If America’s schools are failing, it’s not because they aren’t turning our college and career ready young people. Our failure has nothing to do with calculus, coding STEAM or bream for that matter. We are failing in any number of areas that will prejudice the current generation’s ability to cope with major political and social issues facing our nation. Were I given the task of writing a curriculum that would stimulate students to think deeply and develop problem solving strategies, I would focus on many areas currently virgin territory in most of our public schools. Here’s a beginning list. I’d be interested in what you might add.
We spend far too little time looking at and discussing the media environment in which our students are growing up. In a world awash in information, how does one know what is important – what is reliable? In a world in which people can individualize their sources of information and entertainment, what challenges does that pose to the bonds that link us as a people? In an environment in which information moves at the speed of light, a world in which we are bombarded by messages that change from second to second, what are the effects of that bombardment on human beings? What can they do to avoid some of the known dangers?
My curriculum would have children talking about freedom. What is political freedom? Does the right to vote mean the same thing to people of different social classes? Do I care about voting if I’m hungry? How does a society appropriately balance freedom and responsibility? Is that government best that governs least? Can we balance our desire for a free society with our technological ability to know almost everything about everybody at any moment?
What does it mean to be American? Are we an exceptional people? How did we get to be exceptional? What does it mean to call a work of art or music American? What does what we eat say about us? Why do we cling to being Italian Americans, Irish Americans, German Americans etc.? Is e pluribus unum a noble goal or a reality?
What are our duties to others as citizens of the nation, as fellow ethical human beings? What demands does a society appropriately make on its citizens? Are there alternative motivators to greed? If we could wipe our memories of who we are , our social status and how our society is organized, what kind of society would it be in our self-interest to make? What are a citizen’s responsibilities in a free society?
What are our responsibilities to our environment, to the life that comes after us? What can one person do to manage the threats to our planet? What’s the deal on climate change? Is it a hoax as some maintain? How can one know?
To be sure this is only a partial list. To be sure, it’s hard to demonstrate how the pursuit of any of these questions promotes one’s ability to earn a living. One can certainly get into college without thinking about most of them. Yet, it seems to me undeniable that their inclusion in a good public school curriculum would yield something far more important – a more enlightened, more engaged more cohesive, more democratic society – the goal of the originators of the public school.