is a pendulum; it will swing back” is a common statement
from veteran teachers. It is true that many education
reforms seem to rise from the grave. The current push
for individualized intervention is a re-run of the failed
diagnostic teaching and individualized education reforms
of the late 1960s. But if we are coerced into adopting
a common core curriculum, it will never swing back in
our lifetime. We will have “crossed the Rubicon.”
those not familiar with this phrase, when a victorious
Julius Caesar returned from Gaul with his troops, and
crossed the river Rubicon into Italy against orders, he
committed himself to a deadly course of action from
which he could not turn back. Why do I consider
a national curriculum to be so dangerous to American
education? And why couldn’t we easily withdraw?
saw a national curriculum in Hong Kong in 1977. I taught
at the American high school where we had a standard
U.S. curriculum. As professional teachers, we decided
what, when and how to teach. Biology classes were expanding.
We needed to hire a local teacher. “Local hires” came
from British system schools where every biology teacher
in the Commonwealth was on page 24 of the Nuffield syllabus
on day six of school.
remember being in the office when we hired the British
teacher. Her first question was; “What syllabus must
decide what to teach,” I replied. [Panic]
textbook must I use?” was her next question.
can pick from any high school biology textbook,” I answered.
reduced her distress by giving her a first period planning
period so she could observe my American-style class.
took her over a semester to break away. She was a scuba
diver and we encouraged her to take her classes down
to the beach—to teach to her strengths. By the end of
the year, I asked her how she liked teaching in an American
school. “I could never go back to the assembly line
teaching,” she said. She excited her students in marine
biology and involved them in small research projects
that never occurred at King George V High School. She
now understood why American students were more questioning
and creative because her teaching was no longer directed
to test preparation and memorization.
I travel each summer to China where they too have a
national curriculum. Every teacher aligns their courses
with the “gao kao”–the all important leaving exam. Scores
on that test determine a student’s life. To use educationist
terminology, it is “total assessment” of the student,
the teacher, the textbook, and the school. And the current
scoreboard of Nobel Prizes to Chinese educated in China
and researching in China stands at zero. America has
over 270, far outpacing all those countries with national
realizes the teach-to-the-test system leads to memorization
and prevents the creative and highly variable questioning
that the professional American science teacher used
to do. China wants to change, and the Shanghai sector
removed biology from the “gao kao” test in the mid-1990s.
Immediately, China’s students (with the concurrence
of parents) ignored biology to focus on other tested
we are caught in a national test-prep system, the whole
system re-tools for memorization. Teachers have no need
for, nor is there time for, creative questioning. Good
teachers leave. New teachers do not learn the open questioning
and research methods.
and China realize the price they have paid for test
prep schooling, and are struggling to get away from
standardized curriculum. American educationists, ignorantly
thinking they are doing something “new,” are charging
common core national curriculum is the Rubicon that
we must not cross.