Magazine article Techniques

Teachers, Time to Rethink Your Priorities

Magazine article Techniques

Teachers, Time to Rethink Your Priorities

Article excerpt

Integrating academic and vocational education was a central aim when the National Center for Vocational Education (NCRVE) first came to the University of California-Berkeley in 1986. Since then much of NCRVE's work has been devoted to advancing this idea. Curriculum integration also has figured prominently in the School-to-Work Opportunities and Perkins acts, and high on the agenda of a growing number of schools and districts, especially those implementing career academies, career majors, student projects and other innovations demanding significant curriculum changes.

So having said that and without meaning to diminish in any way the important progress that has been made on the integration front, I think it's fair to say that a great deal remains to be accomplished. As I visit high schools around the country, I am struck by how little integration actually exists in either vocational or academic classes. In most community colleges, there seems to be even less. Perhaps I have simply missed a lot of innovative places, but if not, why after more than 10 years of so much emphasis on this theme has there not been more headway? Let me offer a possible explanation.

Integration that is rigorous, authentic and sustained is very hard to do--much harder than most of us who advocated integration ever imagined. To be effective, an integration activity must be designed to accomplish an important, well-defined educational objective; the integration is not an end in itself. Unless it addresses an academic or vocational objective, integration is inappropriate no matter how engaging the activity. Moreover, unless integration accomplishes this objective effectively--that is, more students master the objective, learn it more quickly, retain it longer or can apply it in more diverse ways--the integrated strategy probably is a waste of time.

Even if we succeed in keeping integration sharply focused on clear, well-specified educational objectives in the context of a legitimate application that really excites students, doing this day after day, week after week in a fashion that builds systematically on previous activities is challenging, to say the least. Constructing rich, complex, cumulative integrated curriculum that develops simultaneously the mastery of an academic discipline and its application in a coherently defined domain of the work world demands time, expertise and resources that are beyond the reach of most teachers. …

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