Monday, February 24, 2014

Who Should Decide What Students Learn?

NPR had two interesting pieces on education issues last week. Last Sunday, Alan Greenblatt explored how state legislators try to walk the line between setting standards that insure every students receives a free and appropriate education and micromanaging the classroom despite the fact that aren't (usually) trained educators.

On Monday, Eric Westerveldt looked at the perceived lack of students learning computer sciences. Students as young as three are learning coding and the work implies that schools leaving this discipline out of their classrooms are doing students a great disservice.

Do all students need computer science? I can see the importance of having a basic understanding of how to program that devices that have become so iniquitous in the developed world. And cognitive science research suggests that learning cursive activates the brain in particularly important ways.

In both of these pieces, I see a more important question: Who should decide what students learn? Last year I asked why do we send kids to school in the first place and suggested that our schools can never truly achieve their meritocratic promise until we answer that question as a community electing a school board and a country electing a president who appoints an Education Secretary crafting policy and tying its implementation to federal tax dollars.

But it seems like the question needs to go even further. Who gets to decide what students should learn? Is curriculum the purview of parents, voters, teachers, principals, or even the students themselves? I think until we can create a cadre of education professionals our society trusts, we'll continue to have disparately developed and implemented curricula across the country -- no matter how much we'd like to believe otherwise.

And a shoutout to Sarah Blaine writing in the Washington Post about just how little your typical public school alumnus understands about how teaching works. 

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