Curriculum development or human development?

Jun 22 2012 - 11:48am

Why is American public education stuck on a low plateau of development while other fields are rapidly advancing?

After more than 50 years of involvement in public education, as a teacher and elementary school principal, I have come to the conclusion that our culture acts as though curriculum development is more important than human development.

This keeps us trying harder and harder to do the wrong things better and better.

As Tevye would say, "it's tradition! We have a gigantic mental block.

Recent evidence of our culture's obsession with curriculum development is the adoption of the Common Core State Standards, a detailed prescription of how teachers are required to teach language arts and math. Some feel it may be the ultimate, best curriculum development of all time.

The CCSS curriculum standardizes students -- it tries to make them all alike in predetermined knowledge and skills at grade-level check points -- and tests to make sure it is happening.

What if we were to decide human development is more important than curriculum development? Several significant changes would occur:

* Parents will be involved as equal partners with teachers.

* Human development is individual development. Students cannot be mass-produced like products on an assembly line. Students will learn basic skills when the time is right for each one, not according to an artificial schedule. Teachers and parents will unite to help each child develop his or her unique talents. Every child will excel in something.

* The subject matter for individual student development will of necessity be chosen by those who know each child well, parents, teachers and the student herself, not those who have never even met the child.

* Classes in junior and senior high school will not contain students who don't want to be there. Students will be able to choose from a large smorgasbord of course offerings. (We know that imposed learning is shallow and temporary compared to self-chosen learning that is deep and enduring.)

* Student achievement in a fixed, narrow curriculum (reading and math) will not be the main goal, but subjects of the curriculum will be used as tools or a means of helping students grow in human powers such as: Identity, inquiry, interaction, initiative, imagination, intuition and integrity. Teachers will be trusted to develop their own means of assessing student progress. Reading, writing, math, and other subjects will be taught as a process of inquiry and interaction, not as ends in and of themselves.

* Teachers and parents will no longer assign students to read for a specified time, number of pages, or books, thus giving students the idea that reading is a chore that must be completed. Teacher-assigned home work will be replaced with student-initiated home study.

Students will read more because it is fun and interesting, especially if it is not required, tested or reported.

* We will show students that we have a higher estimate of their motives and potential. We will do away with compulsory attendance, compulsory learning and standardized achievement.

* The worth of students will not depend on their accomplishment in curriculum (grade-point averages). Graduation will depend on a student showing the ways in which s/he is ready to be a valuable contributor to society.

These are just a few of the many changes that will occur, if we should decide that human development is more important than curriculum development.

Those who have devoted years trying to improve curriculum development may find it hard to shift their focus. Leo Tolstoy said something that applies here: "I know that most (men and women), including those at ease with problems of the greatest complexity, can seldom accept even the simplest and most obvious truth if it be such as would oblige them to admit the falsity of conclusions which they have delighted in explaining to colleagues, which they have proudly taught to others, and which they have woven, thread by thread into the fabric of their lives."

I plead with curriculum development devotees to consider the human development approach in redesigning public education. Perhaps we can undo some of the damage that was wrought by the No Child Left Behind Law and other government-imposed, misguided "reforms."

Lynn Stoddard, a retired educator, is a co-founder of the Educating for Human Greatness Alliance. He can be reached via email at lstrd@yahoo.com. He lives in Farmington.

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