Updated: Apr 23, 2020
A group of middle-class, young to middle-aged women were gathered to read and discuss the Bible. The meeting was during the day, so all of these women would either be considered “stay-at-home” moms, or retired. As often happens in such a gathering, questions came up as to the meaning of a particular passage, and various opinions–some of them quite adamant–were expressed. I listened quietly, not really wanting to get into any kind of argument by disagreeing, since nothing could be solved and the opinions expressed were likely based on something heard in church. Anyway, trying to convince someone of a different point of view is usually fruitless. However, at one point I did respond when someone made a comment about the reach of the Roman empire, just to remind them of how big it really was.
The reason for the comment is not important, but I was struck by two things:
First, although in this group we do not discuss the denominational affiliation of participants, there seemed to be an assumption that we all held the same perspective; in fact, some seemed unaware that other perspectives even exist, let alone what they might be, or upon what they might be based.
Second, I was surprised that nobody seemed to be aware of something that is well-known, namely that the Roman empire extended into much of modern-day England, France and Germany. The woman next to me leaned over and whispered, “Did you study history?” The fact is, this is the kind of thing I always assumed other people knew; I only knew what I’d shared because of having homeschooled my children--but all of us should have learned this in school.
In the elementary school I attended, we had about two weeks of grammar instruction in the fourth grade. We had math–the “new” math, which our teachers didn’t quite seem to grasp and our parents were unable to help us with. We were presented with interesting questions, such as which occupant of the boat we would be willing to get rid of if it wouldn’t hold everyone, or whether or not a tree falling in a forest actually makes a sound if there’s no one there to hear it.
In high school, we were required to take only two years of math, Algebra I and Geometry (which is all I took). My teacher (I had the same one for both classes) offered students extra credit if we sold pickles for the student council, and spent most of class time dealing with student council officers coming into the classroom to give her the proceeds of these sales. I finally learned English grammar when I took German, then Latin.
As for History, I knew who George Washington and Abraham Lincoln were (the first president, and Honest Abe–I knew nothing of the civil war except what I might happen to see in movies.) I do remember a very vivid lesson given by my 7th grade teacher about the Battle of the Spanish Armada, although I don’t recall its significance. I knew that castles and knights belonged to something called the Middle Ages (although that’s all I knew about them), and I do remember learning about our representative form of government here in the US, but I don’t remember learning anything about the Constitution. Instead, we did Transactional Analysis, from which I learned that I was too much of a “parent-type” and needed to loosen up. Go figure.
I have to admit that I was stunned in the process of homeschooling my children, to learn just how much I had not learned, even though I was a college graduate. There were whole eras of history I never knew existed, and now I was finding they actually had some connection with the events in the world today! I wondered what else I might have missed out on learning!
Sitting in this group of women, I realized they were just like me–not really very well-educated–and it started to make me feel really angry and frustrated. It is galling to me that the whole group of us–myself included– fit so nicely into some very distasteful stereotypes:
1. People in this part of the country are not well-educated.
2. Christians (especially evangelical Christians) in general are not well-educated.
3. Women in particular (especially those in the category of “stay-at-home moms”) are not generally well-educated.
As much as I hate to admit it, the reason these stereotypes exist is that, all too often, they are valid. This is upsetting enough, but what makes it even more frustrating is that in most cases we either don’t realize it or don’t care.
I’m proud of being an Oklahoman! I’m grateful to have been able to stay at home when my children were growing up, and grateful for my background in evangelical Christianity. None of that changes the fact that I and many others, here in Oklahoma and elsewhere, have been short-changed when it comes to education.
Not only that, we’ve become complacent about the growing gap between what we expect, of education and of ourselves (generally speaking), and what we should expect–high standards, and extensive knowledge of history, geography, English grammar, literature, and mathematics.
As a teacher and an administrator, I often encountered parents far more concerned about a child’s after-school activities than in their assigned homework. Although many parents were committed to high standards, there was ongoing resistance from a number of parents to high standards and expectations–not on paper, but in reality. These parents wanted their children to make good grades in tough-sounding courses, but not to have to work very hard. Sports often had a higher priority than academics. The ideal in the minds of many was to have a challenging school day, but not too challenging, followed by little to no homework so that time after school was completely free for whatever practices, lessons or games were on the schedule. This scenario might actually have worked, if the children had been well-behaved and ready to work in class, but this was not generally the case. Speaking out of turn, interrupting, not following instructions, an inability to focus, and a failure to turn in work were all very common.
So, two frustrating educational scenarios emerging:
In one–the one in which I grew up and which is still sadly the case for many in our state–we have a gross lack in the quality of public education, with little chance of escaping it for any but those who are more well-off.
The other scenario, which is in many ways far more frustrating to me, is wealthier families sending their kids to private schools, but demanding a dumbed-down education so that they and their kids don’t have to be inconvenienced, miss out on a Thunder game, or experience unpleasantness of any kind. Academics have come to be viewed as a necessary evil, something you have to go through so you can get a decent job later, period.
We have to open our eyes! Our offspring are not being prepared for the world in which they live, except to make a living, to just get by. We are happy and content–wonderful! But is it really best to assume that things will always be this way, or that our children will always be surrounded by those whose perspective is just like ours?Our ignorance is costing us any possibility of influencing the world beyond, isolating us in our own ghetto of comfort and passive oblivion. When we hear of things we believe are wrong, we aren’t quite sure why, and if we finally get a handle on that, we are incapable of expressing it. We have no frame of reference, no historical perspective, no capacity to reflect on the writings of great thinkers or reference works of literature or think through difficult questions–we only know what we’ve been told by those who think just like us. Like my friends and I in the first paragraph, we don’t know even the basics of world history, things which have a direct bearing on something as vital to many of us, as the interpretation of Scripture.
I wonder–what might politics, public policy, government, and world events be like if the thousands of people like me, with limited education and hitting a roadblock to an entire world of life and thought, had instead received a solid, rigorous, thorough education–what possible insights might we have had regarding the world around us? What might we have been inspired to do or say or write, what efforts might we have backed, what influence might we have had if we’d had a better understanding of things?
Much of policy today is being set by people who attended demanding east coast prep schools and ivy league universities–which means that a quality education is possible. Shouldn’t we make some effort to figure out how to educate ourselves and our children in some approximation of a rigorous and well-rounded, thorough education? I don’t mean we need to or even should employ the same means of pressure and competition often found in such schools in order to achieve this goal, only that there is a body of knowledge we and our kids need to know, and our children are capable of a lot more than we give them credit for.
Wouldn’t it be worth turning off the TV, confiscating the iphones, and insisting on reading classic literature, acquiring good grammar, neat papers, respect for teachers, and hard work so that our children have the opportunity to understand the world in which they live, and influence it for good?
If you are blessed to have had a decent education, I congratulate (and envy) you. If you got an okay education and are happy with it, that’s fine. But, if you know there are important things you didn’t learn, know you want your children to learn them, and know it doesn’t take millions of dollars or a super-high IQ for this to happen, see to it! Start filling the gap–begin learning what you’ve missed out on. Make sure your kids have access to books, teach them to pay attention and do their homework, and expect a lot of them.
Don’t be content with ignorance–begin to place a higher priority on the things that really matter far more than sports or momentary comfort–for your own sake as well as your children’s.