Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Curriculum - Part 2 of "Does it really matter?"

Please, please, please comment on this post if you disagree or agree in any way.  This post is a work in progress as I process my thoughts on important issues like curriculum.  As I mentioned in part of "Does it really matter?" I am teaching earth science this summer.  I hate to admit this, but I can't think of a single good reason for kids to take this class.  When I examine the standard course of study (SCOS), there is not a single item that will ever be used again in their lives unless they enter a very specific career.

So on the first day, I'm looking at the class of students who are repeating the course and I'm trying to find an answer to the unasked question, "When am I EVER going to use this?"  There is always the standard answer of you will develop thinking skills that will used in other areas of your but honestly, that's a load of manure.  Don't get me wrong.  I'm all about learning something for the sake of learning it.  I love talking rocks, minerals, soil, weather, plate tectonics, etc. and how all these things are intricately linked together in systemic ways.  I teach with enthusiasm and passion about how cool all the connections are.  I look for real world, current events to illustrate each concept.  And students enjoy my class. . . . because I'm entertaining.

I know it is a bit idealistic to ask repeaters, especially those with historic problems in school, to suddenly become passionate about all this.  I don't expect them too.  I see my four and half this summer as an attempt to plant a seed, light a spark, redirect the ship only a single degree in order to avoid disaster . . .

All of this leads me to some serious thoughts about the place of curriculum.  Why have we dictated the courses a student must pass in order to earn a high school diploma?  What is the process whereby we determined A, B, and C must be mastered in order to move from middle to high school?

Here in NC, our State Board of Education has adopted a new set of guidelines for freshmen who entered high school this past year.  It's called the "Future Ready Core".  Besides requiring earth/environmental science, students must pass algebra 1 and 2, geometry, and a fourth math that is tailored to their post high school paths.  Excuse me for a moment, but as a math teacher, why would I require a future plumber or diesel mechanic (who make very good money by the way and are still much in need) need algebra 2?  What math do they they take next in the sequence?

I realize that my post is losing its coherency to singular topic because I'm beginning to move into rant mode.  So I'll wrap it up with a few questions that will perhaps frame it all for me.
- What is the purpose of school?
- Which is more important, content or skills?
- Why are trying to force everyone onto a college track?
- If high school is supposed to preparation for real life, shouldn't there be a little more freedom in the requirements?

Again, I state my plea.  Please comment because I'm really wondering if it matters.


  1. OK, Matt, I'll bite. I think that your post is very interesting. I am mainly going to respond to your questions because that is where I'd like to go with it anyway.
    The purpose of school is multi-faceted. I think we need to learn to understand the world around us; to help us live as responsible individuals in our families, communities, and nations; to be productive members of society; to learn to answer questions we have about life, how things work, and how to solve problems; to learn to learn; to spark our curiosity about everything around us; and to build a worthwhile character. That's a lot I know.
    On the content vs. skills issue, I would side strongly on the skills side (content is necessary within skills development and there are somethings we should probably know, but skills, attitudes, and attributes are even more important).
    On the next issue, we shouldn't force everyone on a college track, but we also shouldn't close that door to students. A fine balance that is hard to achieve with those who are not certain that college is in their future.
    Finally, should there be more freedom? Yes. much more freedom with guidance is called for. Not anarchy, mind you, but more freedom, more choices. The trick is helping students learn to understand not only the short term, but long term consequences of those choices.

    Thanks for your post!

  2. Michael, thanks for biting. I agree with all your comments, so maybe I'm not crazy. I believe that most people who might take the time to comment will probably say similar things. What will it take to do school like this on a large scale, not just in the alternative schools that pop up up here and there?

  3. I don't know the answer to that (at least any easy answers). But obviously it is more of a mindset and systemic change that is needed, which is big! I don't know if you have heard of Charles Reigeluth at University of Indiana, but he has some good stuff on systemic change in schools. Here is a link to one of his books on the subject: http://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=RDQL9lcX-isC&oi=fnd&pg=PR5&dq=Reigeluth&ots=OZG0kFieJ6&sig=Zof0eNfarz1Ti7OFG6Tf0DKo334#v=onepage&q&f=false

    Keep up the good work, I enjoy your posts...