Marcus Campbell works as an administrator at Evanston Township High School and also pastors a church in Chicago. I asked him to weigh in on the same issues Sonia Wang did the other day. Me and Marcus “go way back”. We used to sing together in the Soul Children of Chicago when we were small, and I know he’d enjoy any reactions and questions which come up for you from this post.
History, Remains His-Story in Texas
The purpose of curriculum is to highlight the goals and assessments that provide a roadmap for instruction. Curriculum is a critical piece in schools in that it is the primary element of what gets delivered in the classroom. Curriculum prepares students for the world in which schools have trained them to be equipped. Curriculum is also what shapes the scope of a school’s values, culture and goals. Providing an analysis of curriculum also reveals what knowledge-base a learning community embraces and it also has the potential to reflect the passion of its creators. Curriculum does not consist of multiple lists of inanimate objectives, goals, plans, lessons and assessments, but it is rather a living document that comes alive each day of the school year in every classroom across the country. When curricula are planned and implemented well, the learning outcomes for both students and teachers are tremendous.
The ideal or model framework for curriculum is that it should be structured by skill with content-reinforcing skills. The content should be framed with the following in mind: district or school demographics, valued cultural knowledge and other items that can frame multiple disciplinary content areas that will prepare students for working in a particular field or profession. Most importantly, curriculum should be framed with the student in mind. Student-focused curriculum is built firmly with stages of adolescent development in mind, student interest and the need to know content to function in a democratic society. Far too many times, curriculum is out of date, referred to as the textbook or the state standards posted in the teachers classroom. These provide the necessary components for what includes curriculum, but these are a far cry from what curriculum actually is. It is up to district and school leaders to make sure that there is a common understanding of curriculum among the various constituencies in the district, but every teacher must also be clear and able to articulate what curriculum is and demonstrate it in action in the classroom.
With that being said, as a Senior Pastor, Director of Academic Programs for a school district and a doctoral student in Education, I believe that the recent curriculum approved by the Texas State Board of Education will in large part serve as a disadvantage to the students in the Texas education system. The changes subtract from the rich pluralist history that belongs to our nation and it devalues the varying of opinions that make this nation as great as it is. Valuing and analyzing multiple perspectives across all content areas are important for developing a critical consciousness as young men and women seek to find themselves and understand the world around them. Affirming a conservative curriculum will only lengthen the divide between the two political factions at work, when the goal of education is the act of preparing students to live in a world of difference.
But, what is really going on in Texas has less to do about skills, but more to do with the culture wars that have existed in education for decades. There are both conservative and liberal aspects of many content areas (with the exception of math) that will remain debatable depending on one’s politics, theology and personal values. However, it is irresponsible for a state board to hijack one side of the spectrum. There are very conservative areas in Texas, yet there are many liberal areas (including the Texas capital), therefore, a good curriculum will seek to offer support and scrutiny for ideas and theories that lean both conservative and liberal.
But, let’s keep it real, curriculum is never unbiased. Curriculum and pedagogy is shaped by one’s world view, values and convictions. How the curriculum is presented is also a reflection of one’s personal integration of information, ideas, theories and influences. So, in a way, what Texas has done is much ado about nothing. Liberal pedagogy will re-shape it. And there is no possible way to write or approve curriculum absent from our politics, theory and values. Therefore, the Texas state board did what many others do around the country and even the world, they voted on a set of values that are most important to them. Their personal convictions led them to vote their values. In the field of education, intentionally or unintentionally, we vote and teach our own values by what we choose to teach, and how we choose to teach it. Therefore, we reproduce not what we know, but who we are. It’s the way God made us.