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Cover November 30, 1998

Curriculum Development: Self Flagellation or Emancipation

By Bruce Goforth
Lahore American School

The most dreaded sound I utter in my administrative capacity is the rallying call for all subject area teachers to band together for curriculum revision/rewriting. Eyes glaze over as rashes of root canals and other more pleasurable activities spring to the top of calendars and infect the eligible faculty members. This no longer surprises nor dismays me for it is as ubiquitous as dodging latrine duty in the military.

The query is why do normally contiencious educators dedicated to their students and subject matter become so repulsed by discussing and writing about why they teach what they teach and what that is and how students will demonstrate that they have acquired the expected skills and knowledge?

As I recently led a science committee painfully along a path toward the goal of having a freshly contemplated and debated curriculum I hit upon a not so profound answer. Teachers are so fed up with the latest standards or silver bullet teaching strategy or the all or nothing top down means of raising test scores from outside experts they don't realize the opportunity that writing your own curriculum presents. However, they do know that if curriculum doesn't get written they can return to their class and continue teaching unfettered.

Curriculum development is the most empowering (I hate that overused word) single activity that teachers can become involved in. Each major element of the curriculum writing process challenges teachers to change their teaching to that which is best for students and learning and move away from inefficient and obsolete practices. Through dialogue about what we want students to leave our institutions knowing, thinking, solving, analyzing and being we establish those elements that are important and de-emphasize extraneous abilities that are less valued.

For example, in our science curriculum meeting last week we established that we wanted to instill skepticism in our students, challenging them to question and ourselves to be questioned and forced to support the information and concepts we present. This is a major shift in what we have been doing, particularly at the high school level, where we have shoveled masses of facts, figures and formulas onto the hapless students providing little time for creative experimentation with concepts and theories. This stimulated inconclusive discussion of the uncontrollable external AP exams and how we could manage open, inquiry based instruction in this environment. However, consensus was achieved that this shift is to be pursued in all other science courses and the AP teachers would pursue it to the degree they could and would raise the issue with the College Board.

Through our weekly meetings we are discovering and defining new directions we wish our students to go and our faculty to lead. For this type of undertaking to be successful and lead to meaningful change it requires research materials be gathered by the committee chairperson and distributed to each member. Each committee member should have a copy of the relevant content standards, copies of other curriculum documents for other schools and any additional information and research that people can access. Internet has made accessing nearly unlimited information simple and fast. This is a primary resource that we use at LAS.

Now that stimulating dialogue and the realization that we can effect significant change in practices and learning for our students and ourselves, the curriculum committees are formed of excited and motivated colleagues. NOT!!! However, the thankless business of writing curriculum in our schools to communicate to parents, boards, accrediting agencies and prospective faculty is with us to stay. Participation in the process represents a chance for educators and vested interests to formulate their own creative vision of what we should be doing for children in schools, leaving a legacy of improved practices for those who follow. This alone makes it a worthwhile undertaking.

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