Here’s What a Relevant School Curriculum Needs

IN THE BEGINNING

In its original design, the first schools were instituted in order to teach religious studies in 1635, not reading or writing or math. The oldest school in the U.S., is Boston Latin School. Early public schools did not focus on academics. They taught the virtues of community and family, and girls were usually taught to read, but not write. In the mid 1800’s, the sole responsibility of public schools became academics. In the South, schools weren’t common, but affluent families hired tutors to teach their children. Around Reconstruction, these public schools became more widespread.

From the 1800’s, those first learning spaces were called ‘ Common Schools’ and  students of all ages were taught in one room. Hence, the moniker, “one room schoolhouse”, with one teacher. They were not free, as tuition and housing for the teacher was provided by families[or other commodities so their children could attend]. These types of schools were popular for free African-Americans, and most were in churches. By 1900, 31 states instituted compulsory education attendance for children aged 8 to 14.

Public education as we have come to know it, are there to help children reach their full potential and prepare them for life, which began with the industrial era. What was considered progressive education came from John Dewey[ decimal system] became widespread in the 1930’s. It must be said that black people were strictly forbidden from becoming literate until after the Civil War. That was already 200 years of systemic imposed denial of learning to read and write. Once allowed to acquire these skills, legally, they dove in. The relevance to the present day framework of education and its curriculum lies within one single principle-prevent black people from any upward mobility and from being respected in society.

Because black people were not seen as human beings, any teaching materials, from the very first textbook, that had been made available to whites in school settings, completely omitted any reference to the fact that this nation was built and society was shaped by black people. Their wealth was made possible by the toils, labor, and ingenuity of black people. Both historically and  as close to real-time as could be documented, books were tainted purposefully. For 200 years, their recorded documents were completely made up- to be literally, ‘his-story’.

A MODERN TIME

Black children, when allowed in white spaces were not only very poorly taught basic academic skills, they were also victimized in the process. Racism IS violence. It stands to reason that particularly, when blacks were climbing the social and political ladder[too quickly for whites], they would not amend any writings. They dug their heels in and continued to teach the same to both black and white kids.   It was imperative that these writings became widely published. It still amazes that these books, parading as true historical facts, are still in circulation. After so many years of promoting lessons and largely false teachings, people believed and interpreted information as fact. Now, we see the result of teaching untruths to children. We have high dropout rates, excessive force from police, mass incarceration and a most recent result—an insurrection. The curriculum perpetuates white supremacy, and the ideology is a proven fallacy. Who is fact-checking?   

 

A REALITY-BASED CURRICULUM

Money management, Financial Literacy, has become extremely important as a school subject. Adults have struggled with managing their finances, which includes controlling savings, budgeting, bargain shopping, impulse buying[I plead guilty of this.] making wise investments, credit cards, and financing options for obtaining college, automobile, and home loans. Children will be armed with the basic tools to navigate the world of work and financial management if taught early. It may just be what is needed in order to help bring about income equality and equity for families and the future of children globally.

Another subject that should be taught to youngsters pertains to the Earth’s ecosystem, biodiversity loss, and climate change. They need to learn the evidence-based science  of the environmental impact that we have on the world in which we live. Important for their futures, the decisions we make at this most critical time of crisis in the global society, will influence their/our future. To build and preserve a sustainable world, children, from as early as kindergarten, must be taught to make smart choices-much smarter than ourselves.

We have to stop allowing politics and the influence of big business to allow us to continue destroy our natural habitats and the balance of nature. We must educate them in ways that would spark creative and sustainable strategies of interacting with the earth. Biodiversity loss is a scientific fact, based on numbers, rather than an obsession with wealth and power. Sadly though, both their children and ours may not be able to spend that money or exercise that power from an isolated underground silo. People will revolt and challenge the towers of power to hold them accountable. It is already happening in protests and social movements across the nation and around the world.Today’s decision, in the midst of a pandemic will either protect our children or further endanger their lives and futures.

GLOBALISM

Another addition to the school curriculum MUST, absolutely MUST infuse globalism into the entire core of instruction. From texts to tests, teaching in all pk12 schools, must be inclusive and truth-telling regarding diversity. No longer should knowledgeable adult professionals act as enablers of white supremacy.  If we do not begin to tell the truths about one another, everyone, honestly and equitably, our children will hate us.They will not trust us. With social media, through the online world, being so much a part of daily life, there will always come a day when children are confronted with the misrepresentations made to them. Give our children more credit than that.

Children are not inherently biased. They have preferences. Group,  race, ethnic, and religion-based prejudices are often expressed at the expense of ourselves as much as others. We must teach children to recognize differences and respect our diversity. This can reliably begin in our nation’s schools. 21st Century schools must require African-American history, including indigenous American history and their influence and contributions to mainstream culture, as a stand-alone course and fully integrated into every other subject taught by K12 schools. It is particularly relevant to designate such coursework as a requirement for high school graduation.

