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The “Modern” American Curriculum: Outdated.

According to a report conducted by Roger Bohn, director of the Global Information Industry Center at UC San Diego’s School of International Relations and Pacific Studies, the average American consumes 34 gigabytes and 100,000 words of information daily. If complied, all of that data is equivalent to one-fifth of a laptop’s hard drive. Previously, if an individual wanted to learn, they would have to embark on an, what modern citizens would call, arduous journey to the library – if that was even an option. Preceding public libraries, far before the invention of media such as the Internet and television, knowledge could only be pursued by a pocket of society’s esteemed and privileged individuals. Now, after centuries of human progression, due to new technological advances, ones that enable users to exchange intelligence freely and immediately, knowledge and, perhaps in a sense, education is more easily accessible. In his book entitled “City as Classroom: Understanding Language and Media”, Marshall McLuhan notes this change in information exchange:

“Some educational theorists of this century argue that we are living today in a new kind of world: our community has become a storehouse of information of all kinds, and this information is easy to get. They argue that when schools were first established, there was not much information in the community, and schools were opened to provide knowledge and information.”

There is truth in McLuhan’s statement, as a considerable amount of information modern individuals acquire are learned outside of the class. Websites such as Wikipedia, Lang 8, eHow, Web MD, and Google Scholar allow curious minds to discover, to a certain degree, theories and facts they wish to explore. The Internet, which provides countless websites for the sole purpose of learning, is one of the few mediums that allow individuals to consume information – there is also television! However, despite being provided an environment full of free flowing data, the American government insists on employing a rigid curriculum, one that is said to indoctrinate students.

Theories suggest that portions of American’s modern education system originated 1760, when the then King of Prussia introduced school to “shape the public mind into being docile and obedient to his rule.” This new definition of education is a considerable tangent away from Aristotle’s “wandering” schools, which emphasized innovation, critical thinking, and rumination. Anas Alam Faizili, a blogger, even writes that modern education is:

 “…a betrayal to word education itself.  Its main goals were to deplete the human mind, imprison them and train them to be homogenous, effective, and cheap factory workers to assist the Industrial Revolution. It was designed to mold people into becoming submissive servants; and up to today it still does so, albeit in arguably subtler ways. Schools today see children being told to memorize answers and solutions to problems, and subscribe to the idea of success that is defined by winning over others, paper qualifications and dollars and cents.”

Students are required to arrive at a specific time, conform to rules, and follow a pre-determined curriculum. Should one stray from these sanctioned standards, he or she is punished. While some students are sardonic and mischievous when countering a teacher’s claim, others with honest counterpoints are met with denunciation and, in many cases, these students are sent to the principal’s office, or given detention for misdemeanor. Our education’s inflexible “guidelines” for academic pursuit harm our youth instead of aiding them.

In his article “My View: Rigid Curriculum Keeps Students from Realizing Potential”, Lynn Stoddard highlights how the criterion shackles not only students, but teachers as well.

“Our society stubbornly holds to the notion that every student can and must achieve a certain minimum level in the officially sanctioned curriculum. Teachers can’t serve the needs of individual learners as long as student achievement in curriculum is viewed as the major goal of education. The needs of students are so varied that a standardized curriculum won’t work. After 36 years as a classroom teacher and elementary school principal, and now as a consultant, I believe I have discovered why teachers can’t act as professionals. Instead of serving the needs of students, teachers are required to serve the needs of politicians. Grade-point averages and letter-grade report cards keep us chained to a faulty mindset. With this view, teachers can’t act as professionals. They can’t assess student needs and work with parents to make decisions about what is best for each child. They can’t help children discover and develop their unique gifts and talents. Neither can they invite autonomous student inquiry to make learning exciting and fun. Teachers, students and parents are in bondage to an imposed curriculum. All are demoralized and creativity is smothered.”

Each year, school boards submit statistics that reflect the numerically scaled successes and failures of their student body. Amidst the grade-point averages and SAT scores, a student’s remarkable personal achievements are lost. In many cases, students forsake their hobbies, which have potential for future achievements, to avoid punishment and subsequent belittlement. In school, critics say young Americans, who sit in orderly rows like drones on conveyer belts, exchange individuality to listen, parrot, and “excel” in the same course material, regardless of the student’s distinct characteristics, that is decided by politicians.

