Monday, May 17, 2004

Unschooling and Curriculum Questions

This hodgepodge of articles all focus on the question of what the purpose of K-12 education should/could be. My expert researcher/work partner Gwen dug most of them up, and I still can't believe that she doesn't have a blog of her own. It would be a pure gold mine.
  • School: The Heart of Darkness? -- Robert goes off about unschooling and makes some excellent points, mostly quoting John Holt's philosophy to "let every child be the planner, director, and assessor of his own education, to allow and encourage him, with the inspiration and guidance of more experienced and expert people, and as much help as he asked for, to decide what he is to learn, when he is to learn it, how he is to learn it, and how well he is learning it."
  • This is School? Life inside a school with no curriculum or schedule. Students learn what they want, play games, take naps, whatever. I've always thought this would be a huge waste of time, but it's compelling.
  • I'm curious about the idea of guerilla learning within the school system. I guess Grace Llewellyn is working on a book to accompany her more radical Teenage Liberation Handbook for parents and students who aren't willing to homeschool, but see the value of the philosophy.
  • Want a Job? Hand Over Your SAT Results If a company values SAT scores as the ultimate measure of a good potential employee and your SATs suck, you probably don't want to work there. Actually even if your SATs are good, you probably don't want to work there. Which is a great segue into Robert Paterson's take on unjobbing -- rich stuff.
And finally, in this corner, representing the conservative factions who'd rather give kids more of what they've been getting all along as a way to make education better:
Where Do Multiple Pathways Take Us?. The author cannot imagine a system where high school students are all required to take algebras 1 and 2, geometry, biology, chemistry, physics, four years of English, three and a half years of social studies, including economics, and two years of a language other than English. He seems to think that this sacred list is pretty much what society has agreed that every kid should learn, preferably with each subject taught by teachers in classrooms for an hour at a time, with limited connection to other courses or real-world applications. Implied is a basic disregard for the future aspirations, abilities or interests of individual students.

The main argument is that there are no legitimate alternatives to the traditional structure, and I think this is rather disingenuous. Multiple pathways within the existing structure aren't that hard to imagine. Why not let a kid who loves learning about other cultures take a dozen history, geography and languages with one practical math course like "tax returns and personal finances", and maybe one science course covering the history of science and environmental issues? Flogging students with years of advanced science and math who have no interest in (or future application for) the information is obviously pointless. Not everyone will be a scientist or engineer. Unfortunately, even that level of change doesn't seem likely any time soon. The best some have come up with is to revise high school diplomas to layer on things like employability skills in addition to the "required" courses. Ugh.

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