Opinion
Curriculum Opinion

Quick note on curriculum

By Deborah Meier — June 13, 2007 2 min read

Dear Diane,

A quick note—undoubtedly it won’t end up being so quick—re. your words last month about my anarchistic, “do your own thing” thing views re. curriculum. It’s a puzzle, I know, but no—that’s not quite what I’m saying.

Like colleges, most private schools design their own course of study—with schools providing more or less space for teachers to decide how and where they fit in. At Fieldston, teachers had favorite topics and approaches and thus “curriculum” differed over the years. CPESS—my old high school—had a 6-year (grades 7-12) curriculum that we “invented” together, although since the pace was much slower (e.g. we taught about half the physics textbook over two years), there was a great deal of opportunity to explore some topics in greater depth, to follow individual student and teacher interests and unexpected dilemmas and to do more listening rather than telling.

Incidentally, based on my experience, AP courses are mostly popular in affluent districts because they are useful for getting into college. The best of the AP courses—in literature—offers the greatest leeway re. coverage.

In fact, Diane, one can argue with people with whom you do not share the same knowledge or values, and since words never mean exactly the same thing it’s always wise not to presume how much two arguers have in common. You are right that our shared history allows us to take some shortcuts. But sometimes it’s not wise. For example, you are sure that if any sensible teacher (like me?) read Chall’s book that would end the reading “wars”. Surely you realize I read it and disagreed with Chall, even as I also found it useful.

It’s intriguing to me that I find it so easy to believe differently than you do, that even shared knowledge and shared values do not lead inevitably to agreement, and that people who do not know much about King, segregation and the Brown decision are not inevitably harder to discuss civil rights with than people who think they do. Or that “agreement” often hides as much as it reveals; that our ability to nod amicably when hearing terms like Brown, King, etc often implies only surface recognition not knowledge.

In short, faking it is often social good manners, but should not be encouraged in school. Open ignorance is often such a relief. Given our commonalities I’m as puzzled at your contrary conviction as you are about mine. It’s, in part, the basis of my fascination with your ideas.

The tyranny I’m worrying about is either of us “winning” and having the power to enforce our ideas/approach on the other. I worry when my “eye” and “ear” are focused on the authorities above me rather than the students before me. I worry when faculty meetings are not places where the kind of rigor we hope for from our students is practiced.

The happy fact is than none of us ever, ever, ever have to agree with each other’s ideas. The unhappy fact is that some of us have very little voice over what ideas we are allowed to implement—at least openly. The schools that teach the least advantaged are, I claim, the least likely to have teachers whose education is well utilized in the classroom setting, and who are least likely to pass on to the young the kind of liveliness of mind that could engage their students.

Have you ever read “Lives Across the Boundary” by Mike Rose? It’s a wonderful account of Mike’s own education and his work with “under-prepared” college students that would, I suspect, also appeal to you and make for an interesting discussion.

Deborah

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