Are you smarter than a third grader?

We wrote this a year ago and put it in storage until we needed it.  We noted the other day that Representative Dean Dohrman has introduced a bill requiring people wanting to graduate from college to score at least seventy percent on a civics test before they can get their diplomas. He says he hopes the bill spurs greater civic education in our colleges.

That has led us to dig out this piece:

Suppose you had to take a test to be a Missouri voter.  More important, suppose those wanting to hold public office, particularly the six statewide offices and legislative positions, had to pass this test. Be honest, now, those of you who have taken oaths of public office—How many of you would be where you are now if you had to match this third-grade requirement (We, personally, would be a little nervous if we had to do this)?

And for those who voted to elect these folks, could you have voted if you had to prove competence to deal with these issues?  It’s kind of a lengthy examination.  Extra paper will be allowed.

Explain the major purposes of the Missouri Constitution. Explain and give examples of how laws are made and changed within the state.

Examine how individual rights are protected within our state. Explain how governments balance individual rights with common good to solve local community or state issues.

Explain how the State of Missouri relies on responsible citizen participation and draw implications for how people should participate.

Describe the character traits and civic attitudes of influential Missourians. Identify and describe the historical significance of the individuals from Missouri who have made contributions to our state and nation.

Explain how the National Anthem symbolizes our nation. Recognize and explain the significance of the Gateway Arch and the Great Seal of Missouri and other symbols of our state.

Analyze peaceful resolution of disputes by the courts, or other legitimate authorities in Missouri. Take part in a constructive process or method for resolving conflicts.

Describe how authoritative decisions are made, enforced and interpreted by the state government across historical time periods and/or in current events.

Identify and explain the functions of the three branches of government in Missouri.

Describe the importance of the Louisiana Purchase and the expedition of Lewis and Clark. Evaluate the impact of westward expansion on the Native Americans in Missouri. Discuss issues of Missouri statehood.

Describe the migration of Native Americans to Missouri prior to European settlement in the state. Describe the discovery, exploration and early settlement of Missouri by European immigrants. Describe the reasons African peoples were enslaved and brought to Missouri.

Examine cultural interactions and conflicts among Native Americans, European immigrants and enslaved and free African-Americans in Missouri. Examine the changing roles of Native Americans, Immigrants, African Americans, women and others in Missouri history.

Examine changing cultural interactions and conflicts among Missourians after the Civil War.

Discuss the causes and consequences of the Dred Scott decision on Missouri and the nation.

Explain Missouri’s role in the Civil War, including the concept of a border state. Describe the consequences of the Civil War in Missouri including on education, transportation, and communication.

Compare and contrast private and public goods and services. Define natural, capital and human resources. Define economy. Explain supply and demand.

Conduct a personal cost-benefit analysis.

Define taxes and explain how taxes are generated and used.

Explain factors, past and present, that influence changes in our state’s economy.

Read and construct historical and current maps.

Name and locate major cities, rivers, regions, and states which border Missouri. Describe and use absolute location using a grid system.

Identify and compare physical geographic characteristics of Missouri. Describe human geographic characteristics of Missouri.

Describe how people of Missouri are affected by, depend on, adapt to and change their physical environments in the past and in the present.

Describe how changes in communication and transportation technologies affect people’s lives.

Identify regions in Missouri. Compare regions in Missouri. Compare the cultural characteristics of regions in Missouri. Explain how geography affected important events in Missouri history.

Research stories and songs that reflect the cultural history of Missouri.Describe how people in Missouri preserve their cultural heritage.

Identify facts and opinions in social studies’ topics. Identify point of view in social studies’ topics.

Present social studies’ research to an audience using appropriate sources.

Whew!!

How can anybody be expected to know all this stuff?  Aren’t you glad you’re not an immigrant seeking American citizenship? Actually, immigrants don’t have to go through all of this stuff.

But Missouri third-graders do.

What you’ve just read are most of the Missouri Department of Education’s grade level expectations for third grade social studies students and their teachers.  How well students perform under these guidelines determines how competent they are considered to be and, by reflection, how competent their teachers are.

The impetus for this goes back more than two decades, to 1996, when the Show-Me Standards were developed to gauge student performance.  The Show-Me Standards were replaced by the Missouri Learning Standards that were required by the legislature to be written because the legislature didn’t like the Obama Administration’s Common Core approach.  The MLS are pretty close to Common Core, though. The state education department says the standards “are relevant to the real world and reflect the knowledge and skills students need to achieve their goals.”  The department also says they work best when administrators, teachers, students and parents share the goals.

This state is big on “local control,” so the standards do not require local districts to closely adhere to them. Districts can still make their own decisions about textbooks and teaching strategies and curriculum. But they’re measured on a standard gauge.

Your observer/historian was chatting with another observer/historian in a local coffee shop a few days ago about these standards and we agreed on a regrettable fact about them.

These are standards for third graders.  The teaching of Missouri history used to be done in the fourth grade but the department has moved that teaching back to grade three now.

Consider this, then (we admitted it kind of scares us): Missourians went to the polls in November, 2016 and elected people who are in office today who have had little education in Missouri history since third or fourth grade and whose teaching in Missouri government was limited to elementary school or maybe a poli sci class in college.  State law requires American history and United States government courses in high school (but no world history or government studies is required in this undeniable era of globalization).

But there is also this:  Both of us believe it takes extraordinary people to turn written goals into personal learning for fifteen to thirty children of incredibly diverse personal and cultural backgrounds every day in our classrooms.  Our lamenting the fact that a lot can happen in the decade from the time one is an eight-year old third grader and when one is an eighteen-year old first-time voter is in no way intended as a swipe at the public education system.  Neither of us could confidently assume that today’s decisions and situations would be better if the study of yesterday’s decisions and situations were fresher in the minds of those who voted and those who were elected. But it would help, we thought, if learning and voting were closer together.

How would we cure that problem?  When we considered all the things our school systems have to do and all of the problems students bring to school with them, we have to confess neither of us is close to an intelligent solution.

But wouldn’t it be nice if all of us, voters, candidates, office-holders alike, had to be as smart as third graders?

Let me know what you think......