Tuesday, January 12, 2010

All the stuff I never needed to know, I learned in school

History is written by the winners, but that doesn't mean anyone will get to read it.

Such is the case in the state of Texas, where the Texas Board of Education is considering altering their history books to remove any reference to Cesar Chavez.

Cesar Chavez, if you don't know, is widely credited with many of the labor advancements of the 20th century, specifically on farms in the United States. His jacket hangs at the Smithsonian Museum of American History. And President Bill Clinton awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1994, a year after his death.

The Texas Board of Education, however, has decided that he is “inconsequential” to American history.

Chavez “lacks the stature…and contributions” and should not “be held up to our children as someone worthy of emulation,” according to Gail Lowe, chairwoman of the board.

Now you may wonder why you should be concerned about the state of Texas removing a Mexican-American farmworker from their history books. Maybe you shouldn't, but maybe the thought of a state dictating a curriculum to their school districts should make you think.

Things aren't all that different here in New York, where the majority of school spending and decisions are made by some suits in Albany. Heck, ask any school board member, they'll tell you that a large portion of the decisions they make are actually pre-decided by state statute and funding rules. The annual budget you vote on? They only have control over a minuscule fraction of that. The rest, the state mandates.

Imagine, for a second, if the state of New York demanded that DeWitt Clinton be expunged from the history books. I mean, what'd he ever do? Well, expect for that whole canal thing?

Sure, maybe Clinton wasn't all that important to New York City (where he served as mayor prior to being governor), but he was pretty darn important to us folks here on the west end of the state. And frankly, he was pretty darn important to the country.

Personally, I'm somewhat offended by their being a state-wide school curriculum. What's important to North Tonawanda, for example, might not mean a hill of beans to North Syracuse. And vice versa. So why should some group of people in Albany get to decide what's taught in either of them?

My kids are constantly coming home with homework that I don't understand. Now, granted, I might not be the sharpest tool in the shed, but these are things that the majority of the world doesn't need to know. Have you ever found yourself walking down the street and suddenly needed to know that the co-tangent of something was? Me neither.

That doesn't prevent every child in every school from the Bronx to Buffalo from being forced to learn it. Temporarily at least.

I'm all for a well-rounded education, but does every kid in school really need to take physical education? If my memory serves me correct, the ones who participated the most were the same ones that didn't need the exercise. Not to mention, if they weren't at home trying to figure out co-tangents, they might be able to go outside and play, thereby burning the calories they're supposed to be burning in gym.

I'm pretty sure every child in New York State has to take multiple years of a foreign language to get a diploma. I'll be honest, my four years of Latin helped me a lot. Do you get much use out of your French or Spanish? Honestly?

Think of the countless hours spent teaching kids stuff they don't really need to know that could have been spent teaching them things like how to balance a check book, change a tire and find a job – things we all have to do eventually.

Of course, we're talking about government here. They can't balance a checkbook, got their job from their brother and have AAA change their flat tire, probably on your dime.

Sadly, it all makes sense.