Last week, our family tagged along with Marion Rose as she competed in the National History Day event held on the campus of the University of Maryland in College Park, which is located just a few minutes from Washington, D.C.
Thomas County had 11 kids there, more than any other school system from Georgia. Asia Gurule and her younger sister Reagan, Tristan Spires, Brooklyn Reese, Lauren Rich, Camille Sowell, triplets Zack Goff, Clay Goff, Emma Goff (who, by the way, collectively finished 9th in the world with their middle school website), and Marion Rose (one couldn’t make the trip) were all there representing not only our community, but our state.
A couple of observations jumped out at me on this trip. First, this venture is called National History Day, but in actuality it should be called INTERnational History Day. There were representatives there from literally all over the world — China, Guam, Korea, Chile, Southeast Asia and others.
I had a chance to talk to a couple of the girls from China. One thing that struck me immediately — they had absolutely no accent whatsoever. None. Their English was far better than most of us, and their spoken use of it was impeccable.
These particular girls, as friendly and personable as they could be, were what we would consider to be high school sophomores. In talking to them, I was informed that in their country students are divided before they get into what we would call high school into a purely vocational or academic track as determined by their test scores. Then, once they are placed on their individual track, an area of emphasis is chosen for them based on their abilities.
For instance, the students from China at this particular competition have been placed on a track that will end with them receiving a degree in history with the intention of them teaching. Depending on their strengths, their students could be placed in engineering, math, science, language, social work or other emphases — with little or no input from students or their families.
Furthermore, once an area of emphasis is determined, those students are afforded the opportunity to spend over half of their academic time in their specified area — all underpinned with government oversight and funding. As a result, the pressure to excel is intense.
I know that Marion Rose has one period of history each day at school, and then the other time spent working on her particular project was done on her own time. From what I gathered, students from China are assigned topics from their schools based on the research materials and resources that are available to them.
Of course, you have home-schooled kids there as well, and they can spend as much time as they choose to on their particular projects. As apples and orangey as that might appear, if you think about it, it’s actually pretty high praise to our schools to see the great number of public school kids who do make it — again, 11 representing our state were right here from your backyard.
As you think about that, remember this: the only students in the Chinese system of education that are subject to the standardized tests that our American students are so vehemently compared to everyone else across the globe are those that are culled to be placed on that academic track. In other words, only their academicians are tested.
Here in the good ol’ USA, every student, be they class valedictorian or a profoundly challenged special needs student, are given the exact same test and held to the same standards. In other words, ours is a much more representative cross section of our entire societal population.
That’s not apples and oranges — that’s watermelons and cumquats.
Another thing jumped out at me on this trip — just how dumfounded people “not from around here” are these days with good manners. Our students were constantly “yes sir” “no ma’am” “please” and “thank you”–ing with everyone with which they came in contact. And it was clear by the “you have such good manners” comments the folks they were speaking to were not used to hearing it.
Even 9-year-old Ransom Lee made a favorable impression. As we stood in line outside the National Archives to see the Declaration of Independence, Bill of Rights, and Constitution, some folks from Ohio were in front of us. The mom of the group asked Ransom Lee a question, to which he responded “yes ma’am.” She looked wide-eyed at me and said, ‘Wow, he sure does have good manners.”
“He better,” I replied.
The lady went on to say that she guessed such manners were a “Southern thing,” as they pretty much didn’t exist anymore where she came from. When I asked her whose fault that was, she raised an eyebrow and said she really didn’t know.
I am sure she doesn’t.
Overall, in this, just the second year of participating in the National History Day event, our Thomas County kids made quite a favorable impression, and I feel quite confident you’ll be hearing of bigger and better things from them in the coming years.
And, might I add, doing so with very good manners.