At a well-regarded high school in southern California, Lisa VanDamme’s daughter is learning . . . Well, last year Lana took a “world history” course that tried to cover everything that has ever happened everywhere, writes the mother on Pygmalion for the Soul. It was chock full of the 4 C’s: communication, collaboration, creativity and critical thinking. And the fifth C, which ends with “rap.” But there wasn’t much history.
Students would read “vastly overgeneralized” information in the textbook, then fill out worksheets.
One asked Lana to define historic terms and draw a picture of each one. One of the terms was “the Truman Doctrine.”
Another required a definition and an antonym. For example, “Creole” is “a person of mixed European and black descent, especially in the Caribbean.” What’s the antonym? asks VanDamme.
It all led up to the project: “A trial of Napoleon, in which it was to be decided whether he was, A) a Bloodthirsty Tyrant, or B) A Great General. (Yes, those were the only two possibilities.)”
Each student was assigned the role of a historic person or a “type” (Lana was “a French officer”) and told to write a fictional account of their character’s interaction with Napoleon.
At the trial, “each student told his or her story of the [made-up] character’s direct encounter with Napoleon, including [made-up] evidence of his fundamentally ‘great’ or ‘tyrannical’ nature, while the rest of the class took notes,” she writes. Finally, each student used the “evidence” to write an essay on whether Napoleon was a tyrant or great general.
Now, by the standards of the 4 C’s, this project surely rates an A. Did it involve Communication? Yes, all of the students had to assume the stage and share their stories. Collaboration? After all, this was a group effort of experiences consolidated to yield a fair judgment. Creativity? (Can’t quite discuss this one with a straight face.) Well, yes, since their stories were works of fiction. And Critical Thinking? If the synthesis of pseudo-facts generated by your historically-ignorant peers with the goal of coming to an overly simplistic conclusion can be called “critical thinking,” then, certainly, it involved that too.
But what did students learn about Napoleon? Not much, concludes VanDamme.