National Curriculum


We have two visiting students from the Pardes Institute in Jerusalem who are doing (I think) their practicum with us. They seem quite nice. Both British gents. They are absolutely aghast that America does not have a national curriculum.

We had a lively discussion about America’s lack of a national curriculum at lunch today, and I think they remain unconvinced of the benefits of state and/or local curricula. Sparker and I also discussed the issue briefly after school. Her thoughts were that we don’t really remember content we learn in high school, we remember the critical thinking and writing skills, the analysis skills, the skills we later apply to success in life. I said something about teaching students and not subjects, and she agreed. I love the content I teach, but frankly, I know that most of my students are not as crazy about what I do as I am.

Oddly enough, the matter came up with yet another person, this time a student — an upperclassman (can’t recall if she’s in the 11th or 12th grade). She said she studied hardly any Southern literature when she took American Lit. with a different teacher (who is, by the way, from New York). I tend to focus on Southern lit. when I teach American Lit. Frankly, I would hate it if someone gave me an absolute list of works to teach and didn’t allow me any autonomy to choose.

I think I do a pretty good job of selecting literature selections that represent the concepts I am teaching. I teach a lot of the canon, too.

The Pardes interns had the point that teachers might really focus on what they love at the expense of something else students really need to know. I wonder if that’s true?

I used to be a proponent of a national curriculum. In fact, I did a presentation on this topic in my Foundations of Education class. I moved around a lot as a kid, and I felt like I missed out on whole chunks of stuff. But Sparker made a great point when she said, “Well, you’re okay now, aren’t you?” She’s right. I missed out on lots of grammar, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and too much other stuff that I personally consider vital to a proper English education. But now I teach English.

So does content matter that much? Or does it matter more to teach what you love, being sure to be representative and comprehensive, knowing you might inspire the kids to learn the other real skills that underlie what you’re teaching?

What are your thoughts on a national curriculum?


One thought on “National Curriculum

  1. The best teachers are always the ones that stay with you for life. And, remembering back, those are the same teachers that brought something of their own to the classroom. I suppose in some areas of our nation, a national curriculum should be put into place. Not all teachers are up to your level of teaching or to your level of intelligence and enthusiasm, so therefore, I think the students suffer a bit because the motivation to create "better" curricula is not there. It's a job to pay bills, not a passion. But, if we were all taught the same content wouldn't that make for a pretty boring night out? We'd all be discussing the same literature (because as much as we'd like to believe it, most people aren't passionate enough to seek things outside of what they are given, and increasingly more so in the society we're creating). As an example, I had never even heard of Jack Kerouac until I moved to England. Of course, after doing research, I found out that lots and lots of Americans had heard of him, read him, worshipped him. So, why had I never been exposed to him? I'm glad I wasn't at an earlier stage of my life because the introduction to new things is what keeps life interesting. I just feel that when things are done in a generalized, nationalized way, something is lost. (The British education system, at least at the university level, far exceeds the U.S., but even there they were starting to curve grades and make the tougher subjects available to everyone – they seem to love that phrase "dumbing down." Maybe that's how it should be, but I wonder if years from now we'll know the true meaning of the word scholar.)

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