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Column One: Curriculum

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Many studies in recent years have pointed up American students' lack of knowledge about geography, science, and mathematics.

Now, a pilot study by a Pennsylvania researcher suggests that young children in this country may also be deficient in an entirely untested area: knowledge of nursery rhymes.

Bette Goldstone, an assistant professor of education at Beaver College in Glenside, Pa., surveyed 150 preschoolers in a Philadelphia suburb and found that more than a third did not know "Jack Be Nimble," "Hey Diddle Diddle," or "Little Miss Muffet," among others.

"It seems clear from this pilot study ... we could be losing Mother Goose rhymes," she said. "And, if we are losing them, does it matter?"

Despite criticism of violence and sexism in the rhymes, Ms. Goldstone said they are an important part of the nation's literary heritage.

For young children, she added, Mother Goose "mirrors and buttresses their language in a way that nothing else does," providing them with an introduction to reading that can also be fun.

Contending that notions about limited career options for women are set at an early age, some Virginia researchers and educators are testing a careers course geared to girls in the 5th through 12th grades.

Cheryl Bartholomew, an associate professor in George Mason University's counseling and career-development program, said girls need the special class early on because they have "unique problems."

"Studies have shown that, by the 5th grade, the question for girls begins to change from "What do I want to become?" to "Whom am I going to marry?"

The course was tested this year with 10th-grade girls at Fairfax County (Va.) High School. Ms. Bartholomew said the program will be expanded next year to another high school, a middle school, and an elementary school.

Canadian researchers are developing "cases," much like those pioneered by business schools, for use in high-school classrooms.

"Cases are written in such a way as to lure the reader in," explained Selma Wassermann, an education professor at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia. "They end on the controversy; students are motivated to discuss, and teachers are able to connect historical relevance to personal meanings."

The 20 cases developed so far were written by teachers and explore a range of issues, from bioethics to justice. Ms. Wasserman said the program may be among the first of its kind at the high-school level.--D.V.

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