Friday, March 18, 2011

Fear of a Common Curriculum

Another review of the current landscape of confusion and fear. Why must it be so?

Having a common curriculum will not make us automatons. It will not make your sweet little red state children into socialists, or your sweet little blue state children into right-wing ideologues.

Knowing the same things is not the same thing as thinking the same things.

Having a common background is no guarantee of having a common perspective. Look at your own family and you'll know how true that is.

Perhaps the problem here is that we, as educators, have done such a poor job of teaching critical thinking skills. Our job is not to tell children what to think; it's to teach children how to think. They should be able to disagree with me about the wisdom of the American Civil War. They should not be able to disagree with me about the fact of it.

But I've known far too many teachers--high school teachers and university professors--who felt it was their job to indoctrinate their students--to teach them their own, personal perspective on a topic as though that perspective were gospel truth. And it is probably a widespread experience with such teachers that has made parents gun-shy about a common curriculum.

A common curriculum should also not have to be antithetical to differentiated instruction, personalized learning, and school models like the School of One. In fact, I'd argue that a common curriculum may be the only way to keep such models from blowing apart into completely atomized environments where no one can have a conversation with anyone else. Have common goals and targets, but don't mandate how a student has to get there. Don't mandate how much time a student needs to get there. Don't even mandate where a student has to sit while he gets there. Let the journey be differentiated by the goal be common.

All of which brings us back to an earlier discussion on teacher quality. What kind of person do we need in tomorrow's classroom? We need someone who knows her subject so deeply and broadly--and who knows classroom instructional strategies so deeply and broadly--that she can bring different students along different pathways at different paces, to a common goal. That is not the teacher of yesterday, who simply had to stay one chapter ahead in the textbook, and assign the ten questions at the end of the chapter for homework. We need someone who knows how to challenge students, question students, engage students in dialogue and debate about a subject--to make them think about what they're learning, rather than simply take in information. We need someone who is not afraid of different points of view, but who knows when a point of view is supported by facts and when it's just opinion. We need someone who understands new media literacy, and can help students assess whether something they have found online is legitimate or not. We need teachers who understand how to challenge their students and how to allow their students to challenge them.

I don't think we're going to get these people in the classroom if we continue to insult, harass, and demean current and potential teachers. I don't think we're going to get these people in the classroom if we continue to draw from the bottom third or quarter of college classes.

You get what you pay for--that's all I'm saying.

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