Who and What Shape the Curriculum? (page 3)
Excerpt from: Teachers, Schools, and Society: A Brief Introduction to Education p. 354-358
Although all three curriculums are powerful forces, the public and the press typically focus on the most visible—the formal or official curriculum—when evaluating schools. Given the current emphasis on standards and testing, and the recurrent controversies over the teaching of evolution or the place of religion in the curriculum, the formal curriculum is constantly in the news. As a future teacher, it makes a lot of sense for you to begin thinking about who decides what you should teach. In fact, what you teach is decided by competing interest groups, and the product sometimes feels as though it was created in a pressure cooker. (See Figure 10.1.) Anyone, from the president of the United States to a single parent, can impact what is taught in your classroom. Let's take a brief tour of some of the chefs at work on the curricular pressure cooker.
Teachers develop curriculum both formally and informally. They may serve on textbook selection committees that determine what texts the school will purchase, or they may actually work on writing a district's curriculum. In a less formal but no less powerful way, classroom teachers interpret and adapt whatever official text or curriculum guide has been assigned, stressing certain points in a text while giving scant attention to others; supplementing with teacher-made materials or directing students to the Internet.
Parental and Community Groups
Parents can be quite forceful in impacting the curriculum. They might advocate for more rigorous academic courses, concerned about poor student performance on standardized tests, or they may desire more practical vocational training, such as an increase in computer science courses. Banning certain books or videos from the curriculum is also not unusual. In more conservative communities, religious fundamentalists have objected to the absence of Christian values, while liberal communities have objected to books that use racial, ethnic or gender slurs and stereotypes.
During the 1960s and 1970s, students demanded curricular relevance. Al-though students have not seemed particularly interested in influencing curriculum policy recently, they have been active in protests against standardized testing. Typically, students are given some freedom to select topics for independent projects, research papers, book reviews, and even authentic learning.
Principals, in their role as instructional leaders, can wield substantial influence in shaping the curriculum. For example, a principal announces at a faculty meeting that the school's scores on the state standardized test in mathematics were disappointing, and this year's priority is to raise those scores. The result might well be a math curriculum that "teaches to the test." Sometimes central-office personnel, such as a language arts coordinator or a social studies super-visor, might create a new or revised school or district curriculum.
States are now assuming a stronger leadership role in education, and their interest in curriculum matters has sharpened through the creation of state standards, curriculum guides and frameworks for all state schools to follow. In more conservative states, the role of religion and the treatment of evolution versus creationism are hot-button issues. In more liberal states, instructional materials are expected to include diversity.
Local school boards make a variety of curriculum decisions, requiring courses from AIDS education to technology. Supporters feel that local school hoards should have a strong voice in the curriculum, because they are closest to the needs of the local community and the interests of the students. Others feel that school board members lack the training and broad perspective needed to make curricular decisions.
Colleges and Universities
Institutions of higher learning influence curricula through their entrance requirements, which spell out courses high school students most take to gain admittance. As A. Bartlett Giamatti noted when he was president of Yale University,
The high schools in this country are always at the mercy of the colleges. The colleges change their requirements and their admissions criteria and the high schools ... are constantly trying to catch up with what the colleges are thinking. When the colleges don't seem to know what they think over a period of time, it's no wonder that this oscillation takes place all the way through the system.
The results of state and national tests, from the state subject matter tests needed for graduation to the SATs, influence what is taught in the school. If students perform poorly in one or more areas of these standardized tests, the government or public pressure pushes school officials to strengthen the curriculum in these weak spots.
Schools of education are not immune from the current focus on test performance. Because an increasing number of states are requiring new teachers to take qualifying tests, such as the National Teacher Exam (NTE, Praxis series), these tests influence what is covered in teacher education programs. For example, if' Benjamin Bloom's Taxonomy of Educational Objectives is emphasized on such tests, teacher education colleges will teach more about Bloom in their own programs.
Education Commissions and Committees
From time to time in the history of U.S. education, various committees, usually on a national level, have been called upon to study an aspect of education. Their reports often draw national attention and influence elementary and secondary curricula. The 1983 report, A Nation at Risk, and the National Education Summit in 1989 led to a more uniform core of courses, and a pro-gram for testing student progress.
Many professional organizations such as the National Education Association (NEA), the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), and numerous subject area associations (teacher groups in English, math, science, and the like) publish journals and hold conferences that emphasize curriculum needs and developments. Their programs and materials may focus on teaching with technology, multicultural education, or authentic learning. Teachers, inspired by these presentations, might choose to modify their curriculum and implement new approaches and ideas.
Special Interest Groups
Today's students are tomorrow's customers, so it is not surprising that businesses and interest groups offer teachers free (and attractive) curricular materials promoting their view of the world. A student-friendly magazine on protecting the environment looks wonderful at first glance, but how do you handle Company X's self-promoting distortion of its own environmental policies that may be part of the narrative? A month's supply of free newspapers for all students is appealing, but does acceptance mean that you are endorsing the editorial opinions of the paper? Teachers need to examine materials and products carefully in order to present a fair and accurate view.
Reprinted with the permission of McGraw-Hill Companies.
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