Last weekend, my nephew Ryan slept over our house. He and my son, Ben are very good friends despite a two-year difference in age. Ryan is a 6th grader, Ben a 4th. On Sunday morning, they were talking about the day’s weather when Ben said,
“The weather should be okay, those are cirrus clouds outside.”
“Cirrus clouds?” Ryan replied. “How do you know about those?… Oh yeah, you’re in the 4th grade.”
Ryan said it so matter-0f-factly that it didn’t occur to him that he was making a comment about the current status of the curriculum in the state of New Hampshire and made me think about whether or not the standardization of our curriculum has been a good thing. While I have never been a full proponent of No Child Left Behind, I had always liked the fact that it help standardized curricula across our state. It was troubling to me that due to the local control of school districts here in New Hampshire, that many times the level of curriculum exposure was solely dependent upon local school districts. In my mind, what NCLB did, along with the state testing that NCLB mandated, was to standardized the content across the state, thus not allowing local districts to choose not to offer specific content. In other words, for the first time, the curriculum New Hampshire students were exposed to was independent of where they lived.
But, Ryan’s comments made me think? He and Ben go to different schools in different districts. Their teachers have probably never met, never mind share professional development opportunities, yet Ryan knew that as a fourth grade student, Ben was studying clouds. Is that okay? Is it okay that two students in two different school districts study the same things at the same times? How do we allow teachers to customize or personalize programming for students if our curriculum is so standardized? How do we avoid turning our teachers into technicians as they mechanically maneuver through a prescribed curriculum? How do we avoid teaching “clouds” in the fourth grade because they are on the state test? I am happy that NCLB shed light on some of the inequities inherent in the institution of school as we have made strides in meeting the needs of our special education and economically disadvantaged students, but in doing so have we lost sight in the fact that school is a “people” business in that educators are in the business of creating tomorrow’s citizens? Is a prescribed curriculum going to help us develop an informed and free-thinking citizenry?