In light of this reality, we might ask, “What is the most important component of our children and grandchildren’s education?” Is it good teachers? Nice facilities? A strong principal?
Given the time that some school boards spend debating the school calendar, one would think that starting and finishing dates are the most significant issue we face. But what about curriculum? Shouldn’t what we teach be considered central to everything else?
For instance, what are students being taught about math? How does the math curriculum, both its arrangement and delivery, affect a child’s ability to think or to master basic mathematical functions in daily life? As for language, does it matter if schools teach that there are “several Englishes,” as the National Council of Teachers of English claims, or should clear, standard English be the aim?
In science, shall we put intelligent design to rest and continue to tout evolutionary theory as the only acceptable dogma, or should we inform students that Darwin was but a theorist, and that DNA discoverer, British Francis Crick, considered him just that?
As for textbooks, still a primary curriculum tool, does it matter what history books include, or exclude, or emphasize? Does it matter if high school students are assigned a novel sprinkled with obscenities, profanities or scatological humor?
In educational circles, a buzz phrase has emerged: “Curriculum is king.” Well, indeed it should be. What a child is taught about his nation’s past, about words, numbers, money, human psychology, the human body, the natural world, etc., matters imminently. What he or she is taught should also meet the approval of those who are footing the bill; that is, if we still believe that he who pays the fiddler calls the tunes.
For years curriculum has been dethroned by methodology, the “how” of teaching. Poking fun at 18th century England’s newfound obsession with educational method, dictionary writer Samuel Johnson, Webster’s British counterpart, wrote: “There is no matter what children should learn first or how, any more than what leg you should put into your breeches first. Sir, you may stand disputing which is best to put in first, but in the meantime your backside is bare. Sir, while you stand considering which of two things you should teach your child first, another boy has learnt’em both.” Johnson viewed obsession with methodology as deadly.
Two things affect school curriculum today which many of those who pay the fiddler don’t know about.
One is the classroom teacher/subject matter organizations (the National Council of Teachers of English, National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, American Psychological Association, and others) which are huge and hidden. Huge because teachers understandably seek out and join teacher organizations; hidden because they are private organizations that exist under the radar, unknown to most taxpayers.
The National Council of Teachers of English is one of the largest organizations in the world. Its leadership has always taken a broad view of things, embracing Ebonics (Remember? Black “street” language which NCTE dubbed one of our “several Englishes),” alternative spelling, student “voices,” and “adolescent literature.” Like the big union, the National Educational Association, NCTE at convention time spends as much time on social issues and politics as it does on educational concerns.
The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics is another organization that strays from sound content, to put it mildly. In her book, Angry Parents, Dr. Elaine McEwan points out that in Ames, Iowa schools introduced an NCTM “Math in Context” program in which learning multiplications tables was out; calculators and “solving real world problems” were in. After ten years of fuzzy math, Ames students were well below average.
Other educational organizations (the International Reading Association comes to mind) have also always marched to the progressive drum. Even the respected Association for Supervision and Curriculum strays into easy progressivism occasionally. One of its Yearbooks was titled “Feeling, Valuing, and the Art of Growing.” (What content subject is that?)
Now, of course, has come Common Core, that concoction of educational verbiage that Mom and Dad would probably give up on. Or at least one guy with a masters degree in English has. Example: “By the end of grade 11, read and comprehend literature in the text complexity band, with scaffolding as needed in the high end of the range.” Complexity band? Scaffolding? High end of what range?
OK, let’s leave all of this and think about Christmas. But let’s not leave plain English, common sense, or the right to tell our educational leaders what we believe our children should be learning.
Roger Hines of Kennesaw is a retired high school English teacher.