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Am I Being Overly Critical?

February 22, 2008

I was scanning the Washington Post yesterday and I ran across this article. This seemingly innocuous sentence floored me:

“In 2005, [Matthew Wheelock] founded Live It Learn It, a program that uses [DC’s] history and landmarks to teach public school students from across the city.”

Why does this bother me?

These public schools hadn’t been using the city adequately before now? Your schools are situated in one of the greatest cities in the United States for public history, and school teachers either are not, or are not allowed, to use the environment for the substantiation of learning? You’ve got to be kidding me.

Please do not misunderstand me: I’m not by any means knocking Mr. Matthew Wheelock or the “Live It Learn It” program.

But why was a non-profit necessary for this? Is it a lack of funding, and Mr. Wheelock’s organization provides the money for these trips? Still, this kind of thing should’ve been a major part of all DC-area schools and their funding plans from the start.

If you can’t learn U.S. history and politics, first hand, as a public school student in DC, where in the U.S. are you going to learn it? As “Live It Learn It” forwards at their website:

“This borders on inexcusable, particularly in Washington, DC, where students are surrounded by – but seldom exposed to – world-class cultural, historical, and natural resources.”

Am I being overly critical? – TL

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4 Comments
  1. You are definitely not being overly critical!They have the country's most significant teaching tools in their front yard and didn't use them. Really sad. When my son was first stationed in in DC one of the first things he did was begin a tour of DC's monuments and libraries and museums. And, he hates history. (where did I go wrong?) Even he knew what an incredible resource was at hand.

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  2. Sharon,

    Thanks for confirming my sanity.

    And on your rhetorical question about your son, well, you can lead a horse to water, but…

    On the other hand, that anecdote gives me hope. I believe our desire to study of history (rightly presented) appreciates with age. As we develop a trunkful of memories, both good and bad, and try to interpret those memories, we then better appreciate the efforts of historians.

    – TL

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  3. The question is where are you directing the criticism. In general, public schools in the last decade or more have been under such pressure to teach to the test that it isn't surprising field trips have fallen by the way. Yes it is terrible that this does not already exist, but I bet there is relatively little public history integrated into other the history curriculum of other large urban districts, and where it is there I bet you'll find a major role for nonprofits.

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  4. Toby,

    NCLB pressures certainly ~could~ be behind this. Then again, in a city like DC, you'd think that visits to the local monuments would be the last thing to go. It would be interesting to know how DC ranked/s compared to other cities with rich public history opportunities (i.e. Boston, NY, Philadelphia, Chicago).

    – TL

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