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By Louise "Jody" Barnett

[This paper was written as part of the requirements of EDE 6205, taught at Florida Atlantic University, Fall, 1998]

Curriculum today is an amalgam of our past and present efforts to educate our youth. The word itself, 'curriculum', is Latin for 'race-course'. It is a course whose direction is set by several factors: our cultural standards, the power of current political persuasion, the global arena in which we compete, the corporate world in which our children must make a place.

With the advent of compulsory schooling in our country around 1850, curriculum was established and went through very little change until the Eight Year Study, done from 1933 to1941. This was the most significant curriculum study ever made, and it cast doubt upon the rigid pattern of subjects being taught as the best way to prepare students for college and the future. The fabric of knowing conclusively what students needed to know had begun to unravel.

The Fifties to the Sixties - On the Road to Change

During the fifties and sixties, several events shaped the curriculum. In 1956, Benjamin Bloom's Taxonomy of Educational Objectives, and later his Taxonomies, laid out a schema of knowledge and thinking processes which translated into a closer view of children's exceptionalities. This, in turn, created legislation to provide funding for the education of these children and adaptation of the curriculum to accommodate them. Another event which had a profound effect on the curriculum was the launching of Sputnik 1 by the Russians on October 4, 1957. This officially opened the "space race", and America responded by immediately strengthening its curriculum in the areas of math, science, and foreign languages. Humanitarian efforts also had an impact on curricula. Many programs were introduced that attempted to engage the economically deprived child.

"During this era many higher court decisions affected education in such areas as integration, accountability, student rights, school financing, and religion." (Wooten and Reynolds, 1977) For example, the practice of Bible reading in school, heretofore never questioned, was found to be unconstitutional during the sixties. This decade saw more legislative, judicial, philanthropic and corporate input into public education than ever before.

Along with innovations affecting the curriculum came increased concern for the lack of accountability and a demand that accountability measures be introduced and enforced in our schools at all levels.

From the Mid-Sixties to the Present: How Did We Get From There to Here?

In the mid sixties the Elementary and Secondary Education Act was passed, giving federal aid to all levels and areas of the curriculum, provided the programs focused on the underprivileged. From that time until the present, new strategies have been introduced to engage the disadvantaged including Head Start, reading recovery groups, bilingual education, ESOL and ESE classes, peer tutoring, and free/reduced breakfast and lunch programs, to name a few.

However, statistics prove these programs are not making a difference in the measurable area of test scores when compared on an international level. "On 24 February 1998 the Third International Math & Science series showed that U.S. 12th graders scored behind every nation, except Cyprus and South Africa. In physics we were at the very bottom." (Hodges, 1998) This is not just a secondary school problem; it begins at the elementary level where the foundation is laid.

Money is not the issue, either. Today the U.S. spends more per capita on education than was spent three decades ago, yet the measurable indices show performance in our public schools is down drastically from where it was in the sixties. Milton Friedman, economist and Nobel Laureate, states, "There is an inverse relationship between spending and quality" in regard to our public education system.

It seems that public education has become somewhat like a rudderless ship battered by winds of unproven social agendas which translate into curricula. The crew dashes madly to the port when international scores show American children lagging behind in mathematics and sciences; it then scrambles in horror as the starboard side lurches violently; American children cannot read anywhere near their grade levels!

In the 1990s, not only children but schools have been placed on the critical list. Both must be "cured" for U.S. education to experience a resurgence of confidence and health nationally and globally.

Teachers across America who have been asked to grade their schools' curricula have been hard-pressed to give it higher than a 'D'.

The Road Ahead

In the 1980s, Dr. Howard Gardner of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and his colleagues, came up with the theory of multiple intelligences. In a nutshell, this theory states that everyone has at least seven intelligences (and possibly more). Each person has greater development in one or some of the areas of intelligence than in the others. However, there are ways to develop intelligence in each of the areas. This has tremendous implication for future curriculum development.

Marion Brady, a long-time Florida educator, has done extensive thinking on curriculum revision and rejects what he has found in today's schools. His vision is a "seamless curriculum - a single, systematically integrated whole, every part of which relates logically to every other part." (Brady, 1997) Mr. Brady believes true education is the discovery of relationships between aspects of life/experience, rather than a transfer of information from one person's head (the teacher's) to another person's head (the student's). The questions who, what, when, where and why would be the conceptual organizers of this core curriculum.

