This has been making the rounds lately, and I just had to comment, because I care about the world that I live in, and people who have the good fortune to be born into a society with free education should actually make use of it.
When I was a little kid, I played “Where In The World is Carmen Sandiego?” on my mom’s ridiculous 286 computer. I was lucky! I thought it was the coolest thing in the world that I could follow sinister thieves from London to New Delhi to Shanghai in order to capture their boss-lady.
There was a copy of the World Almanac with a pull-out poster of national flags of the world. It had just been updated to list a whole bunch of different countries instead of the USSR. Germany was also one country, not two.
In order to catch Carmen, you had to identify places on a map, major cultural characteristics, currencies, landmarks and flags.
Like I said, I was lucky to have access to a computer, let alone one of the best educational games ever made. But then I went to school, like almost everyone else my age, because it was the law. AND IT WAS AWESOME.
I learned about whales (and that some whales were found only in the Pacific Ocean while others were found only in the Atlantic Ocean, near where I lived), and that some whales didn’t exist anymore because people captured too many of them. Also, they’re mammals, like humans. Just really big ones with no legs.
I learned about dinosaurs, and that some of the coolest dinosaur skeletons were found in Alberta, a province in my very own country of Canada!
I learned about penguins. Penguins live at the south pole. Well, most of them. This led to a discussion about the Arctic being north, and Antarctic being south. Penguins also can’t fly, but boy can they swim!
In grade 3, we learned about castles. We learned about different parts of castles, and why they had moats. We learned that castles in China were different from castles in Scotland. We learned where China and Scotland were. For the final project in that section, we had to build a replica of a real life castle out of household objects. That mostly meant cardboard tubes and masking tape. I built a replica Tower of London.
Oh, then there was the rainforest thing. It was the 90’s, and conservation was a big word being thrown around on TV and in magazines like Owl. So we learned about birds of the rainforest, and types of trees, and those crazy orange frogs, and the native people who lived in the Amazon (which is not just a website where you can buy stuff). Oh, and three-toed sloths…those things are awesome!
And we learned about deforestation, and how it messes up the weather, and animals either die or have to move to places that they don’t like. And we learned that there are different types of forests depending on how close they are to the equator. So the rain forests of North America are very different from the tropical (read: near the tropics of Cancer and Capricorn) rain forests.
Oh, and then there was the bit on volcanoes. We learned basic geology, how the earth is actually a bunch of moving sheets of rock floating around on a bunch of molten rock, and then sometimes they collide and pressure builds up making mountains and volcanoes! The Ring of Fire is not just a Johnny Cash song.
Yeah, we did this stuff in elementary school and I still remember it all.
So, why on earth does the CBC article I’ve linked to above even exist? What changes have happened in the education system in the last 20 years to ensure that even non-academic students don’t learn about cool stuff?
Not everybody is an excellent speller, though daily spelling homework and weekly spelling tests certainly helped me never to see red lines (on papers or in computerized spell-checkers). Not everybody is good at math, though I still remember how to solve (and graph) a quadratic equation, and I can do basic calculations without having to use a calculator.
But even people who can’t do those things still like COOL STUFF! Whales, penguins, dinosaurs, castles, three-toed sloths, lava…cool stuff!
Peers, friends, colleagues, teachers, students and fellow members of the human race I ask you this: what happened to learning about the world through studying cool stuff, and how do we fix it?