Freedom to Learn
“Throughout the country teachers are striving to reorganize their classroom programs and methods. Traditional procedures are not longer adequate. Help is desperately needed, however, for many are totally unable to visualize other techniques. Even in the teacher training institutions little is being done to prepare prospective teachers for the demands of the modern school”
These words are not my own, but those of Gertrude Noar written in 1948. I suppose the more things change, the more they really do the same. Noar was a progressive educator who wrote about the benefits of moving from a traditional curriculum to that of what she and others referred to as a core curriculum in which units of study were designed around student needs and interests. I can only imagine the hope that Noar and others approached their curriculum work with as schools adapted the approach and true change took place at many schools across the county. But the reality of this progressive movement is that in large part, it failed. The battle that once waged between traditionalists and progressives was overwhelming one by traditionalists, and the education system that we have today is a result of that victory.
But I return to the words and ideas of Noar here not to reflect on a battle lost but to acknowledge that some have known for a long time that our traditional curriculum is inadequate for the needs of today’s students. Noar, and others before her dating back to the turn of the 20th century understood that preparing students for a rapidly changing world could not take place with a static curriculum which artificially divided and presented knowledge apart from the authentic world where it originated. And as the world was rapidly changing in 1948, I think we can say that change is happening much faster now.
Gertrude Noar wouldn’t recognize the world in 2019 but I’m sure she knew that. And I’m also sure that I won’t recognize the world in 2089. If I were to write a curriculum for the students of 2089 it would be impossible for me to anticipate what they need to know to be successful using a traditional curricular approach. And it was impossible for those in 1948 to know the needs of students in 2019, but the curriculum has remained largely unchanged. Just think about that for a moment. We are teaching the same things in the same ways to students in 2019 as we did in 1948. It’s almost unbelievable. Now, if I were to design a curriculum that was driven by student needs and interests, it could truly apply to students in 2019 and 2089.
Educators had this curriculum problem solved in 1948 but we just haven’t listened. In upcoming posts I will further explain what a core curriculum designed on student interests and needs looks like. Here’s hoping that in 2089 students are learning differently than they are in 2019.