A lesson in the importance of prior knowledge

Today, as I was helping out in the classroom my fourth graders mainstream into, I was again reminded of the gaps in my own education. Because I spent so many of my elementary school years in France, "commonly known" facts like Chicago is in Illinois and not northern California totally escaped me. And I found out this morning that George Washington had bad teeth, another little tidbit I was not aware of. In fact, he only had two teeth left when he became our first president! Old news to you, probably, but breaking news to me.
This reminds me of my junior year of high school. I was in California that year, after have spent the last four in both France and Germany. All of that summer before eleventh grade, I had nightmares that my American History teacher was going to give us a blank map of the U.S and ask us to label as much as we could. And I knew I'd flunk because I only knew where Calfifornia, Oregon, Washington, Texas, and Florida were. I mean, I had only just learned in tenth grade that Chicago is in Illinois and not northern California!!
So there I was in a new school, surrounded by thousands of seemingly unfriendly (and oh so American!) students. I'm sitting in Mrs. K's American History class on day one. And what does she do?? YOU SAW THIS COMING, PEOPLE! She hands us a blank map of the United States and tells us this is our first quiz: label as many states and capitols as you can. Well, it only took me about ten seconds to label the five states I knew. The rest of the time was spent staring at all that blank space in the middle and considering what to write: "States I've never heard of?", "The ones in the middle?", "States I'm not in right now?", "White space highlighting my ignorance?" The possibilities were endless. The most appealing possibility, of course, was to flee the scene... maybe hop back on that plane and fly to a place where I knew the names of all the countries surrounding me. Maybe there I wouldn't feel like such an ignoramus.
Thankfully, Mrs. K was a very understanding teacher and one of the best all around teachers I'd had, to boot. By the end of the school year, I could tell you where all the states were. And I could tell you some other history facts I had picked up along the way.
And now? Now, at 27 years old, I can tell you that George Washington had bad teeth.


Anonymous said...

Did you know that George Washington also had his first set of false teeth made from cow's teeth and his second made from hippopotamus ivory?
My tidbit

Anonymous said...

I just heard on the radio this morning that he also grew marijuana in his garden...but for the purpose...of using hemp to make ropes. Or at least that was his story (history). I had not heard this before and since I heard it on an a.m. station that plays top 40, I think there is room for reasonable doubt! Brenda

Shell said...

I had to teach US history one year and it was AMAZING how little my students knew. I forgave the ones who had spent most of their lives on a base in Japan, though. LOL

Rebekah said...

I've had similar nightmares, Sarah. I know the feeling. Thank goodness we're married to such bright young men who can answer our hushed questions and nudges when we're in public! Just today I asked Matt to explain the differences between all the drugs out there (crack, pot, weed, mushrooms, cocaine, etc...), where they come from and how they're used. To me they're all the same: bad for you.

Randy et Jan said...

To be ignorant of illegal drugs is OK with your mother. But to be ignorant of American history just makes me feel tremendously guilty.....until I realize how much French history you know!!! Oh well.

Sarah said...

I'm sure you can still label more countries on a world map than me! Between my 3rd and 4th grade years we moved from California to Texas. The first week of school our teacher asked us to raise our hands if we knew what county we lived in - I had no clue! I was so mad at my parents for not telling me that! They were too busy teaching me to spell my new city - Nacogdoches, lol! (Which also happens to be the county!)

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