The Sticky Gold Star For Critical Thinking Goes To

I’ve been considering something Scottie May said to us in our Christian Education class at Wheaton.  She’s repeated this to me when I’ve posed education-related questions since graduation.  Professor May–and I’m surely paraphrasing while keeping with the best spirit of her teaching–says that curriculum is a guide, a map.  It’s not meant to remove the hard work that comes with reviewing, adapting, adjusting, and presenting content to a learner.  You can read more about Dr. May’s approach by reading her book Children Matter if you like; it’s a great resource.

I think some of the critical issues which come up for me as I think about what Marcus and Sonia have said, along with what I’ve read about the TSBE are the following:

1) How powerful, even if vital, the role of elected officials is when it comes to discussing, determining, and disseminating educational standards for students.  I don’t know that a state board of education’s role is understood by most citizens, whatever the state, and it’s often not until something incredible happens or looms that people take notice.  I suppose this is similar to how most people engage or disengage from the political process in general.

2) A community’s role in education continues to be one of the best ways to confront and support education for children.  I heard too many times growing up that “It takes a whole village to raise a child.”  It’s true wisdom.  Raising a child, involves educating a child, and the responsibility for learning, cognitive development, and social maturation cannot be loaned or sold or passed off to teachers alone, particularly when those teachers are expected to teach what they disagree with, what they don’t believe in, or what’s foreign to their experience–not that all curriculum fits into these.  But the community can do things.  Develop a reading list with teachers, historians, and writers you respect.  Talk to teachers and administrators about how they enrich the curriculum, if they do.  Show up to school and read for a day.  Donate books and art and articles to a school which fill out new or old images of history and culture for students.  The community supports, challenges and aides in the learning process.  And everybody, including children and grownups learn from that involvement.

3) Ideology always influences what people are taught.  It’s foolish to think otherwise, no matter what a group’s commitments, principles, and philosophies.  In my mind, everybody has a religion, a way of acknowledging God–even when that acknowledgment is to deny God’s being–and everybody also lives in response to that acknowledgement.  Your spiritual or religious views leak into the decisions you live by.  My frame of reference, the presuppositions, and notions which are unique to me enable me to say what I say, think the way I do or don’t, and to choose to emphasize certain aspects of history, sociology, psychology, and theology.  Whatever the pattern of voting or thinking, readers and learners should be aware of who’s writing, that writer’s social and political and, if possible, spiritual location, and what the objectives are of that writing.

4) Curriculum comes in three shapes–explicit, implicit, and null.  Explicit curriculum is what you see and read and hear.  Assignments are given on some topics and not others.  Implicit curriculum shapes and influences the explicit, is present and no less important but is unseen.  Null curriculum is what is taught, communicated, and learned by absence; these are the questions, areas of learning and knowledge that aren’t highlighted or explained but which are pronounced because of that lack of inclusion.  I think this springboard in Texas helps us all think about these three types of teachings, what’s included, what’s not, and what’s learned in the process of and despite presence or absence.  This is especially meaningful to me as I consider how assignments are framed to highlight or diminish the light on certain figures in United States of American history as it relates to people with skin like mine.

5) Being critical involves listening, analyzing, reflecting, and most times confronting.  While the nuances and the actual voted-upon changes in Texas are not as scandalous as they were first thought to be earlier this year, the process leading to them open a window into how curriculum is framed and fixed.  There are expert educators and non-educators, and their decisions are sure to influence how publishers spend money printing books across the nation.  Interested people need to hear and think about the impact a state or a city or a neighborhood can have when it comes to what’s sold and consumed in their schools and libraries.  Just because a book is printed doesn’t mean it cannot be read, reviewed, critiqued, and left unpurchased when found lacking in truth and veracity when compared to history and life of black, brown, and white people.

In addition to what’s been offered in the comments–and I have a sneaky suspicion about the tags and automatic replies–the following links may be helpful as you consider Texas State Board of Education, their process, and relevance for where you live and learn.,0

What say you?


Guest Post: History Remains His-Story in Texas

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. Continue reading

Guest Post: Public Education?

I asked Sonia Wang to respond to a few questions about decisions the state board of Texas made regarding curriculum there.  Ms. Wang just completed her fourth year teaching at an elementary school in the Englewood neighborhood of Chicago.  She’s a part of my church, has a large heart, and is skilled at sarcastic jabs right when they’re most entertaining.  Post a comment if you have specific questions or reactions to her post…

Public Education?

The decisions that are made in education always leave me with a brief moment of wonder. When you think about this whole situation, it comes down to this: college educated men and women who interact with adults for the most part making decisions about what information should be shared to children who come from all backgrounds—race, ethnicity, culture, socioeconomic, etc. You can’t help but identify a slight feeling of disfigurement in this scene.

Putting that aside, however, I approach the situation in Texas with a broader, and what I believe, as an educator, to be the more important question: 

What is the purpose of education?  What is the end goal for our children as they receive a public education?

From my experience as an Asian-American woman growing up in public education and now teaching African-American students in public education, I firmly believe education has a crucial role in students’ lives. Education is a means to pack as much knowledge into our students and provide them with skills to then make informed decisions.

In the New York Times article, Texas Conservatives Win Curriculum Change, Dr. McLeroy, the leader of the conservative faction on the board, states that the state is “adding balance …history has already been skewed. Academia is skewed too far to the left.” I find this mindset problematic. Decisions made by the government should not be contingent on some motive to make right something that was off. History should not be skewed in either direction. The role of education is to provide knowledge to students. Thus students should be receiving the facts of events and situations. Within those historical contexts, they might be informed about biases and opposing sides. However to mandate a textbook that has a certain bias explicitly woven into the curriculum is then to tolerate learning that is untrue and ignorant of another perspective.

Rather than pushing to legitimize one’s agenda, a state board would do history justice by promoting a policy that develops a child’s complete understanding of history and the social issues surrounding it. What do you say to a child whose ancestors were captives from the African soil and stripped to be deemed less than nothing when their textbook, or even their teacher, paints the picture that their ancestors were stupid, dirty barbarians? At the same time, what do you say to a child whose ancestors were forced to take foreigners into their homes and beat them into submission because of a society when their textbook, or even their teacher, paints the picture that they were ruthless and heartless slave masters? You can not teach slavery with a drop of justice by painting broad pictures. Further, what are we telling our children by painting only one picture?  Honestly, teaching history is a difficult task as a teacher because of this dilemma: What do we teach?!

Continue reading

Two Teachers on Curriculum Decisions Made in Texas

The state board of education in Texas made some pretty audacious decisions earlier this year.  It’s no secret that their decisions were motivated by their responsibilities to the students in their state.  Perhaps their political leanings impacted those decisions, too.  In fact, that’s just as obvious when you read through some of the litter leading to their choices. 

I’ve followed some piercing reflection over the last months about these decisions, thinking about them as a learner primarily and as a theological educator secondarily.  I’m not even ready to consider this from the perspective of a father.  However, I asked two friends to respond to a series of questions about education, curriculum, and how children learn. 

So, I’ll feature two substantial posts from two friends–one from Sonia Wang and another from Marcus Campbell.  They are both educators.  They have things to say.

If you’d like to read the articles I sent them to start them on their critical, analytical paths for their posts, take a look here and here.  You can search other materials but I didn’t want you to have too many options.  These articles come from a perspective, as all articles do, but I think they’ll give you a fair amount of background for what Sonia and Marcus (or Ms. Wang and Mr. Campbell) have to say.  Take the weekend to read the short articles.