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The Curriculum

Young girl on the computer in class

Webster defines ’curriculum’ as ’a regular course of study; an accepted schedule; a routine.’ This definition implies that schools must teach their students according to these principles. If we apply this definition to the teaching practices of the average elementary school, we would find that every class indeed has a ’course of study, an accepted schedule and a routine.’

But this is not enough! For a school to properly educate children, a number of other standards must apply. Decisions must be taken as to what is to be taught; why is it to be taught; and how it is to be taught.

In addition, the skills learned in one grade should build into the next grade. Teachers must use materials that develop concepts in a manner that allows the student to build a conceptual base (understanding of concepts) while he or she develops new academic skills. Grade 2 teachers should teach concepts and skills from which Grade 3 teachers can build new knowledge and skills. There must be a sequence of the content of each grade’s teachings.

But this is impossible without decisions being made above the classroom level. Publishers commonly print excellent texts having completely different sequences of skills. If there is no general decision as to the direction, outlook and content, then individual teachers will be free to choose their own texts, whether or not they integrate from one grade to the next! In this way it may be possible for students to be exposed to multiplication before they even know how to carry or regroup in addition.

Students in such programs find it impossible to understand what they are learning. and either tune out or memorize their way to success. But this is not success! Recent research in Japan has shown that students who merely memorize skills do not develop the ability to think creatively or to problem-solve.

The job of imparting knowledge actually belongs to the teacher, but the decision as to how it should be imparted belongs at the policy level.

For example, before a school board could order textbooks or consider the scope or sequence of a reading curriculum in the primary level (grades 1, 2 and 3), they would have to make an initial policy decision as to whether their reading program would be based on a phonetical decoding method (phonics) or a holistic sight (whole language) method.

This decision must be based on an outlook, belief or philosophy and it must be specific. It would not be sufficient to say that the curriculum must teach to the ’whole child’ or that a ’quality education’ is the objective of the reading program, or even that ’the social, emotional and intellectual development of a child depends upon teaching to the actual child’s needs not just to the outline found in a textbook.’

While these statements all sound or feel good, they do not form an actual philosophy from which to develop policy about textbooks and teaching methods. In fact, history has shown us that often the very worst educational programs are preceded by these lofty, flowery and emotional statements.

The ’whole word’ reading program, known more commonly as Whole Language, was preceded by these grand claims and what did it bring? It brought new programs that allowed children to pass without understanding; programs that substituted fakery for achievement under the false claim that children must never be exposed to difficulty or failure or their self-esteem will suffer.

It substituted a reading program that now allows children to stumble into grades 3, 4 or even 5 without knowing how to read well, for one that had consistently taught children to read in Grade 1. And it continues to claim that it can provide the best education for the whole child and that today’s children have higher self-esteem as a result of these programs!

If one looks at the carnage of the public education system of today, it is hard to accept these claims.

After a philosophical decision has been taken by the board of education as to the outlook their program is to express, a joint effort involving the board, the school administration and the teaching staff must then be made to develop new programs by creating documents that explain what learning objectives are to be met; what learning skills must be mastered in order to meet the objectives; what teaching materials are to be used to teach these skills; and in what order (sequence) the skills are to be taught.

An example of this process follows:

Learning Skills: (a) students must be able to recognize and call by sound all initial, final and medial consonants; and (b) students must be able to recognize vowel sounds, and understand the ’Magic E’ and ’Two Vowels Walking’ rules.

Teaching Materials: (a) Explode the Code Phonics Workbooks; (b) sandpaper letters; (c) vowel stick men; and (d) glass analysis or blending exercises.

Sequence: (a) initial consonants; (b) final consonants; (c) short vowels in this order: a – e – o – u – i; (d) middle consonants; and (e) blending exercises.

Finally, teachers must then prepare to teach by studying the curriculum documents; creating daily lesson planners that follow the scope and sequence of the curriculum.

This work is done by professional teachers well in advance of their actual classes. The hallmark of a professional teacher is a well prepared daily lesson planner covering an entire term, if not a full school year, and both short- and long-term goals and objectives.

Teachers lacking in professional ethics will often develop their daily planner early in their career and use the same one year after year. However, true professionals use their experiences from each term to adjust, change and make their teaching methods and plans better. As teachers learn more about their own strengths and weaknesses as communicators, they understand the need to develop new skills. Experience in the classroom helps teachers to understand better the dynamics of self-esteem and classroom management.

No amount of textbook learning can compensate for the experiences of a dedicated professional. But dedication is not enough. If the curriculum has not been properly prepared to reflect the needs and standards of the community and if the objectives and skills taught in individual grades have not been co-ordinated, then the school program will fail. Even the most well meaning educators will not succeed with an inappropriate philosophy of education.

(Excerpt from Passive Minds! The Dangers of Education!! by Dr. R. N. Whitehead, Director, Oxford Learning Centres).

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