There are success stories in public education amid the dissatisfaction. Administrators who have chosen to empower their teachers and students with opportunities to make curricular choices and have opted for alternative ways of assessing the learning have been rewarded by tangible evidence: greater student participation, lower absenteeism, higher ratings on performance indicators such as standardized tests.

The elementary curriculum of the future will not look as it does today or in previous years because of the impact of the many studies on intelligence and how learning occurs. The curriculum will be tailored more to individual needs with a weaving of the subjects into a coherent, integrated whole. Fewer subjects will be taught and they will be explored in greater depth. Each will be presented from the vantage points of the seven - and possibly more - intelligences identified, so that each child will experience success in his/her strong area(s), while experiencing growth in the weaker areas. The 'real world' with its myriad wonders and problems will be the focus of exploration. Tangible evidence in the form of project displays, computer simulations, books created, experiments performed and explained to parents and students in other grades and the community at large, would be strong indications of the strength/weakness of the curriculum in general and the approach to teaching it in particular.

Though technology is becoming an integral part of each classroom today, there are presently no studies indicating that it increases student learning or performance. Knowledge of computer function and use will be mandatory and needed for data storage, compilation of information, etc., but the emphasis will be on students collaboratively solving and presenting projects in a coherent, knowledgeable way. Current studies indicate that children whose first language is not English learn our language better in classes without any special education features. The curriculum of the future will not focus on special needs, but will focus on that for which it was designed: to impart knowledge and foster understanding based on the who, what, when, where and why model.

The teacher of the future will be a facilitator. S/He will model the "how" of integrating the "who", "what", "when", "where" and "why" into a coherent whole, stir up interest by presenting challenging questions requiring the use of higher order thinking skills, and be a resource person for the various groups in the classroom.

The curriculum of the future will allow students to graduate with knowledge based on real-world situations/problems studied and solved (or valid attempts made to solve them) in the classroom.


In my opinion, none of these innovative solutions will solve the problem. Students today not only cannot compete globally, they cannot compete with past generations of their peers in our own country.

There was a time when the majority of the U.S. population was literate. Children read real literature, not watered down versions. Penmanship was important and a reflection of one's upbringing. Look for a moment at the letters written by soldiers during the Civil War. These letters to family and sweethearts were examples of a command of the language and an ability to express well the longings of the heart and to make astute observations of conditions around them. They were also masterpieces of fine penmanship.

The Bible, once read in homes and classrooms throughout the land, in itself a literary masterpiece, was the bedrock of sound moral doctrine for many generations. Rather than change our curriculum every few years, perhaps we should head the advice of Jeremiah, one of the prophets who foretold of Israel's doom at the hands of the Babylonians. He wrote: "Ask for the old paths, where the good way is, And walk in it; Then you will find rest for your souls." (Jeremiah 6:16)

Many of today's programs, though beneficial for students, undermine family responsibility. For example, parents no longer need to feed their children breakfast on school days, as a free breakfast program is offered. They no longer need to concern themselves with packing a lunch for their children or providing money to buy lunch; schools offer free or reduced lunch plans. Parents who no longer choose to teach moral responsibility will have children who are taught "I Care" rules and given free school-based counseling for their inappropriate behavior. Surely neglecting to feed one's children or failing give them instruction in right from wrong is a form of abuse.

A basic curriculum focusing on accurate computation and scientific knowledge, an ability to read complex literature and documents with comprehension, and the capacity to express ideas in writing clearly and fluidly are goals needed and wanted at all times in all stages of a child's development.


Brady, M. (1997). A seamless curriculum.

Distance Learning and Resource Notebook. (1997).

Flinders D. & Thornton, S. (Ed..) (1997). The curriculum studies reader. New York: Routledge.

Gatto, J. T. (1992). Dumbing us down: the hidden curriculum of compulsory education. Pennsylvania: New Society Publishers.

Goodlad, J., Stoephasius, R., & Klein, F. (1996). The changing school curriculum. New York: The Georgian Press.

Hodges, M. and Mechlenburg, B. (1998). The grandfather international report. The Grandfather Report.

Hodges, M. and Mechlenburg, B. (1998). Bilingual education. The Grandfather Report.

Mason, C. (1989). School education: developing a curriculum. Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers.

Taba, H. (1962). Curriculum development: theory and practice. California: Harcourt, Brace, Javanovich.

Tyler, R.W. (1949). Basic principles of curriculum and instruction. Illinois: University of Chicago Press.

Wooten, L. & Reynolds, J. (Ed.) (1977). Trends and issues affecting curriculum. Washington, D.C.: University Press of America.

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