You Get What You Design For: The Core Curriculum

Licensed under Creative Commons https://www.flickr.com/photos/csessums/

Licensed under Creative Commons
https://www.flickr.com/photos/csessums/

Where did the curriculum used in the US for the last century plus, and now also in most of the rest of the world, come from? What were it’s goals? Why are the study areas so siloed and non-representative of the way the world works and of how we learn? This discussion in Marion Brady’s What’s Worth Learning adds fuel to the fire for why it needs to be re-examined down to its roots, not just retooled:

Schooling in America produces successes, but the general education curriculum doesn’t deserve much credit. What’s taught—the actual content of the lectures, books, instructional units, films, videos, subjects, courses, programs, and all the rest—isn’t a product of a comprehensive, rational theory or plan. It’s not a systematic sampling of humankind’s accumulated knowledge. It’s not the result of a thorough, current analysis of the needs of individuals or the larger society. It’s not a grand design worked out by our best minds. Incredible as it may seem, American education, this vast institution which consumes so much of our wealth, time, and energy, offers the young not a coherent, logically organized structure of knowledge but a random heap fashioned by ancient concerns and assumptions, political expedience, accident, intellectual fads, hysteria, special interests, and myriad superficial views of the purpose of educating.

[…] the so-called “core curriculum”—the familiar mix of math, science, language arts, and social studies disciplines now in near-universal use in America’s schools—was recommended by the Committee of Ten, appointed by the National Education Association. The Committee didn’t discuss the organization of knowledge, didn’t talk about learning theory, didn’t reflect on the needs of the Republic, didn’t speculate about the trends of the era, didn’t warn of the dangers of adopting a static curriculum in periods of rapid social change. Those and other matters relevant to what schools should teach never came up. Primarily concerned with simplifying the selection process for college admissions officers by standardizing the transcripts of the tiny percentage of students then graduating from high school, the ten met for three days in Saratoga, New York in the fall of 1892, made their recommendations, and the following year the curriculum that still shapes education in America and much of the rest of the world was adopted. Multi-layered bureaucracies quickly froze the committee’s work in rigid place.

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