Today’s public education curriculum is much more complicated than it was fifty or even twenty-five years ago. Every year brings new things that educators feel are important enough to add to the curriculum. Teachers have to teach twice as much in the same amount of time. And our children are paying the price of not being able to focus on material long enough to do anything with it but remember it for the tests.
When was the last time educators and administrators combed through the curriculum as a whole and weeded out unnecessary lessons and combine concepts that naturally go together? Spelling, for example, no longer needs to place so prominently in this generation of spell check. Instead provide a list of vocabulary words and have students use them in sentences and stories. You’ll be teaching spelling, vocabulary and composition at the same time. Kids learn more from doing than being told anyway so it stands to reason that placing more emphasis on reading will spill over to grammar, spelling and word meanings as well as reading skills.
Alternatively schools need to stop teaching shortcuts where skills are necessary. It was a disappointing shock to me when I found out that my sons’ teachers not only allowed but encouraged them to use calculators when doing mathematics. How can they possibly learn advanced math when they are taught to let a calculator do the basics? Math skills build upon the previous skill so the basics here cannot be skipped.
Back to basics curriculum would put the emphasis on skills and knowledge that is most essential to living as a successful citizen in this society. Skills like basic math, algebra, reading, writing, basic science, world and U.S. history, personal finances, health, physical fitness, and computer skills would be included. By paring down the curriculum to what is essential for predictive adulthood; we can ensure that the majority of students graduate from high school with at least enough skills to succeed as adults. Note I said succeed, not merely get by in life.
Additionally it would be imperative with a back to basics curriculum to make sure to provide exposure to advanced material so any student with a passion – say aerodynamics or sociology – would be able to learn and gain knowledge and skills about that subject. Possibly a “Blank” period could be provided for the students to explore their own interests with the guidance of a teacher or a team of teachers.
This idea may not be perfectly ironed out but I believe it is a good start towards bringing authentic learning back into the public school classroom.