Over at Daily Kos, Kagro X has joined the cacophony of incredulous voices — including mine –commenting on the apparent fact that Sarah Palin did not understand that Africa is a continent and not a country:
“Think about what this means, and what almost happened to this country. Frankly, the people who knew this about her and were still directly responsible for ‘vetting’ her, putting her on the ticket, attempting to foist this idiot on the American people, and protecting her while there was still a chance (however theoretical) that she could become Vice President and possibly President of the United States ought to be arrested and tried for treason.”
While it is remarkable, indeed surreal, that a vice-presidential candidate could have been selected lacking knowledge of the world’s most basic political geography, it is also a testament to how grave the inadequacies of our education system are. Palin might be an anomaly as a governor, but as a citizen she most surely is not.
Witness for example my 5th-grade daughter’s P.E. teacher. She planned an outdoor “Olympics” for my daughter’s class, dividing the students into five competing countries: United States, Canada, China, India and Africa.
When my daughter told me she was competing for Africa, I said, “But Africa isn’t a country. Those are all countries – Africa is a continent!”
“Oh, it’s no big deal, Mom, it’s just for P.E.”
I wanted to make sure she understood: “But it does matter, honey. Think of all the countries you know that are in Africa. Africa is a continent.”
“I know, Mom. It’s just a game, though. And she’s my P.E. teacher, not social studies.”
But she is my daughter’s teacher, nonetheless. And she is a voting citizen of the United States. What’s wrong with a nation that can’t even educate its teachers to know what the seven continents are, or what makes a country different from a continent?
The essential need for such elementary, fundamental principles of citizen education is why I chose to enroll my two kids in a Core Knowledge school. It’s a public focus school within the Boulder Valley School District, one that parents must open-enroll their children into, which offers the specific, content-rich curriculum developed by the Core Knowledge Foundation. The non-profit, non-partisan organization, dedicated to promoting excellence in early education, was founded in 1986 by E.D. Hirsch, professor emeritus at the University of Virginia and author of Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know.
Hirsch has been vilified by many liberal-types in the public education establishment, who question how he or anyone else can determine “what Americans need to know.” Such a title smacks of a colonial-patriarchal canon, they wail, fearing that it’s a ploy of conservative elites to trash diversity and re-implement an authoritarian back-to-basics that stifled a whole generation of kids who didn’t get the privilege of a self-esteem boost through creative spelling.
They find arrogance in the notion of the Core Knowledge Sequence, a detailed outline of specific knowledge to be taught in grades K–8 in Language Arts, American and World History, Geography, Visual Arts, Music, Math, and Science.
Never mind that my kids mastered their continents in kindergarten, were introduced to world religions in first grade, learned who Rosa Parks, Jackie Robinson and Cesar Chavez were in their second grade discussions of civil rights, and put on an abridged version of Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream in 5th grade – and reveled in its humor. Or that my daughter can identify Degas ballerinas or a self-portrait of Frido Kahlo. Or that my son, on hearing that we commenced an attack on Iraq in 2003, when he was 8, remarked in shock, “They can’t do that! They’re bombing the cradle of civilization!” He had just studied Mesopotamia, and knew where it was on a map.
The criteria for teaching P.E. doesn’t require a map skills course. But that doesn’t diminish my dismay at a situation in which any American citizen thinks Africa is a country. The only relief is that she is not second-in-line to respond to genocide in Darfur, civil war in the Congo, ethnic unrest and corrupt elections in Kenya, or the continuing legacy of apartheid in South Africa – yeah, that part down there that’s the southern part of Africa.
Want to test your own knowledge of geography? See how you square up against the abysmal results of the U.S.’s 18-24 year-olds on National Geographic’s test.
Categories: scholars and rogues