In the United States of America, black and native influences, in ways never taught, shaped this country’s culture, and as the primary source of labor and other essential services, created its wealth. However, every system, social and legal policy was designed to specifically exclude them from full membership in this society. Delineated in our founding documents that we continue to hold sacred,  people still insist that we be guided by them. Ironically, those who benefit from the way these documents are structured, are they who defend its infinite relevance and thus resist change.  The need for revision is rarely, if ever, explored. Youngsters need full stories to ‘connect the dots’ from history to the present, unadulterated and not whitewashed. The past may make whites the villains and other groups the victims, but we can’t grow from that until we accept those truths. 

woman in pink crew neck t shirt holding notepadINFORMATION LITERACY

If ‘honesty is the best policy’, then we must be honest with ourselves with children taught within that policy, while developmentally-appropriate every step of the way. Information literacy is a must. Youth must learn to distinguish truth from fiction- fact from opinion or ‘fake news’. In an information-driven economic society, a necessary skill is knowing how to navigate the myriad of data sources. Youngsters must become critical thinkers to recognize data, opinion from fact, evidence-based, and they need to develop a hunger for seeking out information, and asking critical questions. We won’t teach children ‘what’ to think; we teach them ‘how’ to think. 

Learners need social emotional competencies and the tools to understand how to negotiate disagreements and non-violent conflict resolution. This was evident in the incident at our nation’s Capitol. They need to understand how to  collaborate and advocate. Interpersonal and relationship building skills are vital for positive youth development. The critical 4C skills (Collaboration, Critical Thinking, Communication, and Creativity) should be cultivated through hands-on learning activities. Doing so can promote civic engagement, service and project-based learning with real life relevance.

 

Take the politics out of education. Every child deserves a fighting chance at living their best life. Don’t persist on stacking the decks against certain children. And we begin so early in a child’s life. That constitutes abuse and neglect. They are just children. That demonstrates that there is fear of standing on one’s own merits. Despite political opinions on one side or another, learners need to endeavor in sex education. Also important to development is music, art, sports, debating, and clubs. Academic clubs, social, fraternal societies, special interests, and so forth should be made accessible to learners at every school regardless of demographics. When they become peer-conscious, needing to belong, clubs can make that possible. It can also help to mitigate chronic absenteeism and drive achievement.

happy family sitting and looking at a laptop

FAMILY ENGAGEMENT

Naturally, parent voice and decision-making, with feedback to align related supports, advocacy, skill-building and increased social capital should not be a second thought for schools in the 21st Century. Undeniably, family engagement is to be inseparable from the framework of education. Not one activity, lesson, program or policy can be designed or implemented without parent involvement with the planning process. A two-generation approach to instruction and partnership building is now a priority, as it should have always been. Responsiveness, trauma-informed, healing centered and welcoming environments are the goals to be shared. If history were known, there would be absolutely no casting of blame or grasping at straws in search of any plausible deniability of the school’s responsibility to deliver positive outcomes for all children.

Education is supposed to prepare children for their futures as productive citizens, and nurture their inherent gifts, spark potential and its pursuit to set them up for success. It is not supposed to reflect a design that perpetuates the ‘status quo’ of systemic inequity. Every child with an I.E.P.[Individualized Education Program/Plan] must have contained within this prescriptive document, though ever evolving, an exit plan. Every child who is identified with ‘special needs’ should not be limited by this designation. The science is available to support frequent re-evaluations that measure progress. For many children, each plan provides excuses for lazy teaching. As opposed to perceiving special education as providing instructional remediation, it should be accelerated instruction.

Education can no longer be detached from its learners, their caregivers, or the communities in which they live. For many children, the adults in school settings are the only spaces where they can expect to process their out-of-school experiences in safety. Many families live in poorer communities. Educators need to be the one guaranteed source of safety and consistent positive relationships. This is where they should be armed  with the belief that they can  each succeed in school and in life. They must be taught the value of self-determination, hard work, resilience and be shown that their skin color or income or any external traits do not define them. Rather than focusing on coping, the focus should be on healing-individuals and families.

The above recognized need for inclusion into the framework of education and the curriculum, are but a few. In order that children and their families connect and engage by trusting the educators at school, shared goals must be articulated across systems, the community and service providers. To effectively teach in the 21st Century requires the conscious confrontation of  ‘immaculate perceptions'[consequences of years of    implicit bias], for almost single-handed, perpetuated the disparities with which we wrestle and torment us.

21st Century schools need staff who will bravely confront the power structure, the system, and boldly identify where and how power is held, wielded and manifests, for that structure harvests evil, inequity, discrimination, generational poverty, mass incarceration and much more   . Without speaking up to power, educators complicate their jobs with counter-intuitive teaching and learning strategies and policies. Re-imagine the role and responsibilities. As educators and parents, wanting the best outcomes for all children, it is your voices and collective influence that will override power structures that present barriers to . You ARE the front line, boots on the ground, and yes, it will be a battle–but finally, it is for all the right reasons!

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