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Friday, October 22, 2010

Who gets to design the curriculum that would replace the one from 1892 that we now use?

I was giving a talk that mentioned how the curriculum in the schools is outdated and irrelevant and needs to be thrown out. Of course, I got the usual questions. People defend their favorite courses but are willing to trash the ones they didn't like or do well in. And then there is my favorite question: "who will decide what the new curriculum will be?"

There are two serious problems with that question. First, why must there be one curriculum? Second, why should anyone but the students decide what they should learn?

Of course I know that these problems are rarely mentioned. We just assume that there should be exactly one course of study in high school and that students should be told what they have to learn. These assumptions are so strongly held that any suggestion by me that school needs a re-design causes people to assume that I want to dictate what the curriculum should be. I don't. What I do want to do is to design as many curricula as possible to allow as much choice as possible. Someone I know told me that his daughter was bored in school and that what she really wanted to learn about was set design. And why shouldn't there be a "set design" curriculum for those who want that?

Since curricula can now be delivered on line, as can teaching, the old excuse -- not enough demand - goes away.

Of course there is another objection too. Such a curriculum wouldn't include the important stuff. Really? What is the important stuff? I am sure that one actually has to know a great about "the important stuff" whatever that is in order to "set design" or anything else that is part of the real world. The place to teach the important stuff is within a context of interest to the student where it would actually be used.

We need to start understanding that our unspoken assumptions about education are wrong. Every high school drop out knows they are wrong.


robmba said...

Direct quote from an actual university syllabus:

Regular attendance is rewarded because you will be exposed to what I think you need to know.

Not all students can handle an invitation to direct their own learning, but I think most can. We spend all elementary school trying to get students to sit still, not act out, and answer questions how the teachers expects them to answer, and then by the time they get to high school, we wonder why they sit there, not interested in participating or being creative. We've sucked it out of them.

Take a look at for a program to help students, in effect, write their own history textbook in twitter-size chunks.

Heather Hanlin said...

I think we could load a bunch of "needed" stuff into a set design course. You need to understand measurement and geometry to design a set that will fit in the space. Literature for understanding the play and how the setting informs it. Art and architecture of course. History, to get those details just right. Science, if there are special effects you need to be able to run the fog machine...Why not?

monika hardy said...