42. A Proposal Readied for the Curriculum Council

Part Two: Public Acceptance

The word politics has become a volatile trigger for societal disputes concerning just about everything. Many people avoid both the word and its issues.

But the word politics merely relates to the process underlying governmental decision-making.

It takes on a negative connotation when logical and fact-filled debate becomes an argument based on opinions. Opinions fueled by fear. Principles based on ingrained belief systems. Methods to gain or perpetuate societal power.

Sometimes all three elements work in tandem. The situation becomes especially acute when an external force initiates the fear.

COVID-19 is a significant fear-producing force. With many beliefs about the pandemic’s origins, impact, and ways to fight it. With people convincing themselves their understandings are correct.

The goal is to gain power. To perpetuate and spread their way of believing.

Schools are caught in the middle of conflicting opinions about virus management. They attempted to meet the challenges. All strategies involved parents and the public — an internal management of curriculum, instruction, and assessment.

Some parents and patrons liked their students working at home in online classes. Many did not. Those not impressed were appalled at trivial lessons and an overall lack of depth and relevance.

They did not blame teachers as much as they indicted a school’s curriculum. What were the overall intentions for student learning?

Bryon thinks those experiences opened and exposed a weakness in schools not previously seen or acknowledged. Did we know what our schools are or should be for?

Ken agrees. He thinks there is little debate about what the first few years of school in terms of academic and personal growth. Socialization and cultural development are also considered important in those early years.

The purpose of middle level and secondary grades is less clear. Especially when competitive sports are removed from the scenario.

The junior high school originated as a preparation for high school. And high school is preparation for college.

A traditional four-year college curriculum is basically liberal arts and sciences. These subject areas influence both middle and high school curricula.

That influence might be acceptable if post-secondary education was universally tuition free. If it featured a well-coordinated and focused curriculum. If it attracted all high school graduates.

But post-secondary education, whether community colleges or four-year public/private institutions, seldom have those characteristics. Most require tuition and employ instructors who function as semi-independent agents. Course syllabi are rarely influenced by carefully constructed curricula.

A large percentage of high school graduates do not attend traditional post-secondary programs. Instead, they depend on vocational training provided by communities or employers.

High school dropout rates vary. But now, they are greater due to the pandemic.

Some students who leave high school before graduation mention boredom or lack of relevance. Of high school graduates, about two thirds enter college. And many of those do not complete their programs.

Ken believes the district’s parents and patrons should be acquainted with the reality of current public schooling. But traditional thinking will be difficult to overcome.

With that backdrop in mind, Rebecca continues to discuss public acceptance with her small leadership team: Ken, Barbara and Bryon.

Rebecca Prepares to Lead the Discussion — Part 2

After the break we concentrated our attention on how to gain acceptance of the new learning infrastructure. A strategy anchored by an amalgam of skills in technology-supported communication. Taught by using an interdisciplinary project-based system.

“I don’t like the idea of imposing this idea out of the blue,” was Ken’s first remark. “On the other hand, I’m not sure we should get into a wide-ranging discussion involving parents, patrons, teachers, and other interested parties. That can turn into a mess.

“And I am not enthusiastic about using a drip method in which multimedia slowly informs and educates all stakeholders. Seems too much like indoctrination of the type used by telemarketers.”

“That doesn’t leave us many options,” Bryon said.

Barbara asked, “How about bringing in a convincing outside speaker or team of consultants?”

Both Ken and Bryon groaned. Bryon said, “Too many school board association conventions and conferences use the ‘sage on the stage’ approach. Most go nowhere when attendees bring the ideas back home.”

Then I suggested another tactic, one that links the old with the new. That connects conservative and progressive points-of-view.

“Wow!” Bryon said. “I didn’t know that was even possible right now.”

I agreed. “It might not be possible, but gaining public support for our new learning infrastructure requires what makes sense from any angle. Actions that align with human needs and cause them to seek something better.”   

Before the meeting I accessed a copy of an old report, now more relevant than ever. Its title: A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform. A Report to the Nation and the Secretary of Education by the National Commission on Excellence in Education. (See Archived: A Nation At Risk)

Dated April 1983, and still online. Although almost 40 years old, the document included many conclusions and suggestions still relevant today. “My favorite section is titled The Learning Society. It relates to what we’re doing now.”

I shared the document with Ken, Barbara and Bryon using a projector and large screen, and hi-lighted many key elements.

Barbara seemed intrigued. “Didn’t the U.S. follow up on that report in a variety of ways? My education instructors often mentioned the report, usually all the initiatives that came from it: subject standards, high stakes tests, Goals 2000, No Child Left Behind, and the Common Core State Standards. Yet we still face many of the problems discussed in the 1983 report.”

I agreed. We do indeed have many of the same problems identified in 1983. Maybe the reason those problems still exist is because the measures taken to fix them were wrong. In what way is our proposal different? In what way will the result be different if we are able to implement our new learning infrastructure?

“You know,” Ken said, “most of those so-called ‘fixes’ were top down. I remember Goals 2000. The only federal program that didn’t try to micromanage everything from Washington. States and individual school districts were encouraged, through federal grants, to find their own solutions. Bottom up.”

I suggested we examine the possibility of the old A Nation at Risk Report as the catalyst for gaining public acceptance of our ideas. We decided to discuss that possibility at our next meeting.

©2021 Stu Ervay – All Rights Reserved

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