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What the TAKS Test Can Teach Us About Our Students
Unformatted Document Text:  knowledge of “civil liberties” and “tyranny,” just over a fifth understood what “liberalism and “conservatism” meant (which didn’t stop them from rendering judgment in those terms) and a paltry tenth could define “Magna Carta” and “habeas corpus.” The past two might not seem so problematic, but we should recall that habeas corpus, The Great Writ, has been the subject of recent controversy. In a January 2007 Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, then Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez stated that “there is no express grant of habeas in the Constitution” (Egelko, 2007) Though his assertions were effectively challenged by Senators Arlen Specter and Patrick Leahy, one wonders how safe a liberty is if its existence is a mystery to contemporary students. In addition to concerns about the substantive knowledge of these terms are concerns about our student’s ability to be able to engage in effective dialogue using these terms. Students were clearly not coming to my class with the ability to effectively discuss political ideas. Any assumptions that I had made otherwise were misplaced. This goes beyond the classroom into the greater community. Students often claim that they feel detached from the political and governmental system. This inability to communicate effectively may help explain why they feel that way. They do not understand the simple language of politics and so then cannot engage in effective dialogue about political and governmental matters. This creates cynicism that feeds on itself. The more alienated they are from the language of politics the more detached they become from the process itself, leading to greater alienation and so on. Aside from general alienation, students may become more receptive to the cynical messages of political opportunists who use language specifically to slant thinking in a particular direction, not facilitate objective dialogue. The irony of course is that the intent (or an intent) of the classroom is to address alienation by making the political and governmental system more comprehensible. We assume that students who become aware of the workings of the system, which requires a working vocabulary, are more likely to consider it legitimate. The less that vocabulary exists, the less engagement, the less legitimacy of the regime, the less support for existing governing principles such as habeas corpus. 7

Authors: Jefferies, Kevin.
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knowledge of “civil liberties” and “tyranny,” just over a fifth understood what “liberalism and
“conservatism” meant (which didn’t stop them from rendering judgment in those terms) and a
paltry tenth could define “Magna Carta” and “habeas corpus.”
The past two might not seem so problematic, but we should recall that habeas corpus,
The Great Writ, has been the subject of recent controversy. In a January 2007 Senate Judiciary
Committee hearing, then Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez stated that “there is no express
grant of habeas in the Constitution” (Egelko, 2007) Though his assertions were effectively
challenged by Senators Arlen Specter and Patrick Leahy, one wonders how safe a liberty is if its
existence is a mystery to contemporary students. In addition to concerns about the substantive
knowledge of these terms are concerns about our student’s ability to be able to engage in
effective dialogue using these terms. Students were clearly not coming to my class with the
ability to effectively discuss political ideas. Any assumptions that I had made otherwise were
misplaced.
This goes beyond the classroom into the greater community. Students often claim that
they feel detached from the political and governmental system. This inability to communicate
effectively may help explain why they feel that way. They do not understand the simple language
of politics and so then cannot engage in effective dialogue about political and governmental
matters. This creates cynicism that feeds on itself. The more alienated they are from the language
of politics the more detached they become from the process itself, leading to greater alienation
and so on. Aside from general alienation, students may become more receptive to the cynical
messages of political opportunists who use language specifically to slant thinking in a particular
direction, not facilitate objective dialogue.
The irony of course is that the intent (or an intent) of the classroom is to address
alienation by making the political and governmental system more comprehensible. We assume
that students who become aware of the workings of the system, which requires a working
vocabulary, are more likely to consider it legitimate. The less that vocabulary exists, the less
engagement, the less legitimacy of the regime, the less support for existing governing principles
such as habeas corpus.
7


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