What are they teaching my kid in school?

While driving my fifth-grade daughter to school today she told me about something they learned in Social Studies.

Daughter: Did you know that in some countries they take your cows away and shoot you?
Self: confused What are you talking about?
D: I learned that in school. In some countries they take your cows away and shoot you.
S: In what countries?
D: I dunno. But in Canada, they take your cows away and give them to the chicken farmers and they take the chickens away and give them to–
S: incredulous In Canada? Is this a joke?
D: No. They showed us a chart in Social Studies.
S: concerned What was on this chart?
D: Stick figures and some cows. In America, you can sell one of your cows and buy a bull and make as many baby cows as you want.
S: angry What are they teaching you there? Some kind of civics or economics lesson?
D: I dunno. In Russia–
S: Who’s your Social Studies teacher?
D: Mrs. XXXXX [name withheld]

A little more discussion as I try to ascertain what was on this chart and mentioning I’d like to get more information about this lesson. By this time, we’re at school and she hops out. I am not happy. Her father is equally perplexed and concerned and is sending an email to her homeroom teacher.

Anyone have any idea as to the nature of this lesson? Is there some jingoistic belief system I’m not familiar with? Should I be as troubled as I am or am I making something out of nothing?

Anti socialism lessons? I’m perplexed, too. Sometimes kids do take things out of context. Even if it is nothing, though, I don’t see the harm in talking to the teacher. A good parent should be curious about what their kid learns.

Some kind of bastard child of this?

Lovely. Thanks for the info. This is not going to be pretty.

This wikipedia page has a bit more information. It was widely reprinted in Dear Abby for a few years, which is where I remember it from. It sounds like it’d go over the head of most fifth-graders - it’s quite tongue-in-cheek.

Hmm…fifth grade, eh?
I teach college and can’t tell you how many times students hear only snippets of what is said in a classroom and pull some wild ideas out of their hats after the fact.

I would speak with the teacher - but my guess is your daughter might have been distracted half way through class - when suddenly seeing a bird with a shiny object fly by the window as the rest of this story was explained. Kids often only hear and retain what interests them, not necessarily all of the information. Then again, that hasn’t stopped some people from being elected to Congress in Alabama.

Even if it is misunderstood, teaching the “two cows” as if it were legitimate social studies criteria is like starting a lesson plan by saying “Two guys walked into a bar…”

That might work with your college students, but it’s lost on 10 and 11 year old children.

I suspect there is a political bias being demonstrated with this lesson, given by the use of the “Naziism” reference. Regardless, it seems to me an inappropriate lesson for fifth graders…well, I guess it’s inappropriate material as a lesson in economics for anyone, but it is clearly over the heads of fifth graders.

My daughter is an honors student. This lesson seems to me to be demeaning to her intelligence. She clearly appears to have taken it seriously, as she hasn’t yet developed the skills to think critically about the information her teachers impart. That means it is up to the teacher to tread carefully. We’ll see what her teacher has to say.

Pretty much why I couldn’t handle being a teacher.
The kids I could handle.
However the parents constant knee-jerk reactions whenever their kid tells them some out of context thing they learned that day that they were only half paying attention to and the parents scream “What are you teaching my baby!”

Educators have my sympathy.

Really? Are you saying you wouldn’t think twice about it if your kid came home and said this along with “guess what I learned in social studies today?”

That really wouldn’t bother you at all?

If it was the cow economics thing that’s been going around for donkey’s years, then that was a totally inappropriate lesson. That’s a political joke, and it’s a joke for grownups, not 10yo’s. (Also my 9yo’s history lessons have more substance to them. Teach something real!)

It sounds like the teacher was trying to illustrate various forms of covernment using a joke that went over the kids’ heads. I’d be pretty mad, but the teacher will probably think you’re overreacting (unfortunately).

Agreed. I don’t think you were kneejerking–if you were, you’d have gone straight to the teacher and yelled at her. I think sending an email and then asking other people for their input was pretty fair and balanced of you.

By Hampshire’s rationale, any questioning of the teacher is verboten. After all, we have hundreds of people talking about getting yelled at for questioning their teachers on this very board. Why is it so weird for a parent to ask questions?

I’m not a teacher but I am a parent of elementary school kids. I’d be puzzled and probably check with one of the other parents and maybe drop a line to the teacher for clarification. I wouldn’t overly concern myself about it though.

While it’s possible something odd is being taught, I think it’s more likely your daughter is misinterpreting. I would clarify with the teacher, but take a nonaggressive approach at least initially. If the teacher is indeed teaching something nutty, then go from there, but I’d take the unassuming approach first (you’re more likely to get an accurate picture by doing so, anyway).

As a 6th grade teacher, I can attest that what I teach and what the kids hear is often…oddly incongruous. Last year while teaching about natural resources, I was mentioning the increasing price of oil (and gas prices, something the kids could identify with) and how part of the problem may be related to increased demand. As China and India develop, for example, they have a drastically increased need for petroleum, and the price can be raised as demand increases.*

Somehow, one student in a written assignment turned that into, “We are going to go to war with China because we want their gold.” WTF?

** I offered that as a possibility, not a cast-in-stone explanation. I’m aware the issue is more complicated than that, and tried to convey that to the kids. Apparently, conveying even the basics was a bit much for some of them. Yeesh. *

I was a teacher. It sucks that parents blame teachers for things that are often the student’s fault. But that doesn’t mean it’s never the teacher’s fault. And if it is the teacher’s fault, that doesn’t mean it’s intentional. If my students ever so grossly misunderstood something I had said, I would certainly want to know about it. I’d want to at very least clarify it for the student, and would possibly reconsider how I presented that material in the future. In my opinion, teaching something false or misleading is worse than failing to teach anything at all.

From the garbled report I was given, I would not assume the “two cows thing” was taught in class. I would want to know more about what WAS taught. But to assume there WAS a problem in the content of the lesson, rather than a problem in transmission to you, is knee jerk.

I think you also just need to get the lesson so that you can help your daughter understand it properly - assuming the best case scenario and there was a good lesson at the root of it all, she’s going to have a bit of trouble on the next test.

Honestly, it does sound like the two cows joke to me, and even if the teacher’s using it as a joke, she needs to know that that’s not really good pedagogy for 10-year-olds. I’m usually a big believer in the professionalism of teachers, but respectful feedback is good for any professional.

I don’t think she assumed that. She’s asking the teacher about what they taught, which seems normal enough.

Be confused? Sure. Be troubled? No.