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What we aren’t teaching our children

José Arciajovanka GuardiaLa Prensa

Panamanians can be forgiven for wishing the Noriega era never happened, said José Arciajovanka Guardia in Panama City’s La Prensa. The reality, of course, is that it did happen—though you wouldn’t know it from the history being taught in our schools. Primary- and middle-school textbooks devote just a few sentences to the Noriega era. Our kids don’t learn that Manual Noriega, a former CIA operative, grabbed the military dictatorship in 1983. They don’t learn that after his U.S. masters soured on him, in 1989, they ordered an invasion of Panama, and the U.S. Army toppled the Panamanian government. Noriega’s subsequent conviction in the U.S. for drug trafficking isn’t covered, either. The Education Ministry says the curriculum is so vague because “it’s up to the teacher to extract events from the material and explain it.” But how can that happen when the events “aren’t even mentioned?” Luis Lopez, a professor of education who has criticized the curriculum, says that Panamanian historians tend to be strongly nationalistic. “Facts that darken our history go completely undiscussed,” he notes. But what a disadvantage for our children. “To compete in the global marketplace,” they need to be well-informed, not ignorant.

Forcing immigrants to be just like us

Ray Cassin The Age

If you want to become an Australian, you’d better love cricket, rugby, and Vegemite, said Ray Cassin in the Melbourne Age. These are just a few of the topics covered in the new citizenship test for immigrants. Not only must a would-be Aussie demonstrate an understanding of how our democracy works and how Australia won independence from Britain, but he must also show an appreciation for the artistry of Don Bradman, the greatest cricket batsman of all time. Or he may be asked about Aussie tennis star Evonne Goolagong, or perhaps Australia’s Nobel Prize winners. (“Did you know there are 10 of them?”) You can’t be sure what you’ll be asked: You’re just supposed to memorize the entire contents of the government booklet Becoming an Australian Citizen. “We are not just asking new citizens to demonstrate their capacity for participation in a democratic process, we’re asking them to soak up all of the wider culture.” Americans, by contrast, don’t put their immigrants through such an ordeal. Aspiring Americans aren’t expected “to demonstrate their familiarity with Babe Ruth or Sea Biscuit or Walt Disney.” All they have to do is show a grasp of the voting system and a familiarity with basic American history. Their message is that anyone can become an American. Our message is “to become one of us, you must become just like us.” 

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