Education has become more about profit and power than children learning. Both important and insidious, this profit and power ideology is behind what’s going on with testing and school curriculum.
Students will only have the skills necessary to pass the mandated tests to move up to the next level. Practically speaking, they won’t be career and college ready! It’s this ideological component of numbing mind control that we, the Independent Commission on Public Education, are bringing to light in this article.
A short passage with the accompanying question and “correct” answer about Africa serves as a case in point. This exact question appeared on the June 2013 high school global history and geography Regents exam and was written not by an educator, but by a journalist, Fareed Zakaria. It reads as follows:
Europe’s waterways were also a blessing. Its rivers flowed gently into sheltered, navigable bays. The Rhine is a wide, slow-moving river that can be used as a highway for goods and people. The Mediterranean is calm, almost a lake, with many big ports.
Compare this to Africa. Despite being the second-largest continent, Africa has the shortest coastline, much of which is too shallow to build major ports. Most of its big rivers—fast-moving, dramatic, vertiginous—are not navigable. Add to that the tropical heat and propensity for disease and food spoilage, and you have a compelling geographic explanation for African underdevelopment—surely not the only factor, but a significant one.
Which conclusion about the geography of these continents is best supported by this passage?
- Europe and Africa have the same climate.
- Europe and Africa have many deep major ports.
- Waterways are a geographic blessing in both Europe and Africa.
- River systems have helped development in Europe and hindered it in Africa.
One only needs to know how to read to get the “right” answer. There is no opportunity to critique the point of view in the passage. In fact, the more one knows about Africa, the more difficult the passage becomes, emotionally and intellectually. Consider the main idea the passage’s author is promoting: Europe is geographically “blessed” while Africa’s geography lies behind African underdevelopment. By all indications, it is Eurocentric propaganda.
What if you, or another conscious educator in your child’s life, had taught them to understand the following, or suppose their inquisitiveness had led them to research and understand on their own that:
- Africa also has many ports along the Mediterranean coast.
- There are many deep water ports in West, Southern and Eastern Africa.
- The big rivers of Africa, like the Congo or the Nile or the Niger, are, for the most part, calm enough to be navigable and to have had thousands of years of trade and commerce upon them.
- Tropical heat exists in some parts of Africa, but not all of Africa! And where it does exist, the people—pre-slavery and colonialism—had found ways to preserve their food and treat many common diseases.
There were many well-developed cultures and empires in pre-colonial Africa, from the ancient Egyptian empire and the Nok civilizations in sub-Saharan Africa to the Sahelian kingdoms, including the Songhai empire, just to name a few.
What if they’ve studied about the horrendous legacy of chattel slavery, colonialism and imperialism in Africa? What if they believe, as the late author Walter Rodney argued in his meticulously researched and important book “How Europe Underdeveloped Africa,” that these factors form the basis of Africa’s recent underdevelopment?
If we expect students to become critical thinkers, analyze different points of view and provide evidence-based arguments, they should have had the opportunity to read a passage like this from Rodney: “The interpretation that underdevelopment is somehow ordained by God is emphasized because of the racist trend in European scholarship. It is in line with racist prejudice to say openly or to imply that their countries are more developed because their people are innately superior.”
The simplistic distortion and blatantly ideological propaganda contained in the example of the New York state Regents’ reading passage and test question are prime examples of why we view standardized testing and instruction—particularly the new Common Core State Standards—as detrimental to the education of the next generation. This is especially true for our students of color, who don’t get to explore in-depth issues and beliefs about humanity’s history and cultures. It is imperative to analyze why Africa, Latin America and African-American history and culture are barely touched upon, while myths of European cultural, intellectual and now even geographical superiority go unchallenged.
The Freedom Trail and Underground Railroad curriculum provides in-depth learning on the experiences and struggles of communities of color and persons of African ancestry. According to the 1998 Freedom Trails/Underground Railroad Act, cited in Article 17, Section 801 of the New York State Education Department Law, this curriculum is “to be maintained and followed in all the schools of the state. The boards of education and trustees of the several cities and school districts of the state shall require instruction to be given in such courses by the teachers employed in the schools therein. All pupils attending such schools, over the age of 8 years, shall attend upon such instruction.”
Both regrettably and illegally, New York City’s children are not being taught this imperative history due to the favor given to the Eurocentric curriculums imposed upon our schools by corporation’s in the education business.
Critical thinking on a deep level, connected to students’ own understanding of themselves and the world they live in, which is likely to interest and engage them, is off the table. Rather, it’s “skills, baby, skills, all day, every day.” Flexibility for teachers to meet differing student learning needs and creativity in the classroom are stifled in the interest of getting higher scores on the next test.
Students are not likely to become career and college ready if they haven’t had the chance to explore and think deeply about something that interests them. There is often little choice, precious little resources and no time for music, art, dance, drama, gym, field trips or projects. Nor is there time or support to encourage a well-rounded educational experience for our young people. Think of our children whose lunch periods are scheduled at 10 a.m. and consider how different today’s educational experience is from your own. In short, our children’s human rights to full, rich human development through education are being sorely violated. It makes sense that increasing numbers of young people dislike or even hate school, that their parents feel disrespected and teachers feel demoralized.
S.E. Anderson is the author of “The Black Holocaust for Beginners” and a member of the Independent Commission on Public Education.