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When reviewing the literature regarding the past, present and future of educational curriculum, several main points seem apparent, namely that curriculum is cyclical, that a dilemma or paradox exists, and that curriculum must be looked at with a sensitive view.
According to Lashway (1999) educators once saw educational reform as cyclical. Every ten years or so one could expect a public outburst followed by frantic efforts to mend a broken system. However, in the last twenty years there seems to have been a perpetual reform.
Looking to the past it seems that curriculum became diluted. Schools offered many electives; schools even watered down the curriculum hoping to “keep” students (which was later found to only compound the problem) (Mclaughlin 1990). Curriculum resembled a lawn sprinkler covering a lot of area yet having very little force.
In the 1980’s a report called “A Nation At Risk” stated that American children had fallen behind in such subjects as math and science. Thus came the advent of education’s increased focus on literacy and numeracy, accountability and academic standards. These high standards, according to Dumas (2000), are the most significant trend in schools today.
These new standards seem to be focusing more on both accountability and back to basics. As a math teacher I can be delighted by this focus. However, as a potential administrator, I realize this is too myopic a view. Indeed these standards have created a dilemma -- a conundrum -- a paradox.
Back to basics? BUT these basics must be taught differently, by stressing higher level thinking and life/work appreciation. Additionally, all children must be taught, be they rich, poor, learning disabled, foreign speakers etc. Cut frills but be creative Do not forget educating the “whole” child. Do well on standardized test while remembering and accounting for fewer standardized kids. Be literate and professional but as pointed out in numerous articles, care, and be a good moral person. Additionally include character education for students.
This has led some educators to express reservations about these current trends, mostly because of fears that reform will be driven by conformity to policy mandates rather than the educational needs of children. John Goodlad (1999) observes, “The language of school reform virtually eschews reference to the measuring of self, civility, civic-mindedness, democratic character and participation in the whole of the human conservation.
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The paradox continues when the curriculum is supposed to be streamlined but must still include a broad (but not diluted), balanced, flexible curriculum that can be adapted to the needs of all children. Thus there are more standards with resultant testing. (But are some children at a disadvantage?) Additionally this streamlined (but broad) curriculum must be real life in the real world.
Moving past, yet recognizing the apparent contradictions in current curriculum reform, it can be noted that there are solid trends. These trends, as stated, are standards, literacy and numeracy, relevance, higher level thinking skills and preparation for the world of work.
One way curriculum reform in the 1990’s addressed many of these areas was through the development of an integrated curriculum which according to Lake (1994) is education that cuts across subject matter and views learning and teaching in a holistic way. According to Lake, teachers who link subject areas are finding they can provide meaningful learning experiences that develop skills and knowledge while leading to an understanding of conceptual relationships. The “explosion” of knowledge, the increase of state mandates related to a myriad of issues, fragmented teaching schedules, concerns about curriculum relevancy, and a lack of connections and relationships among disciplines have all been cited as reasons for a move towards an integrated curriculum.
This view supports the idea of making education more meaningful and practical. Making sense for teachers coping with an increased body of knowledge. Currently it can be seen that an integrated curriculum is the way today’s education is infusing technology. Which, as stated in various articles is an essential component in the present and the future of curriculum. A tech-smart curricula with the computer being used as a tool to teach English, Math, History, etc. is both crucial and indeed integral to learning.
But now teachers have another responsibility. In addition to all the other changes/expectations (i.e. standards etc.) they are now becoming responsible for computer technology. To look into the future and try to definitely predict what technology holds for our society is difficult. Technology is increasing at such a rapid pace that it is difficult to put a “nail” what lies ahead. Therefore, a necessary component to keep pace with future demand is extensive staff development and in-services. If today’s graduating students must be technologically, academically, and culturally literate so must their teachers. In order to achieve this, however, it is very apparent that educators must have the training to develop effective teaching strategies and the requisite knowledge to know what needs to be taught and how.
Looking at the present and projecting to the future it is apparent that changes such as accountability and the explosion of knowledge are here to stay. When reviewing the literature (Solomon 1997, Zuga 2001) about specific disciplines it is obvious that changes are occurring across the board. No subject is inviolate.
Nothing in educational curriculum seems to happen in isolation. The changes in curriculum as projected in the future have to be viewed, I believe, from a systemic approach. Like a wind chime, if one part is in motion the rest will be affected. This also applies for for educational curriculum in the future.
New knowledge and tougher standards will necessitate new training. More diverse students will highlight the need for varying teaching modalities. Changes in our society will call for more programs stressing a positive school climate and issues such as school safety, HIV education, anger management, conflict mediation etc. A renewed focus on character education will increase service learning. New research studies will promote different types of schools, smaller schools, charter schools, higher parental involvement and different class teaching styles and content.
Systemic change in the future is inevitable. But let us hope that the “wind chimes” only sustain light breezes and not a major hurricane.
Boyle, Bill and Christie, Tom (1998, March). Aims for the school curriculum: What does your school think? [online]. http://www.man.ac.uk/education/aimssch.htm
Connely (1992) [quoted in Lashway (1994)] [online] http://eric.uoregon.edu/ trends _issues /reform
Dumas, Lynne (2000, May 1) The Top Educational Trends in America Today. [online] http://www.edreform.com/news/000501zd.htm
Goodlad, J (1998) [quoted in Lashway (1994)] [online] http://eric.uoregon.edu/ trends _issues /reform
Lake, K. (1994). Integrated Curriculum. [online] http://nwrel.org/scpd/sirs/8/c016.html
Lashway, Larry (1999, May 28). Trends and Issues: School Reform. [online]. http://eric.uoregon.edu/trends_issues/reform
McLaughlin, Michael (1990, August 3). High School Dropouts: How much of a crisis? [online]. http://www.heritage.org/library/archives/backgrounder/bg781/html
Solomon, Jeff (1997). Language Teachers Align with Standards: Preliminary Results of a National Survey. [online] http://www.cal.org/eric11/news/199709/9709main.html
Zuga, Karen F. (2001, January 29). Relating Technology Education Goals to Curriculum Planning. [online]. http://scholar.lib.vt.edu/ejournals/JTE/vln1/zuga.jte-v1n1.html