Sunday, June 14, 2015

Curriculum Quandaries

Most parents don't think much about curriculum.  One current definition  of curriculum is "the means and materials with which students interact for the purpose of achieving identified educational outcomes." But if you think of a curriculum as defining what is being taught in a school you must think beyond identified educational outcomes.

Accredited schools have a written curriculum. The reality in many schools is that textbooks, not curriculum, dictate the everyday lessons. With the emphasis on testing, what your child doesn't learn in school is as telling as what he is taught and tested on. Also, although curriculum is that which is supposedly taught, it is not necessarily learned. Finally, what is learned isn't always on the written curriculum. Yes, children often pick up a teacher's idiosyncrasies: a love of the rain forest, or semi-colons, or a historical time period; but they also learn what behaviors are tolerated, what gets attention,  how the administration reacts to bullies, absences, or poor sportsmanship despite what is written in the rule book.  

So what is a parent to do?

  1. Be observant. When checking out a private school sit in some classes and talk to a few parents. Remember what a school says it does and what goes on everyday in the classroom may differ greatly.
  2. Think about what you want your child to learn. I have heard adults comment on the inability of many teens to make change. Maybe schools didn't teach that skill, or maybe they attempted to and it didn't stick, but every parent can teach their children how to count money. There are many life skills that can be taught at home better than at school. Children can learn how to use maps, read directions, set a table, be polite, and a multitude of other things at home. A great deal of life is helping your child to be aware what is happening and how to affect it. 
  3. Listen to your child. If she is learning something at school that goes against your moral code, explain your beliefs to your child and explain how to follow those beliefs. 
  4. Remember that individual children react differently to the unwritten curriculum. My non-school example of this are two of my cousins and their different reactions to their mother's rules on curfew. One cousin always made it home on time. The one time she was five minutes late she called home immediately. The other ignored curfew constantly. I remember her telling her "good" sister, "You are so dumb. Mom gets mad and yells if we are five minutes late or two hours late so you might as well go for the two hours." A good talking to by the principal strikes fear and promotes good behavior in some children. In others it is a time to roll their eyes and think they got off the hook because they don't perceive a lecture as a real punishment.  
  5. Remember some academic skills require a basic foundation to stand on while other skills can stand alone. Math usually requires previous skills to build on. For example, you must be able to subtract to do long division. But memorizing a new poem is possible even if you haven't remembered three other poems. Schools often dance to the tune of a curriculum that demands everyone be on page eighty-two the first of October, even if the majority of students didn't understand the last three lessons.
  6. Finally, as the child ages the most influential teachers of the unwritten curriculum are your child's peers. Know your child's friends.  Just as importantly make sure your child knows you are the person he can come to with any problem because you spent time on number three of this list.

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