An aspect of the American curriculum that is certainly a guilty sponsor to the curriculum’s emphasis on information regurgitation is the high stake test, which encompasses national tests such as the SAT, the ACT, and regional tests. High stakes testing are examinations that all students are required to take during their academic career. They are purposed with “appraising” a student’s cognitive abilities, and are consequential to the test taker.

Parents and students alike are aware that high-risk tests are not proper measurements to gauge whether or not a student is equipped for further academic progression. In Chicago, over 300 students from various public schools boycotted a state exam, exclaiming they were, “over-tested, under-resourced and fed up!” Adding to this trend, when the Common Core-aligned test was thrust upon New York students, many of them, with the endorsement of their parents, opted out. A Facebook group entitled Long Island Opt Out, which includes 9,000 members, was created in response for those who chose to forgo the newly incorporated exam. The State Education Department had made the new test more difficult because, they argued, “only 35% of all New York State graduates are ready for college.” For whatever reason, officials believe more demanding tests are the panacea for faltering grades. However, studies can be adduced to reveal that these very tests might be what are impeding students in the first place. “Students are even less ready for college than they were six years ago,” says Bob Schaeffer, the Public Education Direct of FairTest. He continues to note that, “If you believe the College Board’s claim that the SAT accurately assesses readiness for higher education, the logical conclusion is that test-driven K-12 school policies have been a colossal failure.” While politicians believe more cognitively rigorous exams are required to resuscitate the academic abilities of America’s youth, SAT average scores, which have declined by 20 points since 2006, show that high risk tests might not be the solution.

Unfortunately, high-risk tests provided students with threats greater than imply not getting into their desired university. For the underprivileged, the results of high risk testing can inflict serious detriment to the students and their community. A total of 54 grammar schools were closed in Chicago, all of which were located in black and Latino communities. These schools were terminated due to the results of assessments such as high-risk tests. Brian Sturgis, a senior of Paul Robesan High School, stressed that by closing the schools, neighborhood would be left, “dismantled, parents lost, students unaccounted for, and more importantly, will put children in harmful situations: this is dangerous.”

Penalizing students for low marks on high-risk tests, which do not necessarily quantify intelligence or “readiness”, also contributes to the perpetuation of the school to prison pipeline. Campaigners against the school to prison pipeline say that schools are indirectly pushing, “students towards the criminal justice system by excluding them from school through suspension, expulsion, discouragement and high stakes testing requirements.” The school to prison pipeline is a trend that encompasses various unfortunate circumstances which results in children being “funneled out of public schools and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems.” A substantial number of these students come from unfavorable backgrounds that include poverty, abuse, disability, and neglect. Expecting these children to reach nationally required standards for high-risk tests is unreasonable as they are already at a disadvantage. Verily, some students are capable of surpassing and overcoming their hindrances. However, these instances of success do not justify how the curriculum continues to betray its students.

Countless American youths are having their future unfairly steered by high-risk tests, which follow precise scripts of information regurgitation instead of knowledge pursuing, that do not incontrovertibly prove their cognitive intelligence or academic readiness. Many critics have expressed the need for the government to refashion its curriculum to suit the needs of modern students. In the past, information was segmented and difficult to gather. The current curriculum was created to ameliorate an academic’s long search for wisdom by providing them with facts they should – and now what we consider need to – learn; it told students what to learn. A student’s goal, his or her purpose, was to master math, writing, and reading. However, America’s youth now lives in a world of constant information exchange. Gone are the days when students had to voyage to libraries to seek expertise: an entire semester’s worth of schooling can be easily found through the smart phone (it’s smart!). Knowledge is so readily available that students do not need to be told what to learn. Instead, many consume it automatically because finding it is so easy. Students are also hungrier to engage in learning if it done on their own accord, because the topic at hand is typically something that enthralls them. Perhaps the curriculum should focus less on telling students what to learn, and more on teaching students how to learn the topics they desire to become proficient in.

A solution to this dilemma is to change our society’s basic belief about subject matter content. Teachers, parents and students can free themselves from bondage to curriculum and those who use it to control teaching. They can do this by adopting human greatness as the main purpose of education and by employing content as a means, rather than goal.”

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