Menus Subscribe Search

Follow us


In the Classroom

classroom-standard

(Photo: luminaimages/Shutterstock)

Overhaul the Curriculum: The First Step We Must Take Toward Fixing Our Education System

• April 16, 2014 • 12:00 PM

(Photo: luminaimages/Shutterstock)

In order to teach students who will have to compete in the knowledge economy, a school’s curriculum should not be prescribed, but arrived at collaboratively.

For far too long education reform has been tinkering in the margins and offering band-aid solutions that keep the patient alive, but little else. Lawmakers have chased fads and bad policies that haven’t helped children thrive. One can only do so much to keep the patient comfortable before calling the priest. Our education system is on life support and it’s time for the last rites.

Educators, school leaders, and most parents already know that schools are outdated, though few think of a system that is fundamentally flawed and irreparable. But it is. The current education system isn’t just and equitable. Our pedagogical approaches—placing knowledge into empty heads and assuming learning has occurred—isn’t working and doesn’t reflect what we know about how people learn.

Schools do not approach education from an equitable and just position. Instead, we approach education like a little league baseball team whose coach is hell-bent on winning. We should not exclude students with disabilities from general education settings, but we do. We should not be quick to banish minorities to special education classes, but we are. Approaching school with the mindset that everyone can learn and deserves the opportunity to learn is fundamentally different than our system now—a high-risk system that favors fielding the best team. The very foundation of our education system should not be chasing test scores and “winning.” That’s a dangerous lesson for students and leads to a disastrous byproduct for our country.

In the knowledge economy, information is free and moving rapidly. The analytical is becoming antiquated—because Google had the answer 10 seconds ago.

Education’s mission of yesterday was to teach people the skills required to fill a workforce. In short, we were training widget makers for our consumer economy. But an education that trains students to consume a product doesn’t meet the challenges required in contemporary society. We need to engage a dynamic generation of sophisticated children in knowledge production. New technologies and their resultant new practices have radically changed the way humans learn, interact, and produce knowledge in contemporary times. We need an education system and workforce that understands how schools can better harness those tools to encourage innovative solutions.

How do we do that? First and foremost education policy needs to stop chasing trophies and test scores and instead go in a more holistic direction. Some of the most successful countries in the world—with the test scores to prove it—shy away from what the Finnish educator and scholar Pasi Sahlberg calls the Global Educational Reform Movement (GERM). High-stakes testing kills creativity in the classroom and shifts priorities away from learning how to solve real-world problems. The curriculum should offer opportunities to build new ways of seeing the world rather than a simple transmission of predefined content and skills that are still rooted in assembly line curriculum ideology.

A school’s curriculum should not be prescribed. It must be arrived at collaboratively through curriculum instruction teams that include teachers, administrators, parents, students, and community members. Having a more equitable and just process for curriculum development means more individuals can help shape schools with projects that are relevant and meaningful to their communities.

Much of this is to push teachers and students to become “produsers” of knowledge, meaning we care less about the consumption of knowledge and more about the creation of it. Doing this not only transforms communities, but it focuses young minds on problem solving and problem posing—not regurgitation of facts. It’s the shift from children and youth as consumers to children and youth, teachers, administrators, parents, and community leaders as produsers. Learners would produse knowledge and apply it to everyday tasks with real-world audiences. For example, one elementary classroom in Rochester, New York, advocated for healthier food options through a student-produced documentary film, called Lunch Is Gross. The student-teacher collaborative effort, which integrated math, science, social studies, and literacy learning into all aspects of the project, resulted in a change in the district’s food vendor.

In the knowledge economy, information is free and moving rapidly. The analytical is becoming antiquated—because Google had the answer 10 seconds ago. What computers cannot do well is ask the questions. And to get any conversation started requires a question. We have sat on the sidelines for far too long and now we have to ask ourselves this question: Will we work with or against the knowledge economy?

Joanne Larson
Joanne Larson is the Michael W. Scandling Professor of Education at the Warner School of Education at the University of Rochester. She is the author of Radical Equality in Education: Starting Over in U.S. Schooling (Routledge, 2014).

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

September 30 • 6:00 AM

The Medium Is the Message, 50 Years Later

Five decades on, what can Marshall McLuhan’s Understanding Media tell us about today?


