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Educators, school leaders, and most parents already know that schools are outdated, though few think of a system that is fundamentally flawed and irreparable.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

October 24 • 4:00 PM

We Need to Normalize Drug Use in Our Society

After the disastrous misconceptions of the 20th century, we’re returning to the idea that drugs are an ordinary part of life experience and no more cause addiction than do other behaviors. This is rational and welcome.


October 24 • 2:00 PM

A Letter to the Next Attorney General: Fix Presidential Pardons

More than two years ago, a series showed that white applicants were far more likely to receive clemency than comparable applicants who were black. Since then, the government has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on a study, but the pardons system remains unchanged.


October 24 • 12:00 PM

What Makes You So Smart, Middle School Math Teacher?

Noah Davis talks to Vern Williams about what makes middle school—yes, middle school—so great.


October 24 • 10:00 AM

Why DNA Is One of Humanity’s Greatest Inventions

How we’ve co-opted our genetic material to change our world.


October 24 • 8:00 AM

What Do Clowns Think of Clowns?

Three major players weigh in on the current state of the clown.


October 24 • 7:13 AM

There Is No Surge in Illegal Immigration

The overall rate of illegal immigration has actually decreased significantly in the last 10 years. The time is ripe for immigration reform.


October 24 • 6:15 AM

Politicians Really Aren’t Better Decision Makers

Politicians took part in a classic choice experiment but failed to do better than the rest of us.


October 24 • 5:00 AM

Why We Gossip: It’s Really All About Ourselves

New research from the Netherlands finds stories we hear about others help us determine how we’re doing.


October 24 • 2:00 AM

Congratulations, Your City Is Dying!

Don’t take population numbers at face value.


October 23 • 4:00 PM

Of Course Marijuana Addiction Exists

The polarized legalization debate leads to exaggerated claims and denials about pot’s potential harms. The truth lies somewhere in between.


October 23 • 2:00 PM

American Companies Are Getting Way Too Cozy With the National Security Agency

Newly released documents describe “contractual relationships” between the NSA and U.S. companies, as well as undercover operatives.


October 23 • 12:00 PM

The Man Who’s Quantifying New York City

Noah Davis talks to the proprietor of I Quant NY. His methodology: a little something called “addition.”


October 23 • 11:02 AM

Earliest High-Altitude Settlements Found in Peru

Discovery suggests humans adapted to high altitude faster than previously thought.


October 23 • 10:00 AM

The Psychology of Bribery and Corruption

An FBI agent offered up confidential information about a political operative’s enemy in exchange for cash—and they both got caught. What were they thinking?


October 23 • 8:00 AM

Ebola News Gives Me a Guilty Thrill. Am I Crazy?

What it means to feel a little excited about the prospect of a horrific event.


October 23 • 7:04 AM

Why Don’t Men Read Romance Novels?

A lot of men just don’t read fiction, and if they do, structural misogyny drives them away from the genre.


October 23 • 6:00 AM

Why Do Americans Pray?

It depends on how you ask.


October 23 • 4:00 AM

Musicians Are Better Multitaskers

New research from Canada finds trained musicians more efficiently switch from one mental task to another.


October 22 • 4:00 PM

The Last Thing the Women’s Movement Needs Is a Heroic Male Takeover

Is the United Nations’ #HeForShe campaign helping feminism?


October 22 • 2:00 PM

Turning Public Education Into Private Profits

Baker Mitchell is a politically connected North Carolina businessman who celebrates the power of the free market. Every year, millions of public education dollars flow through Mitchell’s chain of four non-profit charter schools to for-profit companies he controls.


October 22 • 12:00 PM

Will the End of a Tax Loophole Kill Off Irish Business and Force Google and Apple to Pay Up?

U.S. technology giants have constructed international offices in Dublin in order to take advantage of favorable tax policies that are now changing. But Ireland might have enough other draws to keep them there even when costs climb.


October 22 • 10:00 AM

Veterans in the Ivory Tower

Why there aren’t enough veterans at America’s top schools—and what some people are trying to do to change that.


October 22 • 8:00 AM

Our Language Prejudices Don’t Make No Sense

We should embrace the fact that there’s no single recipe for English. Making fun of people for replacing “ask” with “aks,” or for frequently using double negatives just makes you look like the unsophisticated one.


October 22 • 7:04 AM

My Politicians Are Better Looking Than Yours

A new study finds we judge the cover by the book—or at least the party.


October 22 • 6:00 AM

How We Form Our Routines

Whether it’s a morning cup of coffee or a glass of warm milk before bed, we all have our habitual processions. The way they become engrained, though, varies from person to person.


Follow us


Politicians Really Aren’t Better Decision Makers

Politicians took part in a classic choice experiment but failed to do better than the rest of us.

Earliest High-Altitude Settlements Found in Peru

Discovery suggests humans adapted to high altitude faster than previously thought.

My Politicians Are Better Looking Than Yours

A new study finds we judge the cover by the book—or at least the party.

That Cigarette Would Make a Great Water Filter

Clean out the ashtray, add some aluminum oxide, and you've (almost) got yourself a low-cost way to remove arsenic from drinking water.

Love and Hate in Israel and Palestine

Psychologists find that parties to a conflict think they're motivated by love while their enemies are motivated by hate.

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.