The People’s Republic of California doesn’t require freshman-level history or social science. Therefore, our district doesn’t teach it.

In its place is a yearlong freshman health class — think “Communicable Diseases and You” — split with a seminar on how to succeed as a high school student. State-mandated and standards-driven, this approach looks good on paper.

The irony of the freshman seminar is that despite the adoption of the high school success class, the post-freshman dropout rate stubbornly stays at half.

World history teachers have an even less rosy perspective. As freshmen, the students’ mind is wiped clean. Whole classes’ worth don’t know what a continent is. Our sophomores might be able to place the nation of “Afrcia” on a map.

In response, the department wants a freshman map-quiz-current-events class. I want to teach it. We won’t get that chance.

The school is on the brink of adopting a “freshman academy” approach to our brand of the inner-city dropout problem, pending district approval. The details escape me.

The goal for this freshman academy is, as always, to lower dropout rates while resurrecting our test scores. In my opinion, where this academy comes short is that English and math still take precedence over social science, a subject shunted over to the side in the first year like it was art, music or drama. There’s no place for this academic red-headed stepchild.

In short, the way to fix the dropout problem is to hit esoteric core classes harder. There’s a disconnect to our 14-year-olds, in their infinite wisdom.

“When am I ever gonna use it? How does it affect me?”

Sure, English and math are plenty relevant, but only in the long run. Current events has a much more compelling case to the instant-gratification generations.

Relevancy was the name of the game in my news-focused journalism classes. I remember the quizzes.

How many Iraqi nationals were 9/11 hijackers? Zero. Which British Labour Party leader faces stiff criticism at home for his Iraq War support? Tony Blair. The paternity trial of former Playboy playmate Anna Nicole Smith reaches which court this week? The U.S. Supreme Court.

I want a current events class, and not only because I think I’d do a bomb-diggity job teaching it — again, journalism major speaking — but also because current events is the single academic focus that students can’t disregard immediately as irrelvant.

Some students will, of course. They reserve the right to defiant principle, and I wouldn’t expect to win over the bottom 10 percent if I had divine mandate. The rest will see it in a better light.

Only the issues in a current events class — poverty, welfare, presidential politics — have an immediate and profound effect on our students.

If we really want to catch our students’ attention, teaching current events is the way to go. Easily digestible, immediately relevant, it’s practical literacy wrapped up in a love of learning, smothered in the juiciest scandals.

This is a losing crusade, of course. Current events isn’t on the test.

Moral of the story? Among never-out-of-date, cheaply available textbooks written at an eighth-grade level, the newspaper is the only one found while walking to school.

  1. dkzody

    In the late 80s, early 90s, the freshmen did take modern world history. It was moved to the sophomore year at the urging of the social science departments. None of the teachers wanted to teach freshmen. They all argued that freshmen are not able to think well enough and cannot comprehend the concepts. I know this because I sat in so many WASC and restructuring meetings listening to the groanings from social science teachers. The rest of us acquiesced and said, “ok, take out the social science in freshmen year.” Now, you all want it back. Funny.

  2. Don’t look at us. I was in diapers at the time, and most of the teachers at my high school were in college or in the public sector, yet.

    Of course, none them want to teach freshman geography or current events, either. Everyone thinks it’s a great idea, but nobody else wants to bell the cat, so to speak.

  3. You just got more ‘scratch’ from a fellow blogger. I followed your link from over at Kevin’s Meandering Mind and was so impressed with this post that I’m adding you to my blogroll. I have a civics and history website, so we have a few shared interests.

    I teach ESL to adults, so I don’t know much about high school curriculum, but I think you’re right about the ability of current events to hook kids. I like the sample quiz questions you included in your post. They are high interest and even I enjoyed the challenge. I didn’t know the answer to the question about out Anna Nicole Smith. Believe it or not, I got a kick out of Anna and I actually miss her. I hope she is with her son and they are both at peace.

    Ms. dkzody’s point about restructuring is well taken. I can see where what goes around comes around. I look forward to learning more about the issues in K-12.

  4. Those were questions from back in the day, the first three I could think of. I’m not even sure if they were right.

    Current events is the way to go. Maybe I’ll just integrate it into my normal curriculum for the other classes.

    The best part about it, too, was that our professor required us to spell the name correctly. I’ll definitely keep that bit. No more “Afrcia.”

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