What is the curriculum?  

Definition:  Curriculum is everything that goes on in a school. Generally speaking people think of books and teacher taught lessons as curriculum. Curriculum as ONLY the Formal Curriculum

The English National Curriculum: Summerhill doesn’t have to follow it but takes most of what is taught at the school from it. Key Stages were built into the NC at its inception in the 80s.  The SATs were aptitude tests at each level.  There were documents for each subject but it has been simplified.The ENC still contains Key Stages and minimum standards.  It defines subjects as core and foundation and says the ages that kids have to do them. It is not a monolithic structure: there are choices, for example history.

Jason: In the 80s, in the UK, people reacted against progressive teachers who were accused of dropping things from the curriculum for frivolous reasons.

Leonard: When teaching in Canada in the 70’s and mid 80’s there was a lot of flexibility.  It was up to the head teacher to make sure that essentials were covered.  Then over time, since in the USA there were a lot of failing schools, Americans introduced “rigorous” education to try to turn things around. That, whether needed or not, became a fashion and affected, or infected, Canada and then the UK. I tried to track down where these curriculum models were actually created: what American universities, what researchers, what proofs they were actually better. Soon the concepts, the same phrases and the same language was seen all around the western world.  It spread in slavish fashion. It’s a lazy way for a nation to decide on a curriculum … buy it off a shelf. And countries were also buying and then interpreting in a severe fashion.  

Your Empire: Curriculum is tied to your state and the region.  People need to understand that for any Design a School project: it is important for inspection. What is the ‘Empire’ your school will be in, and what does that mean? We are designing for England.

Jason: I don’t trust governments.  OFSTED ( English School Inspectors ) used ridiculous invasive inspection, that cost a lot of money and time.  Schools were advised they would be inspected and then they prepared for OFSTED.  Then they changed it to a no-notice policy.  They said that all the wasted money and time on preparation was distorting inspection. Now there is talk of abolishing OFSTED altogether. Small Independent Schools must be aware that they are vulnerable to political changes.

End of KS 2 tests:  Secondary schools were testing students for skills that they should have been able to rely on KS tests for. But because of OFSTED inspections teachers were teaching to the tests but not for good learning. So Secondary schools were re testing to get an accurate assessment. What a waste !

Jason: Concerning a National Curriculum, you have to have a very good reason not to go with the educational reasoning of teachers and scholars who have constructed a curriculum over decades.  You should be allowed to have personal preference but the essential sequence of moving up is generally logical and should stay the same. Though not necessarily as regards to time frames.

More Politics:Things can change dramatically dependent on electoral posturing and warfare.  When a government gets elected it tends to trash whatever was there before it takes over. There can be sudden changes of attitude towards different types of schooling and the arbitrary intrusion of any number of whimsical Minister of Education Visions.In Ontario Leonard experienced a Used Car Salesman being put in charge of schools. That government was kicked out and the one that followed suddenly introduced a curriculum from New England. They lost the next election and that was scrapped. A new government can completely reverse policy on independent Democratic Free Schools. Simply because it wants to. This must eventually be corrected. With ring-fenced timeliness for progressive initiatives.

Jason: Democratic schools are traditionally better off with conservative than socialist governments.  Socialist governments tend to cripple the freedom of choice of parents and children. They tend to be invasive and their emphasis on rights can lead to obligations (eg French); their emphasis on equality can lead to the stifling of alternatives. It was a Socialist government that tried to shut down Summerhill.

Neill talks about getting rid of the Matric subjects.  He said, for instance, that long division is completely irrelevant.  He says he would be happy to have a motorcycle mechanic instead of an English teacher but the kids had to pass ‘the bloody Matric’ to go on.  If a school doesn’t prepare people for the ‘life of the older educational culture’, they are more likely to fail. So democratic free schools have a responsibility to make sure their students. But lots can still be axed.

Leonard: At Summerhill there is a dawning on kids that they will leave.  There are preparations for that, career advisers, college visits and so on. Students don’t have to take exam courses but they know the landscapes in all directions. If a kid wants to be a scientist it is only responsible to offer them the information about what they would need to follow an academic course of becoming a scientist then it’s up to them.

Jason: Negatively, a progressive teacher might say that working backwards from examinations so that they affect the whole of the curriculum of a school down to younger children distorts the intention to create a truly alternative curriculum. Balanced is required.

Leonard: Yes, I agree. A democratic school in Germany went up to 13, but kids wanted to stay on so they added on years until they started to offer exams.  The director said this had a dramatic effect on the younger kids because they could see where ‘education’ was leading and unnecessarily cut down on their pursuit of non academic projects and play … it impacted on lower level teachers as well. Everyone felt less free.

Jason: It’s important to remember that kids are also usually living out a fantasy interest.  De-contextualised text book learning takes you away from the fantasy reasons you might have to pursue things.  For example, interest in bugs because of doing something with younger brother. Time in a school to pursue these interests free of timetabled formal lessons is important. Formal lessons can kill that enthusiasm.A boy I’m teaching in Spain loved ancient history until he had to take a formal course. Now he hates it.

Bloated Curriculum is everywhere. Leonard calls it Obsessive Compulsive Curriculum Disorder. A Reduced Formal Curriculum is an intelligent response to reduce the obligations on children so that the Democratic Free School’s formal curriculum works to get them to the next level in their education but does not pile up useless tokens and steal valuable student time for the pursuit of other interests and types of activities, play and learning.  

Jason:  Summerhill doesn’t get it completely right.  Boards posted saying : ‘ Silence, Exams’ is okay but many teachers take examination stuff too seriously and give kids stress over things that are really quite easy.  Kids say they are doing five GCSEs and have no time for anything else.  This is just factually wrong.  If you are doing 5 exams you should have loads of times. Teacher experience and confidence is important at Democratic Free School upper levels so teachers don’t pass uncalled for stress onto the students.

Leonard: As an example in Computer Science it’s not necessary to do all of the work up to a GCSE course. Most of what the kids have to do in other schools is pointless.  Any kid who has a normal experience of computers can do the course in a year without much earlier work.  This means that they can do other stuff:  creating websites, programming etc. for years before deciding they want to study for exam. Math curriculum is full of repetition.  There are lots of exercises that are designed just to keep the kids busy.  Keep kids occupied.  Made to fill up time.

So … we will be talking about a REDUCED FORMAL CORE CURRCULUM. To keep kids in a sane learning structure should they choose to follow it, and to give students tons of time to pursue other good developmental things : in learning, and social and emotional growth.

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