Yesterday I had my class in the library so we could use the computers to start a project. Bryan, a friend and coworker of mine who is retiring at the end of the year, came in as we were discussing MLA formatting for research papers. I was telling the students that they should always double space and use a 12-point font. Bryan looked at me with his characteristic mischievous twinkle in his eyes and said, "You know, I used to always tell kids that they had to use cursive, not printing, for essays. Now they are so used to typing everything, very few of them know how to read, let alone write, in cursive." It is true, times have changed. Even in 1995, my sophomore year of high school, I took a "typing" class, with actual typewriters; we had only a handful of computers in the classroom.
Last night, Christopher and I went to the Joan Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice to see Raymond C. Offenheiser, the president of Oxfam, speak about foreign aid. It was almost as if he had glimpsed that moment in my classroom to come up with his analogy for one of the issues with U.S. Foreign Aid policy. He told us that current U.S. Foreign aid is guided by policies signed by President Kennedy in 1961. He first asked us to imagine what it would be like to navigate our own towns with maps made in 1961. When he then pointed out what a disaster it would be to ask students in 2010 to write a research paper using a library card catalogue, note cards, and a typewriter, I had to laugh. I make it a requirement for my students to use at least one book as a source for their research papers, and they are baffled about how to go about finding a book to help them.
Another interesting fact is that the formula used to determine need and poverty comes from a Social Security Administration estimate also from the 1960s. At this time it was estimated that people spent 30 percent of their disposable income (income after taxes) on food. Despite the fact that people now spend a much larger percentage on housing and approximately 10 percent of their income on food, this formula is still being used.
While card catalogues, note cards, and a basic word processing program were the tools I was taught to use to write a research paper, and they worked for me at the time, I would be ineffective as a teacher if these were the only methods I taught my students. I would be doing them a disservice and ignoring what they need to navigate the reality they live in. As a teacher, I have to evaluate my current students' needs to determine what is appropriate to help them learn. It seems to make sense, considering the world we live in today is drastically different than the realities of the 1960s, that we should reevaluate our aid systems so that they assess and reflect the needs of the changing world.
P.S. This is our last day as guest bloggers. Thanks for reading.