Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

It's the Curriculum, Stupid: There's Something Wrong with It: Educators, Parents, and Employers All Seem to Agree on the Types of Skills They Believe Students Should Be Developing. but Mr. Brown Finds That the Traditional Curriculum, Divided Up into Separate Subjects, Neither Engages Students nor Prepares Them for Productive Lives. He Believes That the Answer to Both Problems Is to Have Students Design Their Own Curricula

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

It's the Curriculum, Stupid: There's Something Wrong with It: Educators, Parents, and Employers All Seem to Agree on the Types of Skills They Believe Students Should Be Developing. but Mr. Brown Finds That the Traditional Curriculum, Divided Up into Separate Subjects, Neither Engages Students nor Prepares Them for Productive Lives. He Believes That the Answer to Both Problems Is to Have Students Design Their Own Curricula

Article excerpt

WHILE waiting in Chicago for my connecting flight, I wandered over and picked up a USA Today to browse through the day's national events. I seldom get past the first section before I drop the paper and return to reading something more substantial. But this time a figure at the bottom of the "Money" section caught my eye. (1) The heading for the figure was "Are Schools Preparing Students to Meet Employers' Needs?" This survey of 450 business and political leaders, conducted by Duffey Communications, yielded the following results:

1. Seventy percent of those surveyed said, "No, schools are not preparing students to meet employers' needs."

2. Twenty percent said, "Yes, schools are preparing students to meet employers' needs."

3. The remaining 10% reported that schools are "somewhat" preparing students to meet employers' needs.

For the next hour, I began to reflect on many educational trends, issues, theories, and philosophies that could play a role in really answering that question. But I kept returning to two central questions: 1) What outcomes do employers want graduates to have achieved as a result of their years of schooling? and 2) If educators knew the answer to this question, how could they ensure that their students achieved those outcomes?

I realize that supposing educators want answers to these two questions assumes that at least one valued outcome of schooling is to provide an efficient work force to ensure the continued success of capitalism. If teachers and parents, for argument's sake, genuinely believe that it is educators' responsibility to prepare students for a life of "meeting employers' needs," then we're going to have to better examine what it is that we choose to teach students. That is, what should be in the curriculum to ensure that students have the knowledge to prepare them for a life of employment?

To some extent, I fear I am treading on hallowed ground. James Beane summarized the challenge of questioning what is traditionally taught with his comment, "Changing the curriculum is like moving a graveyard; no one wants to disturb the dead." (2) Yet my recent research with the middle-level curriculum has led me to a renewed view--both philosophical and practical--of how to create appropriate curricula for students, no matter what the desired outcomes.

CHOOSING MEANINGFUL OUTCOMES

Educators and parents have what I consider to be a reasonable sense of what students should learn to prepare them for productive and successful lives. For four consecutive summers, I surveyed a sample of middle-level teachers to determine their views on the specific skills that students need prior to entering adult employment. (3) The prioritized list of their responses follows:

1. Critical-thinking skills

2. Problem-solving strategies and effective decision-making skills

3. Creative-thinking processes

4. Effective oral and written communication skills

5. Basic reading, mathematics, and writing abilities

6. Knowledge of when and how to use research to solve problems

7. Effective interpersonal skills

8. Technology skills

9. Knowledge of good health and hygiene habits

10. Acceptance and understanding of diverse cultures and ethnicities

11. Knowledge of how to effectively manage money

12. Willingness, strategies, and ability to continue learning.

Carol Smith noted that parents and teachers in Vermont who were asked to prioritize outcomes for students developed a similar list. (4) Kathy Emery and Susan Ohanian quote the words of "Car Talk" co-host Tom Magliozzi about what students should learn in school:

 
   Education really ought to help us understand the 
   world we live in. This includes flora, fauna, cultures, 
   governments, religions, money, advertising, buildings, 
   cities, and especially people. … 
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