In previous chapters, we saw that what is now commonly believed to be a major crisis in secondary education is in many respects a crisis of community—of students feeling detached from their peers, their teachers and their schools. There is also another side to this crisis of secondary education—a crisis of curriculum. The secondary school curriculum has failed to engage or honor the interests of many students, particularly those who are less strong in academic achievement. For too many students, secondary school is ‘just boring’ and they cannot wait to leave. Whatever disagreement there may be over how to define a ‘dropout’ or how to calculate the dropout rates (Lawton et al, 1988), one of the reasons students leave secondary school early is their disenchantment with the curriculum and how it is presented.
Goodlad’s (1984) study of 525 high school classrooms in the United States found that a typical class witnessed a lecture format that was generally divided into five activities—preparing for assignments, explaining/lecturing/reading aloud by the teacher, discussing, working on assignments and taking tests. In her study of eight high schools, Metz (1988) also noted the universal nature of high school classrooms with little variability among buildings and room setups, sequencing of subjects taught, texts and methods of instruction. Cuban’s (1984) historical analysis of American education shows that high schools have essentially remained unchanged since the turn of the century in such areas as length of class periods, duration of program and subject specialization. He found that even such elements as furniture arrangement, grouping of students and the amount of physical movement students are allowed within the classroom, have seen few changes. Junior high schools have not fared any better. In his study of twelve American junior high schools, Tye (1985) concludes that:
According to student and teacher reports and according to observation data, junior high school students in classes in all subjects in our sampled schools spent large amounts of time listening to the teacher. In addition to this, the most common activity, they also wrote answers to questions a lot and often took tests or quizzes. Less often, they wrote reports, read or were involved in discussion. In short, they were almost always involved in passive and traditional activities. Activities such as simulation and role-play were non-existent.