April 18, 2004

Bush Family History

Posted by Ed

This week's News of the Weird column in The Chicago Reader features an interesting item on the First Family:

In a December profile of presidential brother Neil Bush, the Washington Post described the breezy eighth-grade American history course that his company Ignite! is selling to schools. The course's methodology assumes that "hunter-warriors" (apparently Bush's term for rambunctious boys) don't have the patience to read and should be taught using music, animation, and other media. The Constitutional Convention of 1787, for instance, is cast as a rap song: "It was 55 delegates from 12 states / Took one hot Philadelphia summer to create / A perfect document for their imperfect times / Franklin, Madison, Washington, a lot of the cats / Who used to be in the Continental Congress way back."

Charming, huh?

It's hard to tell just how silly Bush's education software really is, though this item doesn't exactly make it sound good. (Neil has also been accused of trying to profit from his family connections by selling software to schools in Florida, where his brother is governor; the software in question includes test prep software for the standardized exam enacted under Jeb Bush.)

For more, here's an excerpt from the Washington Post article mentioned above:

Ignite! is designed, Bush said, to make learning fun for "hunter-warrior" kids who don't like reading. It's a computer curriculum that uses music, graphics and animation to teach middle school kids.

The program's first course -- eighth-grade American history -- was tested over the last two years in schools in a dozen states. Available commercially for the first time this year, it is being used by about 40,000 students in 120 school districts, mostly in Texas, at a cost of about $30 per pupil.

One school that uses Ignite! is Mendez Middle, a predominantly poor and Hispanic school in Austin. After three years of using the program, says Principal Connie Barr, the number of students who passed the state's eighth-grade history test has risen from 50 percent to 87 percent. "That's incredible," says Barr. "It doesn't replace the teacher or the textbook. What it does is give the teacher another way to deliver the information."

However, Ignite! has been attacked by other educators for dumbing down history. Among its controversial aspects is a lesson that depicts the Seminole Wars in a cartoon football game -- "the Jacksons vs. the Seminoles" -- the animated Indians smashing helmets with animated white settlers...

Ignite! is working well, Bush wrote in an e-mail: "Teachers and students have given anecdotal feedback that confirms the powerful impact our program is having on student achievement, student focus and attitudes, and teacher success in reaching all of their students."

But at Whitney reviews were less laudatory. "The kids felt pretty strongly that what this was about was lowering the bar," says Humes.

Humes wasn't impressed, either. "There was a lot of rhyming and games," he says. "It reminded me of what my son uses -- but he's in kindergarten."

I think Ignite software is probably more interesting for what it says about education than it is for what it says about the Bush family. I'll try to restrain the urge to make a snide comment about the Bushes and their interest in history and reading...

(Thanks to Susan for pointing the article out to me.)

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