Curriculum of Confusion

We foster weakness when we force children to sit all day absorbing content for which they will never have any use, then chastise them for not showing any interest. – Jenifer Fox, Your Child’s Strengths


charles eliotThe curriculum taught in America’s schools has often been controversial. For example, witness the ongoing battle over the teaching of evolution in biology classes. The outlines of the standard school curriculum were laid down by a group of university academics known as the Committee of Ten. The committee was chaired by Charles Eliot of Harvard University which issued its highly influential report in 1892. Essentially, the group narrowed the scope and broadened the sequence of the secondary school curriculum. Much of this curriculum is still in use today.school bell But there are questions parents and teachers should be asking about the content and relevance or school curricula. Our kids are often asked to learn and excel in subjects they will probably never use. We don’t examine the importance of the subjects we teach in the light of changing times or the needs of different individuals and communities. Is what we learned twenty years still relevant today, and who determines what is relevant?There is another troubling aspect to the standard curriculum. This has to do with the way it fragments a child’s day. We teach children to study math for one hour, then stop, then study geography, then stop, then study English, and so on. Learning becomes a sequence of disconnected activities. Even if a student is interested in what they are studying, they must stop and move on to another subject when the bell rings. As the award winning teacher John Taylor Gatto observed in his popular bookDumbing Us Down:

Even in the best schools a close examination of curriculum and its sequences turns up a lack of coherence, a host of internal contradictions. The logic of the school-mind is that it is better to leave school with a toolkit of superficial jargon derived from economics, sociology, natural science and so on than with one genuine enthusiasm. But quality in education entails learning about something in depth.

school primerEventually, this fragmenting and constant interruption can cause confusion and disinterest. We need to give our kids input into what they as well as the freedom (and time) to explore their interests and deepen their learning. The invention of the standard curriculum is often credited with bringing about a high degree of literacy in America. Yet, literacy rates in colonial and pre-Civil War America were astonishingly high. Learning is independent of curriculum. Learning is more about knowing who we are and having the courage to use that knowledge in the pursuit of what we love.

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