Last week, I discussed AP Tests and the lower average being an issue for students across this country. At the end of the entry, I said that this week, I planned on discussing curriculum. And that’s exactly what’s going to go down. This week, I’d like to focus on the thoughts and opinions of one Marion Brady, the closest thing to an expert that I could find regarding this issue (amongst various others). Brady is now 90 years old, so he’s been around the block a few times. A few years back, he wrote a couple of pieces for the Washington Post all about Common Core, curriculum in general, and how he thinks they’re best resolved.
At the beginning of the above article, Brady argues that as students, we are taught to break apart problems in order to make them easier to understand and thus more “solveable” if you will. However, the opportunity cost, he argues, is that we are immune to facing the consequences of addressing or solving a given problem the incorrect way. MIT Professor Peter M. Senge backs him up on this. According to these two, because modern education doesn’t focus on how the fragments of a problem fit together or interact, the purpose of education – to help the young understand – is fundamentally missed in this nation’s schools.
Everyone is quick to point out the issues in education: standards, accountability, teacher quality, rigor, etc. But, no one wants to pull out the Jenga block that could knock down this tower; that block is curriculum. To pull out this block, however, requires a fundamental shift in the way we go about education in this country. To that end, getting to the top of Everest naked, barefoot, and food-less for a week might be more realistic.
Brady lays out seven steps that he calls a “tweak.” You can find these in the first link, but I’ll summarize below.
1. Accept that our way of “traditional schooling” might be wrong
2. Accept that the rest of the world might be right about how to educate the young
3. Add a synthesizing class at the secondary level in order to “fit the pieces together”
4. Find teachers willing to be “co-learners”
5. Accept “hand holding” in regards to classwork
6. Download some PDF (I’m not advertising this dude for free; pay up, chief)
7. Accept an evolving curriculum on the terms of the students and teachers
Alright, so in Lehmann’s terms, Brady is saying make K-12 more like college; group students by innate abilities, get the “Gen Eds” done quickly, and let the math kids math, the reading kids read, and the art kids art. Sort of like a major-minor system. At this point, being the slaves to the system that we have been to date in regards to our education, we at least have to ask the question: is this dude right? Is the entire way I’ve been taught not the best way? Well, let me say one thing: if you can’t even bring yourself to answer those questions, or if you think that the way you’ve done it to date is completely, 100% right, you’re proving Brady’s point.
However, to say that the way that we’ve learned to date hasn’t worked would be erroneous. I mean, look how far we’ve come. Look at some of the graduates we turn out. Our generation – as well as the last three, four, or five – have done some simply incredible things. Some students function better under hellbent standards, rigorously competitive environments, and incredibly significant standardized tests.
But, as Brady points out…most do not. Therefore, he has at least a little bit of ground to stand on in suggesting something different. He’s right about at least a few things, and I’m sure he, as well as his opponents, would assert that a “one size fits all” solution is not the answer. Yet, to that end, I would ask, “isn’t that what we kind of have right now?” Some would certainly agree and say yes, reinforced by the test-punishment mentality, standardized tests at the primary level, and of course the Common Core. Some though, would disagree, saying that students value structure above all else in the classroom, and that rules are in place for a reason.
Regardless of where one stands, to think that a certain group is capable of doing one thing in any completely “right” way is conceited and foolish. And, as a student who has benefitted from being educated in this country, I can say that I’ve never questioned the way I’ve been taught. However, that’s because I would have been told I was “wrong” if I did. To that end, perhaps our education system has failed in a sense.
What we learn, how we learn, and who teaches us how to learn are three huge questions that do not have a single correct answer. However, all three fall back on the teachers in this country. Who we’ll talk about next week.