Measuring achievement against objectives
By Nancy Salvato
A good teacher sets measurable goals and objectives for the students. A clear expectation, reinforcement of key ideas, and focusing on the main concepts during each lesson is the key for a successful classroom experience. Students, fortunate enough to have a teacher that understands this, will assimilate knowledge and be able to recall information when asked specific questions about a given lesson. Worksheets, which follow up on the classroom discussion and reading, further aid in student retention.
Fuzzy goals, unorganized lessons, and a lack of uniformity to classroom structure sabotage a student's ability to grasp the importance of any material because when there isn't a clear direction or end goal, they become lost and "check out". This phenomenon is really no different than if a student is asked to read a book written at a level that is too difficult to manage. Because neither heads nor tails can be made of it, it is left unread. Information must be introduced in manageable chunks, made understandable, and students must be able to interact with it at their level while at the same time, challenging their beliefs and ideas with more sophisticated concepts.
Clear goals, clear expectations, and manageable information are necessary for success in any endeavor outside the classroom, as well. Superior leaders appreciate the value in being able to measure what has been accomplished toward meeting targeted ends. Productive people are able to set reasonable objectives for themselves. For example, a writer doesn't take on the entire Civil War in one essay. Rather, it is more manageable to take on a specific aspect of the war and cover it in one chapter or paper. Over time, the entire war could be covered in all its complexity; however, justice could not be done in one sitting. In plain speak, lists are made, tasks are checked off. It feels good to accomplish what needs to be done.
Students in the primary grades and middle school should be "introduced" to ideas about U.S. and World History. In general, they won't be expected to read an assortment of materials which go into depth about a particular aspect of history unless they are putting together a paper or presentation on a person, place, or thing. In that event, it is too much to expect of a student (unless perhaps gifted) to make sure that sources reflect numerous point of views. It is likelier that a student will consult Encarta and perhaps thumb through a book or internet article and that will be the end of it. And this is fine, for this age level. Complicated ideological discussion cannot be expected and should not be part of the curriculum because the students simply do not have the resources yet, to answer with a sophisticated argument for or against an idea; rather they are likelier to regurgitate what they have heard at home or at school.
Generally, sophisticated discussion is likelier to evolve in high school and college when students are expected to mine for information from a variety of sources, and where teachers are expected to provide different perspectives and challenge students ideas so that they can see things from another viewpoint. Indeed, the idea is not to proselytize, but to challenge accepted ideas with a variety of counterpoints and show the student how others might see the same situation. As a matter of fact, a lifelong learner needs to read about a subject, written from a number of different perspectives, to actually begin to grasp the intricacies and complexities before making judgment. There is value in taking into consideration a variety of positions before defending one's own. Regardless of the grade a student is in or whether a person is even in school, the ability to manage chunks of information is what makes a person a lifelong learner.
Unfortunately, many students today do not learn much in the way of U.S. and World history beyond the middle grades. Those who are required to take a year of World and U.S. History in high school or college are often subjected to teachers who proselytize (Jay Bennish, Ward Churchill) or have been exposed to Social Studies books which denigrate the founders and framers of this country, promote only the most positive aspects of other special interests and ignore the negative features of their growth.
The importance of learning the basics of U.S. and World history in the primary and middle grades and then critically assessing history in high school and college is so to be able to apply that knowledge when confronted with real time situations facing our country today. Without that background, it is likelier that a person will succumb to a knee jerk reaction to events or be swayed by special interest agendas; unable to understand the nuances involved in every situation. Understanding our own, as well as the heritage, language and government of other cultures goes a long way toward negotiation and finding ways of getting along or conversely, realizing that conflict of interest is irresolvable and determining a course of action.
Our country today is involved in a war against radical Islam. We didn't take the first shot. Just as the Union didn't take the first shot at Fort Sumter, we didn't engage the terrorists with force, sometimes deliberately so (Lebanon & the U.S.S. Cole). Like President Lincoln, who understood that a house divided against itself could not stand, President Bush inherently understood that a culture whose objective is to dispose of those who do not follow their beliefs is an imminent danger to people or countries that disagree. Something needed to be done about it. Yet, the difference between the two men is very important, to note.
President Bush began U.S. engagement by voicing that those who are not with us are against us. This was a strong pronouncement; reminiscent of General Grant, who understood that only total war would show the South that the North would not accept any conditions of surrender and General Sherman who showed no mercy to those supportive of the enemy. Still, with all the rhetoric, this administration has not committed to total war. Instead, it practices a policy of minimalism and restraint in war and continues to accommodate itself to a portion of the people in this country who do not understand that appeasing our detractors is no different than passing the compromises our country made to accommodate that "peculiar institution" of slavery instead of eliminating it from the start. The conditions at Andersonville and other prisons during the Civil War were deplorable (prisoners were freezing to death and catching dysentery) yet people actually worry about the "humane treatment" of prisoners at Abu Ghraib (prisoners have been made to wear underwear on their head). Imprisoned terrorists wouldn't hesitate to kill in order to meet their own goals and objectives. President Lincoln suspended "The Writ of Habeus Corpus" in order to assure public safety yet President Bush has been accused of violating our civil liberties by implementing the Patriot Act. There has even been talk of impeaching the president on uneducated grounds. Obviously, the chunks of information have been too hard for detractors to assimilate.
Like President Lincoln, President Bush's poll numbers are low. One of the reasons is because the mainstream media has not shared with the American people when particular objectives have been met in attaining our goals in this war. Instead, the focus has been on the failures. Most recently, the media gave an inordinate amount of attention to former Generals coming forward to speak out against the way the military campaign is being run. General McClellan, who President Lincoln fired, actually ran against Lincoln on a platform which would have immediately ended hostilities and allowed slavery to continue in perpetuity. Can anyone imagine the United States with slaves in this day and age?
Good leaders have clear goals and objectives. The North won the "War Between the States" by outlining three goals and using all of its resources to meeting them. It succeeded in the course of four years to blockade the ports, take the Mississippi; dividing the Confederacy, and capturing Richmond. Each time objectives were met, President Lincoln's supporters could see the progress being made toward the goal of saving the Union. This is what kept him in office. Conversely, they could also see the failures. This almost prevented his reelection. Because of the nature of a terrorist enemy, President Bush appears to have vague goals and objectives. The American people do not know where the next military campaign will be fought or how it will be won. I have faith that Tony Snow, a former educator, who has a "New Media" background, will do a better job of explaining what we are doing in this war and how we are achieving our goals so that the American people can follow each accomplishment and see the progress being made.
The value in history is to learn from it. There will be those who will disagree with my assessment and I am open to listening to any well reasoned, informed arguments for alternative ways to fight the war in which we are currently engaged. Unless people can advance opinions based on fact, it is unwise to suggest this administration is wrong in its goal to preserve our way of life by eliminating enemies whose objective is to eliminate us. If anyone can rise to this challenge, please, talk me out of my position. Make me see it your way. In President Bush's word, "Bring it on."
Nancy Salvato is the President of The Basics Project, a non-profit, non-partisan 501 (C) (3) research and educational project whose mission is to promote the education of the American public on the basic elements of relevant political, legal and social issues important to our country. She is also a Staff Writer, for the New Media Alliance, Inc., a non-profit (501c3) coalition of writers and grass-roots media outlets, where she contributes on matters of education policy. Copyright © Nancy Salvato 2006
Get weekly updates about new issues of ESR!