrated President’s Day by telling people that President Franklin Roosevelt had died — that day — and asking them to remember him. How about FDR’s funny Twitter feed? Yeah, that was great. (It was Kimmel, not Fallon.)

Down with history textbooks

Long, fact-laden history textbooks are “boring and intimidating,” writes teacher David Cutler in The Atlantic.

Textbooks present history as unchanging, but as time passes, our understanding and interpretation of the past constantly evolves.

Textbooks are one-sided, offering a top-down, often white-male-centric view of history.

Without a thesis or any semblance or argument, textbooks don’t accurately reflect how most scholars (at least good ones) write and present history. Teachers should assign readings that model effective historical writing.

Teachers “who don’t know history or the historian’s craft” use textbooks as a crutch, Cutler writes. “Teachers who depend on textbooks are likely to test what is in the textbooks: long lists of facts.” Students memorize, then forget.  

“Kids don’t study history to ‘learn the historian’s craft’,” responds Robert Pondiscio on Facebook. “They study history so that they have some context in place and time for their own lives, and cease laboring under the misconception that the world was handed down to them in present form as they find it.”

And it’s just not true that teachers or textbooks present history as “a long list of facts,” writes Pondiscio. 

‘You have to know history to teach it’

“You have to know history to actually  teach it,” historian Eric Foner says in an Atlantic interview. Too many history teachers are athletic coaches, he says.

Students need to know historical facts — and to understand “every selection of what is a fact, or what is important as a fact, is itself based on an interpretation,”  says Foner. He wishes his college students could write essays.

Many elementary schools spend little time on history, writes Lisa Hansel on Core Knowledge Blog. Students don’t develop the historical knowledge or vocabulary to understand history when it’s introduced in later grades.

On of Ed Week’s most-viewed commentaries of 2013 was on students’ lack of history knowledge, notes Hansel.

Author Vicky Schippers, claims that we’re teaching history wrong—as “a litany of disconnected names, dates, and events to be memorized before an exam” instead of as “a study of struggles, setbacks, and victories.”

Schippers tutored “Tony,” a would-be high school graduate who “had no sense of U.S. presidents, the sequence of wars in which the United States has been involved, the U.S. Constitution and the structure of government, and the central issues over which our democracy has struggled.” He’d heard of Abraham Lincoln, but couldn’t link him to the Civil War.

Hansel wonders if Tony got a string of bad history teachers — or if it was something else.

It could be that all of Tony’s history classes consisted of terribly boring facts that Tony decided not to memorize. But I’d guess that at least some of Tony’s teachers delivered the facts along with the struggles and stories—and I’d guess that Tony’s listening and reading comprehension were too limited to follow along.

K-6 teachers average 16 to 21 minutes a day on social studies, according to a 2012 survey. And history is only a fraction of that.