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?