In the last post my point was that parents are best able to make decisions regarding the care and upbringing of their children—and that includes educating them as much as it does feeding and nurturing them in other ways. This is one of my passions, and I could go on for days, so I’m trying to restrain myself and just cover a few bites at a time.
During my career years (working full time before staying home full time and homeschooling, etc.) I was a curriculum writer. I wrote educational support material for college professors, and later wrote special education textbooks for secondary school students with low reading ability. It wasn’t enough to qualify me as an expert in the field of curriculum, but it’s more than the average parent out there.
We use the word curriculum as if we know exactly what it means. But we probably don’t think about the meaning enough. So, here’s the dictionary version:
In Texas, very few specifics are required of homeschools and other private schools, but we must use a written curriculum that we pursue in a bona fide manner, which must include math, reading, spelling, and good citizenship.
There is nothing about having a set of textbooks provided as a set by a particular publisher, although some people choose to go that route. There’s not even a requirement that textbooks be used, just that there is a plan for getting to a relatively acceptable outcome. For me, I used an eclectic combination, using some classical education ideas along with some newer approaches that fit us at any given time.
I had at one time taught college level writing, so I felt confident teaching that to my kids. I chose what books and programs we used to support us in the effort. I knew what the outcome would look like, because I’d been there. Also, I had the goal of getting my kids college ready, and I used the requirements for entry into the large private university I attended. That didn’t mean my kids had to go there (although two of them did); it just meant I expected them to be acceptably educated to go there in order to graduate from my homeschool. This was a much higher standard than a normal high school graduation.
I used varieties of math approaches, not including anything like a traditional textbook. For science we did research-based approaches early on and combined with others in classes later on. Our history “text” was a collection of original materials with some commentary.
I know homeschoolers who started out with a curriculum set and stuck with it all the way through. I know others who traded in the whole set of curriculum for a new set every year or two (the expensive way to go, but looks to me most like what public schools do). Others pick and choose and change at will.
Here’s another question we hardly ever ask: What is a textbook, and how is it different from curriculum? A textbook is a collection of information on a particular subject aimed at a particular level. It’s kind of an unnatural tool, when you think about it. Someone has gathered together the basic information they think you need, and compiled it, ordered it, and laid it out for your student consumption. Who did the deciding? If the collector of information is a known, trusted teacher, then a textbook can be a useful tool for transmitting useful knowledge in an efficient way. But, with the possible exception of Harvard Professor Greg Mankiw, who wrote the popular Principles of Economics, textbook authors are pretty anonymous. Usually students don’t even ask the “who” question; their only concern is whether it’s too boring to get through.
Textbooks are a relatively recent invention. They’ve technically been around since the Greeks. But textbooks as mass-produced educators coincide with the ballooning public education industrial complex. Some texts are excellent, using information learned in the last few decades about how people learn, and are designed with a look that enhances interest—and no learning happens if the student doesn’t tune in his attention because he’s interested.
So I can see why a teacher might want to use a textbook for some courses. But teachers rarely get to make that decision anymore. It’s much more likely that the decision is dictated to them by their school, or school district, whoever is holding the purchasing power. Maybe even the state—although in better cases, the state board of education should only be reviewing texts as acceptable choices or not.
Think about your life as an adult, out of school. When you want to learn something new, how often do you turn to a textbook? You might check out a series of books on a subject from the library, maybe buy a couple on the topic from the bookstore. You’ll probably use online sources. Get the basics, learn from others who are on a similar search or are sharing their expertise. You might watch some video tutorials (I love Pinterest and YouTube for this purpose). Learning from home, sometimes entirely for free, is becoming more and more the reality, and textbooks are practically archaic by comparison. It’s hard to imagine limiting yourself to a collection on the topic put together by some anonymous source.
When we look at a curriculum used in public schools, what are we looking at? Usually an integrated (and expensive) set of textbooks (and sometimes electronic media) integrating subjects covering the range of grade levels—insuring these things:
· Greatest income for the publisher.
· Greatest control of information for the producer/implementer.
What you do not get is anything even attempting flexibility for individual students, or choice for the parents or even for individual classroom teachers.
Whenever there is discussion about curriculum choices, I suggest you take a default position against the implementation—no matter how good it is. Because, no matter how good such a collection may be, it will not work for every student, every teacher, every classroom situation. And anything implemented as a one-size-fits-all solution is intended to enrich someone and give power to someone to control the thinking of all students. If you want to be able to educate your student, instead of succumb to indoctrination by some faraway entity, insist on being the one who makes every choice.
I’d like to talk a bit about Common Core and CSCOPE in a future post, as well as some other education concerns. But I thought we needed to set this groundwork first.