Every once in a while during my explorations as a teacher, I come to sit back and try to look at the big picture of what it is I’m doing everyday with the students that I work with. I then occasionally come across articles such as this one. Titled, “Got Dough? How Billionaires Rule Our School” it lays out a world that I had thought I had nothing to do with. I once thought to myself that I never wanted to work for anyone, while simultaneously making money for them AND disenfranchising or causing harm to those that I worked with. But, as I learned that a heavy amount of money, $4 billion, is being “donated” to schools by foundations such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Eli and Edy the Broad Foundation, and the Walton Family Foundation, I soon realized that perhaps my efforts in my own classroom were a mere drop in the bucket as education is heading down a road of pre-destined failure. Big business as it turns out, is pushing education reform for a big reason, a $500 billion a year reason.
So there are some major parties interested in portraying public education as a massive failure that will ultimately lead to our decimation as the world’s number one economy as China surpasses the the US in 2020. So what types of affects does this have on curriculum in this country? Well, for starters, there is a huge push for STEM education starting as early as elementary school. The push for more scientists and engineers is supposedly needed to lead the US into the future, as 21st century skills are needed to compete in an “global economy”. This occurs, despite the fact that only 1 in 20 jobs in the US requires backgrounds in math or science and that their are 3 times as many applicants for jobs in these fields today. So as international test score after international test score come back and show the US lagging in areas such as science, reading, and math one has to wonder how 25% of the world’s top scientists comes from the US? Sadly, it becomes an issue of poverty, and the ever-increasing gap between the nation’s wealthiest citizens and its poorest. So, who is to blame? Teachers of course! What can we do? High-stakes testing that can be linked directly to the “value-added” by the teacher. This of course can lead to merit pay, and those teachers who best prepare their students to keep their jobs, and those who don’t, will lose their jobs. This, of course cannot happen until teachers unions are busted up, and the qualifications for who can be in charge of a classroom are changed. We then begin to see a change in how our schools are run. Suddenly they can be run more and more like a business. We can have “efficient’ schools, witch cheap replaceable labor (teachers with pre-determined curriculum), measurable goals, and unfortunately students who hate to learn about anything. To move in this direction, students and the public in general are told they now need to have choice in where they go to school, and that failing schools aren’t where they are destined to go. The choice, charter schools. The myth, charter schools are better than public schools. Fact, 1 in 5 charter schools are better than public schools (CREDO Study). Amazing how a place in which students spend only 20% of their time, can have such an affect on their lives. It comes down to the what I can only describe of as a denial of the poverty issue in this country and the direction in which parenting may potentially be heading.
A struggle for the American curriculum is underway. Kliebard addressed these issues in the early to mid-twentieth century in the book of the same title. There were four interested parties at the time. The humanists, develop-mentalists, the social efficiency folks, and the project-based/experience education group were all interested in shaping the American educational system for different reasons. And while there were no clear-cut winners, all four had an influence in education as we see it today. The two I want to focus on here are the social efficiency group and the project-based/experience education group. The former, is similar to the one I see trying to take over our country’s educational system today. Education is like a business, it can be run like a factory to maximize gains, and everything can be and will be measured and compared to everyone in the rest of the world. Here is where China again plays into the scene, despite some of the issues its educational system is beginning to inflict on its youth. Test prep, repetition, and grades are continually held to amazingly absurd level and the youth of the country have to withstand the affects of the system. Here is where our curriculum is again influenced. Study what’s going to be on the test, prepare for the test, and disregard the subjects that won’t be on the test. Standardize everything and require large amounts of recall type information to be memorized and repeated.
The last group has some, and I’ll say some ties to inquiry type learning (and yes I know that’s used a lot), but this is what I’m referring too. It also echoes the calls of educational thinkers like Sir Ken Robinson. Too often we expect students today to sit and be passive learners in classrooms. This despite the amount of stimulation, feedback, and involvement they experience elsewhere in their lives, specifically video games. For some ideas on how this affecting the our students today, see here and here. So what would I like to see happen to our curriculum? Well, a lot, to put it bluntly. I’m continually seeing schools that are implementing 1:1 laptops to students and seeing the paradigm shift that occurs with this change. I want to see learners move into the active role of learning, with connections to their community taking place, relevance in their lives being a part of their learning, and a less “one size fits all” model of how students learn. I want to see students run to get into the school as fast as they run out of it at the end of the day. I want reform, but not necessarily the type of reform that’s being touted by today’s media and political leaders. Too often when sitting in grad school class and we come across exemplary teaching models and we try to explain how this research on teaching can be explained, we all find ourselves saying, “…well that’s just good teaching!” We have these teachers we just need to give them back their classrooms, quit consistently saying how their not doing their jobs, and look for real motivation in the lives their students could potentially lead. I’m continually brought back to the quote under my signature in my email, “An educational system isn’t worth a great deal if it teaches young people how to make a living but doesn’t teach them how to make a life” -Unknown. This is where our educational system is going to potentially fail the youth of today and the leaders of tomorrow. A society that only teaches its students how to make a living will only last so long…