What should be considered “essential” curriculum in any discipline?
I like to think my first job, even before teaching my students the English curriculum, is to help the kids to become good people. I’m not certain if this something I came to realize on my own or something my father–a retired teacher–pointed out to me. Think about what qualities “good people” have. They are friendly and personable. They work hard and follow through on their commitments. They know when to have fun and when to work. They help others. They offer criticism in a civil and non-personal way that is more about the work than the person. They can entertain a thought without accepting it(thanks Aristotle!).
That’s the essential curriculum in my classroom.
Are their “soft skills,” social skills, and/or literacy skills that should be taught in every classroom in addition to the content?
I’m not sure I want a gym/health teacher for example teaching literacy skills. I would rather my colleagues in the physical education and health department to simply get the kids to read more. Reading is like running… the more we do it, the better we are at it. The only thing beyond simply “read more” I’d like to see is reading critically. Too often the students are asked to “read” when we mean “find the answer.” That kind of reading turns into a high-speed skimming for key words and that’s not reading. We need to push the students for understanding beyond what is written on the page. What implications does it have? Is it correct or is it flawed in any way? We need to teaching kids to question what they read.
What is the overall goal of public education? What should it be? How can we make it better?
I think the answer to this depends on that old axiom: location, location, location. Certainly the ‘overall’ goal of public education is some kind of lofty and very wordy mission statement suggesting that “all students can succeed” at “either a post-secondary level, military or the work-force.” However, what is the reality? In some schools the goal is simply to keep the kids there. If Johnny is in school, he can’t be on the street committing crimes and may someday become a “productive member of society”(aka a wage-earning tax payer who follows the rules of American society). I attended a school like that when I was a very young child. I didn’t see the flaws and cracks and, frankly, the bullet holes in the building.
If we change how schools are funded(and that’s a HUGE if), there might be a slow, but gradual increase in achievement and retention, a decrease in juvenile crime, and a general “up-swing” in our economy. However, how do you sell this to taxpayers? I try to imagine I’m a parent and my child is in Hershey High School where I teach. Why would I want any of my tax dollars to be siphoned away from this award-winning school–where I moved specifically to be in a “good” school district–to some failing or sub-par school elsewhere in the state? Why would I vote for that(or for a representative who would)? It’s not in my or my child’s best interest. While I realize money isn’t the silver bullet to solve education, without it… it’s tough to get better.
Ok, so the big-picture, macro changes to the structure and funding of education are out of the control of me, an English teacher that is ‘in the trenches.’ What can I do?
- Instill in my students a sense of value for education. Being smart and knowledgeable is cool.
- Instill a respect for hard work. Thomas Paine perhaps said it best, “What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value.”
- Instill a desire to be a life-long student. Why should learning stop at the schoolhouse door?