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'Coherent Design' Missing in Curricula, Says Bennett in Call for Common Core

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Secretary of Education William J. Bennett said last week that schools should consider altering their programs to emphasize the "core studies [that] constitute the nucleus of our schools' common curricula."

In his first public address since taking office, Mr. Bennett asserted that curricula now have "no coherent design" and need to be shaped to stress mathematics, science, English, and history. "The need for every student to learn these subjects springs from common sense and experience," he added.

Mr. Bennett's March 11 speech at the national convention of the American Association of School Administrators in Dallas echoed his past statements as well as President Reagan's recent comments on the need to return to teaching "basic subjects" in schools.

Diverse Influences

The confused condition of the school curriculum, Mr. Bennett said, is the result of diverse forces, including the influence of special interests, college-entrance examinations and requirements, and economic and social trends and concerns.

The Secretary, who has been in office for about five weeks, renewed the National Commission on Excellence in Education's call for an effort to reinvigorate the precollegiate curriculum.

"As we review the content of our national in-school curriculum, we must think about what we want the content of our children's education to be," Mr. Bennett said. "We possess the means to give some coherence to classroom curricula, and it is up to school administrators, parents, teachers, business leaders, and all citizens to determine its course."

Mr. Bennett also sounded a theme that President Reagan stressed in remarks earlier this month to the National Association of Independent Schools: that students should learn the good, as well as the bad, in American history.

"In my view, there are still too many schools in which our students are taught that this country's past is primarily a history of racism, pollution, oppression, and inequality," Mr. Bennett told the aasa members.

History Teaching 'a Mess'

In another appearance last week, Mr. Bennett contended that the teaching of history is "a mess right now."

"When you say history, you can't be confident you're talking about any single thing. ... In fact, most school history is not history; it's social studies. ... What history might be is almost unlimited right now," he said, repeating a position he had often articulated as head of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Cannot Be 'Value-Free'

In a March 8 taping of the syndicated television interview show, "McLaughlin's One on One," Mr. Bennett also said that the teaching of history cannot be divorced from questions of values. "When you talk about anything in history, the formation of the Union, slavery, the Civil War, you cannot be value-free. In what you select, you are not being value-free."

The interviewer, John McLaughlin, had asked the Secretary whether teachers should be enouraged to stay away from the area of "values formation." Neither Mr. Bennett nor Mr. McLaughlin mentioned the controversial Hatch Amendment regulations promulgated last November by the Education Department to define parents' rights to limit their children's involvement in certain types of federally sponsored school-testing programs.

Some conservative groups applaud the rules, contending that they prohibit schools from "undermining" or "manipulating" children's values and beliefs. Other groups, which are lobbying to change the regulations, claim they constitute an unwarranted federal intrusion into the classroom. (See Education Week, Feb. 20, 1985.)

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