September 30 • 4:00 AM

Grad School’s Mental Health Problem

Navigating the emotional stress of doctoral programs in a down market.


September 29 • 1:21 PM

Conference Call: Free Will Conference


September 29 • 12:00 PM

How Copyright Law Protects Art From Criticism

A case for allowing the copyright on Gone With the Wind to expire.


September 29 • 10:00 AM

Should We Be Told Who Funds Political Attack Ads?

On the value of campaign finance disclosure.


September 29 • 8:00 AM

Searching for a Man Named Penis

A quest to track down a real Penis proves difficult.


September 29 • 6:00 AM

Why Do So Many People Watch HGTV?

The same reason so many people watch NCIS or Law and Order: It’s all a procedural.


September 29 • 4:00 AM

The Link Between Depression and Terrorism

A new study from the United Kingdom finds a connection between depression and radicalization.


September 26 • 4:00 PM

Fast Track to a Spill?

Oil pipeline projects across America are speeding forward without environmental review.


September 26 • 2:00 PM

Why Liberals Love the Disease Theory of Addiction, by a Liberal Who Hates It

The disease model is convenient to liberals because it spares them having to say negative things about poor communities. But this conception of addiction harms the very people we wish to help.


September 26 • 1:21 PM

Race, Trust, and Split-Second Judgments


September 26 • 9:47 AM

Dopamine Might Be Behind Impulsive Behavior

A monkey study suggests the brain chemical makes what’s new and different more attractive.


September 26 • 8:00 AM

A Letter Becomes a Book Becomes a Play

Sarah Ruhl’s Dear Elizabeth: A Play in Letters From Elizabeth Bishop to Robert Lowell and Back Again takes 900 pages of correspondence between the two poets and turns them into an on-stage performance.


September 26 • 7:00 AM

Sonic Hedgehog, DICER, and the Problem With Naming Genes

Wait, why is there a Pokemon gene?


September 26 • 6:00 AM

Sounds Like the Blues

At a music-licensing firm, any situation can become nostalgic, romantic, or adventurous, given the right background sounds.


September 26 • 5:00 AM

The Dark Side of Empathy

New research finds the much-lauded feeling of identification with another person’s emotions can lead to unwarranted aggressive behavior.



September 25 • 4:00 PM

Forging a New Path: Working to Build the Perfect Wildlife Corridor

When it comes to designing wildlife corridors, our most brilliant analytical minds are still no match for Mother Nature. But we’re getting there.


September 25 • 2:00 PM

Fashion as a Inescapable Institution

Like it or not, fashion is an institution because we can no longer feasibly make our own clothes.


September 25 • 12:00 PM

The Fake Birth Mothers Who Bilk Couples Out of Their Cash by Promising Future Babies

Another group that’s especially vulnerable to scams and fraud is that made up of those who are desperate to adopt a child.


September 25 • 10:03 AM

The Way We QuickType


September 25 • 10:00 AM

There’s a Name for Why You Feel Obligated to Upgrade All of Your Furniture to Match

And it’s called the Diderot effect.


September 25 • 9:19 AM

School Counselors Do More Than You’d Think

Adding just one counselor to a school has an enormous impact on discipline and test scores, according to a new study.


September 25 • 9:05 AM

Sponsors: Coming to a Sports Jersey Near You

And really, it’s not that big of a deal.


September 25 • 8:00 AM

The Most Pointless Ferry in Maryland

Most of the some 200 ferries that operate in the United States serve a specific, essential purpose—but not the one that runs across the Tred Avon River.


Follow us


Dopamine Might Be Behind Impulsive Behavior

A monkey study suggests the brain chemical makes what's new and different more attractive.

School Counselors Do More Than You’d Think

Adding just one counselor to a school has an enormous impact on discipline and test scores, according to a new study.

How a Second Language Trains Your Brain for Math

Second languages strengthen the brain's executive control circuits, with benefits beyond words.

Would You Rather Go Blind or Lose Your Mind?

Americans consistently fear blindness, but how they compare it to other ailments varies across racial lines.

On the Hunt for Fake Facebook Likes

A new study finds ways to uncover Facebook Like farms.

The Big One

One company, Amazon, controls 67 percent of the e-book market in the United States—down from 90 percent five years ago. September/October 2014 new-big-one-5

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.