Bound Hand & Foot

In ancient China, upper-class women had their feet tightly bound as children, preventing the bones from growing normally, so that they could be hindered in their walking, and only capable of cute little “feminine” steps around the house.
We don’t do that, of course. What we do instead with all our young people is see to it that they do not read a single complete history book in school (maiming their knowledge of history) and we confine their writing mostly to fiction, compositions about themselves, or brief little five-paragraph “essays” about something else (doesn’t matter what), which cripples their ability to write.
Even when we ask them to apply to college and show us their writing, admissions officers ask only for 500-word pieces in which they talk about themselves and their lives.
In Boston the Boston Globe has a competition that asks young people to write about courage. But is it the courage of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, or John Quincy Adams, or James Otis, or Patrick Henry or John Paul Jones, or Florence Nightingale that they want to hear about? Not a chance. They want the youngsters to write about their own courage, for instance perhaps when they spoke to a fellow student who was not popular, etc.
Thus we bind their learning and their imagination, and we try to prevent their access to knowledge of history and the achievements of mankind, and we try to keep them from learning how to write a serious term paper or read a substantial history book.
Why is this happening? One example of the problem is a writing consultant from Teachers’ College, Columbia, who was given a $50,000,000 (yes, $50 million) contract to teach students reading and writing in New York City. When I asked her if she would be having the students write about history, she told me: “I teach writing, I don’t get into content that much.” So, naturally, the students her grant enabled her to “work” with probably didn’t get into content that much either.
Mark Bauerlein wrote (The Dumbest Generation: How the Digital Age Stupefies Young Americans and Jeopardizes Our Future) that on the NAEP history test 57 percent scored “Below Basic.” To score “Basic,” the student has to know who George Washington was. To score “Below Basic” the student has to know that Scooby-Doo was never President, but they probably could not name anyone who ever was President. “Of those taking the exam, a majority, 52 percent, when asked to identify a U.S. Ally during World War II selected a member of the Axis powers–Germany, Italy, and Japan–rather than the Soviet Union” [or Great Britain].
We hear lots of complaints from many quarters that our kids are ignorant of history and cannot write. It would have made as much sense to criticize upper-class Chinese women in the Imperial days because they had such poor times in the 100-yard dash.
If we continue to keep history books away from our students, and limit their writing to brief solipsistic exercises, then we can only expect that they will continue to demonstrate the damage we have done to them, when we test them and look over the writing they are able to produce for us.
“Teach by Example”
Will Fitzhugh [founder]
The Concord Review [1987]
Ralph Waldo Emerson Prizes [1995]
National Writing Board [1998]
TCR Institute [2002]
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