10 Things Wrong With Todays Education Curriculum
I am a big fan of the thinking of Marion Brady. Ever read any of his books or articles? He is a longtime teacher; school administrator; nationally distributed newspaper columnist; and author of courses of study, textbooks and professional books. His most recent is “What’s Worth Learning?” published by Information Age Publishing.
Educators have been handicapped for more than a century by a curriculum adopted to serve a too-narrow purpose — admission to college — and failure to address that curriculum’s problems has made the institution vulnerable to destructive corporate and political manipulation.
Below are brief descriptions of problems Brady describes in his article and my perspectives. Note I am not an education expert and don’t claim to be. But I have a keen interest in learning and needed changes in today’s education system.
Curriculum is stuck in the past
Adopted in the late 19th Century, the standard core curriculum now shaping America’s schools reflects the “big idea” of that earlier era — the factory system, standardization of parts, mass production, centralized decision making, and passive worker compliance.
None of those fit the present era, and the rate of that change is accelerating. Change requires adaptation, and adaptation requires creativity, exploitation of differing perspectives, and continuous questioning of authority.
In full agreement. Change and adaptation to change is inevitable in everything we do. Why should our education system or its curriculum be an exception?
Curriculum provides little or no time for ‘learning by doing’
How little most adults remember and use of what they once read and heard at the secondary level of schooling testifies to a level of inefficiency that wouldn’t be tolerated in any other field or profession.
Given the internet and ease of access to it, given the vast range of learner abilities, interests, and needs, given the inevitable obsolescence of much existing knowledge, and given our ignorance about what the future holds, is less important than helping them develop knowledge-evaluating and generating skills.
It is amazing to me in this day of amazing growth of information and need for continuous learning, there is almost no attention paid to ‘learning to learn’.
Curriculum focuses almost entirely on recall learning
What gets tested, gets taught. Because, unlike all other thought processes, short-term memory can be measured with precision, traditional testing has emphasized it.
The ability to remember is, of course, important, but the main educational challenge-making better sense of real-world experience-requires the ability not merely to recall but to infer, generalize, hypothesize, relate, synthesize, value, and so on.
It seems that learning the basics should be learned by combining with the abilities to infer, generalize, hypothesize, relate, synthesize, and value, especially in grades 7–12.
Curriculum ignore important fields of knowledge
Give thought to the news of the day, or take a long view of human history, and it will be clear that the greatest threats to life, liberty, and happiness are conflicts stemming from differing value and belief systems within and between societies.
These systems-sometimes called ‘worldviews’- are the most important and useful thing we can know about ourselves and others, but the standard core curriculum lets learners go from kindergarten through graduate school without examining either their own worldview or those of others.
Acknowledging and understanding ‘worldviews’ are becoming more important than ever. It seems to me that our future depends on their appreciation and understanding as much as state, national, and world history. Seems like a combination of these topics would be a worthy idea.
Curriculum ignores systemic nature of subjects
Understanding any major problem — war, poverty, oppression, crime, discrimination, resource depletion, environmental degradation, whatever — requires an understanding of links between myriad factors and forces.
Because those factors and forces invariably cut across subject-matter boundaries, or deal with fields of knowledge not taught at all, the core curriculum fails to produce a citizenry intellectually equipped to cope with the problems it generates.
This reliance on ‘stove piping’ subjects is rampant everywhere in our education system, including graduate education, medical, and law schools. It is no wonder we struggle to deal with the complex interdependent problems of today.
Curriculum emphasizes secondhand knowledge
The new big deal in education is ‘informational reading’ — reading that informs. Is it important? Of course. Should it be the main thing that kids do in school? No. Reading and interpreting text is only one of many ways to learn, and not the most important.
The most explosive period of learning occurs in the first years of life, before we learn to read. There are lessons in that fact that our fixation on reading, and our stubborn insistence that play, art, music, theater, dance, and so on, are ‘frills’, keep us from understanding and appreciating. Schools are still being built with classrooms rather than flexible workspaces.
Schedules are still being imposed that keep kids in their seats and isolated from the larger world for most of every day. We’re ignoring research and common sense about how humans learn.
There is more and more research that indicates that giving children of all ages access to learning and information is the best way for them to choose their interests and learn.
Curriculum costs a great deal to deliver
Failure to explore and exploit the merit of integrated study, use of ‘canned’, commercial instructional materials rather than local resources, overuse of expensive technologies, excessive administrative costs, unnecessary testing and test prep, grade retention from inappropriate curricula and unreasonable pass-fail cut scores on standardized tests — these and other factors tied to an unexamined, taken-for-granted curriculum, waste time and money.
Primary and secondary education systems, like anything else, could find ways to be more efficient. However in a relative schema of our priorities, costs are probably lower than they should be.
Curriculum has no criteria on curriculum change
The questions are what new knowledge to teach, and what old knowledge to discard to make room for the new.
Knowledge is expanding at an ever-accelerating rate, but no agreed-upon aim, no overarching purpose, no philosophy, sorts through the near-infinites possibilities and constructs a coherent curriculum keyed to life as it’s lived.
Today’s reforms have us obsessing about the contents of school subjects, when the real challenge is figuring out how to use those tools (and subjects not now taught) to produce admirable people, thoughtful citizens, individuals able to capitalize on the potentials of humanness.
In full agreement. As we stated earlier, change and adaptation to change is inevitable in everything we do. Why should our education system be an exception?
Curriculum disregards the brain’s need for organization
The theory of learning that dominates traditional schooling is simple: “If you throw enough mud on the wall, some of it is bound to stick”. A little does stick, of course, but not enough to justify instruction based on the theory.
The main problem is the brain’s inability to cope with unorganized and disorganized information. School subjects organize information, but each one does so differently, and kids — lacking a ‘master’ organizer to logically relate new knowledge to existing knowledge — store it in short-term memory, then erase it when the threat of testing no longer looms.
Just another way to look at the need for a ‘systems view’ of learning and education’s curriculum. At the top of the priority list, in our view.
Mike Schoultz is the founder of Digital Spark Marketing, a digital marketing and customer service agency. With 40 years of business experience, he writes about topics that relate to improving the performance of business. Please follow his blog for awesome stories and articles.