What could the American Educational System look like? This is the question that has been proposed to us to answer. Now to answer this question, it would seem to at first be impossible due to the gigantic make-up of what we call our Nation's Educational System. However, if you look at the Educational System in terms of its individual parts, instead of it as a whole, the question becomes a little bit simpler. For this reason I have chosen to focus on the "curriculum" in the educational system. Two specific types of curriculum that we will be looking at, comparing, and then deciding which is better are: Curriculum Differentiation and an Academic Curriculum for all.
Before we jump into discussing the good, the bad, and the ugly of these two choices in curriculum organization, it is essential that we take a look at some history and knowledge of the two types. First is curriculum differentiation, which was proposed by G. Stanley Hall. This type of a curriculum can be defined as "meeting every child's learning needs so that each can share access to the same curriculum in the same school at the same time." (Camilletti, Chopra, Davidson, Erwin, Fawthorp, Fielding, et al. 1996). This boils down to the fact that students have a say in what courses they choose to take and get to receive classes tailored to their goals. On the other hand is an Academic Curriculum for all. This type of curriculum organization was proposed and recommended by C.W. Eliot. In this type of curriculum students were offered less influence over content of material they learned and instead told they needed to have mastery of materials in more classical classes such as Mathematics, Latin, and Greek.
Taking a look at the positive points and pitfalls of a differentiated curriculum we get to see how students would be affected and whether or not the advantages would outweigh the disadvantages. With a differentiated curriculum the most important point is that students have a say in courses that they take and get to have instruction in areas that will benefit them and aid in future goals. By allowing students to be able to pick their courses, a larger more diverse course offering can be offered. Examples of these can be seen in table 1.1.
With differentiation applied to the courses, topics can be broken down into smaller topics that are more personalized (Tomlinson, 1999; Page, 1990). This reflects Halls thoughts that education should fit the child, rather than the child fitting the education that is presented to them. To follow Halls thoughts, Jan Terwel and Decker Walker talk in their book, Curriculum as a Shaping Force, how differentiation education plays a role in how individuals are molded through the courses that they participate in during school. Terwel and Decker go on to mention that depending on the freedoms students are given in choice of courses there are correlations to behavioral issues. Though it is not typical of all adolescences, with more freedoms comes less organized structure and authority. This in return allows students the opportunities to be in questionable situations (Terwel, Walker, 2004). Another downside to curriculum differentiation is that students in this setting get split up. Now this may not sound like it is a big deal, but it has a much bigger impact than one may think. Some students feel as though they are inferior to others because they are in a course that is perceived to be at a lower level, or vise versa students feel superior to others because they are in more advanced classes. This can then lead to behavioral problems and bulling among students.
A glance at an academic curriculum for all gives a positive turn to pitfalls that occur in a differentiated curriculum. This organizational method is much stricter and solves the behavioral correlation that is present when students are allowed more freedom in picking their classes. As stated before students under this type of curriculum are basically told what they take and there is very little wondering from the already set path. In Eliot's eyes this is the best way for education to take place. Eliot argued that students need this organized, structured environment to develop into functioning adults. This curriculum allows for students to be at the same level and become well rounded individuals. This also leads to and allows the individuals to be skilled for many jobs and possible career opportunities. It also prepares students for a higher level of education if they decide to pursue that route. However, this stringent selection of classes and the feeling of everyone being at an equal level, requires many tasks to be assigned to students in order for knowledge to be gained (Tomlinson, 1999). This style also has its short comings. A curriculum of this style gives very little motivation to students and does not always appeal to student's needs and desires. It provides very little diversity in classes and confines students exploration of other topics. Lastly, it does not provide any specialized training for those entering the career field.
So which is better? Well as we discussed each has its good, bad, and ugly points. Which is then the best for our Educational System? Actually, neither one is strictly the best, but by combining the two, we get a product that is very beneficial to the Educational System. Therefore the proposed solution is a meshing of the two curriculums which I have given the name "Cultural Curriculum". The Cultural curriculum will not eliminate all problems, because no organizational method is perfect, but it can be one that is close and is in the best interest for not only students but for all. This reform cannot happen all at once, but must be achieved in small, but bold steps to gradually warm the public to the topic (Tyack, Cuban). We all know that change does not come easily. The new curriculum would allow for all students to be able to receive a well rounded education and a strong basis for intellectual knowledge. It would allow time and opportunity for students to participate in and take classes that interest them, which would provide the students with skills they would need in the real world. Finally, it would allow for a more permeable curriculum. One in which there can be multiple pathways to a specific outcome that is desired (Gregory, Kuzmich, 2004).One were students would not be faced with the overwhelming thoughts and work that they presently face when wanting to switch classes. Such as having to double-up in a subject to catch up to were peers are. All these things can be made possible by picking and choosing parts of each curriculum talked about and strategically meshing them together. By having this combination of two good organizations of curriculum it will allow for our Educational System to advance beyond what we previously could.
A better Educational System and possibly a better America for all, can be started by just one small change. The changing in one member of a larger, much bigger body that could set new pathways for the future. A combination of an Academic Curriculum and Curriculum Differentiation to produce the new, better, Cultural Curriculum that would provide students with not only distinct knowledge for all but also allowable changes to promote learning in a specialized area to fit them. So to answer the proposed question: "What could our education system look like?" I say that a Cultural Curriculum is our future.
- Camilletti, Sharon., Chopra, Kiran., Davidson, Brigid., Erwin, Judy., Fawthrop, Janet., Fielding, Michael., et al. (1996). Differentiation and the secondary curriculum (Susan Hart, Ed.). New York: Routledge.
- Cuban, Larry., Tyack, David., (1995). Tinkering Toward Utopia: Looking toward the Future. United States: Ninth Publishing.
- Gregory, Gale., & Kuzmich, Lin., (2004). Data driven differentiation: In the standards-based classroom. Thousand Oaks, California: Crown Press.
- Page, Reba., Valli, Linda. (Eds.). (1990). Curriculum differentiation: Interpretive studies in U.S. secondary schools. Albany, New York: State University of New York Press.
- Tomlinson, Carol., (1990). The differentiated classroom: Responding to the needs of all learners. Alexandria, Virginia: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
- Terwel, Jan., Walker, Decker., (2004). Curriculum as a shaping force: Toward a principled approach in curriculum theory and practice. Hauppage, New York: Nova Science Publishers, Inc.