At-Risk Kids: Cramming Curriculum Down Kids’ ThroatsBy Bill Page
The “stuff“ that kids are supposed to learn in school called curriculum has been well established ever since the adoption of textbooks, workbooks, teacher manuals, and tear-out unit tests. From that point, curriculum content was a matter of “tweaking” and copying it in state curriculum guides year-after-year. Keeping with education tradition, curriculum became follow-the-bouncing-ball-sing-alongs led by mega-money publishers. Even grandparents recognize the “stuff’ kids are studying and taking tests over as the same material they learned decades ago—actually it may still be relevant to grandparents.
Do Educationists Know Kids Better than Teachers?
While higher-up educRATS argued about and picked at curriculum over the years, primarily they contributed quantum additions of factoids, while making sure nothing was ever removed. Then, the bureaucrats in uncharacteristic unity, stuck their naive, remote, unwanted, collective noses into individual classrooms, mandating specific who, what, when, where, why, and how teaching details to experienced, professional classroom teachers who literally “live” all year with their students.
Teaching “By the Numbers”
How can a curriculum that is determined independent of the learner be appropriate to the learner? How can a single, predetermined set of goals be appropriate to each learner or to all learners? How will a teacher know what s/he will teach, how long it will take and what will be on the test before s/he knows who will be in the class at the first class meeting? Will the incoming class of individuals be all the same, requiring the same review, material, assignments, homework and amount of time for learning? Surely, teachers can be trusted to adapt, change, and differentiate; but not when they are required by distant, disconnected micromanagement mandates to teach by preset, fill-in-the-numbers worksheets, and pre-scripted lessons.
Irrelevance Equals Dislike
Since teachers are paid professionals, capable of coping with unwarranted, amateur, bureaucratic intrusion into their classrooms, a curriculum crammed down their throats is not the most serious problem. Far worse is the meaningless curriculum that has for so long been being crammed down student’s throats. Many kids resist the curriculum, and too many reject the stuff altogether. Can you say irrelevant? Don’t bother! The meaningless curriculum foisted on the incredulous learning miracle already accomplished by virtually every child in his or her first years of life insures failure, dislike, resistance, and self-doubt in all but the top grade-grubbing students who find personal satisfaction in “playing the phony school game” and pleasing parents’ superficial expectations rather than in the satisfaction of meaningful learning.
Going to Hell
A classroom teacher’s job is much like that famous definition of a “diplomat”: “One who can tell you to go to hell; have you thank him/her for the advice, look forward to the trip, and make you think it was your idea.” That job is shoving school curriculum down their kids’ throats. Preferably, the shoving of curriculum is done in a user-friendly manner while maintaining a haughty air of “I know best,” “this is for your own good,” and “some day you’ll thank me.”
School Curriculum Is Not Connected to Anything
All kids are natural learners. They learn what is meaningful to them, what connects with their existing knowledge, and what information relates to their lives. School curriculum is not necessarily connected to anything even other parts of the curriculum. From the lock-step, age-grouping, little-bit-of-everything, grade-flaunting, sticker-awarding, approval-granting, offerings in elementary schools to the outdated Carnegie unit, hardening-of-the-categories, coercive, socially stratifying, college preparatory, diploma-granting, graduation controlling, high-stakes-testing secondary schools, the bureaucratic structure of curriculum is a nightmare, rigged against the effective, natural, worthwhile teaching-learning process.
Carrot and Stick Are Crucial to Irrelevant Curriculum
If curriculum is irrelevant, then extrinsic, coercive motivation is essential because kids will not study meaningless matter and cannot learn and remember anything that does not link with their existing knowledge. Extrinsic motivation through reward and punishment has endless possibilities and variations. Some teachers think that positive reinforcement is okay, but negative is not. They are fooling themselves. Both positive and negative are on the opposite ends of the same continuum—a line of reward and punishment.
You Can Lead Kids to Curriculum but You Can’t Make ‘em Regurgitate
In the name of curriculum, kids in school learn to be “dumb.” They weren’t dumb before they came to school; they are only dumb when we apply a standard to non-standard kids and reporting to the world which is which. I believe the major factor in the problem of at-risk kids lies in the student-curriculum mismatch. The old adage, “You can lead a horse to water; but you can’t make him drink.” is a propos to teachers and curriculum. A teacher’s job is to make kids thirsty not make them drink; kids can do that on their own. Making kids thirsty by extrinsic rewards only works for those capable of earning the reward, able to compete for school-defined success, and predisposed to do so. Many students at-risk are not capable or not so disposed. At-Risk kids deserve a reprieve, not punishment and F’s.
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