Saturday, June 21, 2008

Changing the Cirriculum

I'm all for changing and innovating the curriculum . My objection to charter schools is that they are a poor way to make needed changes in curriculum because that is not their aim.

I've participated in different efforts to change the curriculum for thirty years. During the 1960s and 1970s there were waves of attempts to change the curriculum in public schools. Most people are aware of the development of African-American studies, women's studies, and Chicano studies classes in these period but that was only part of the changes attempted.

W hen I did student teaching through California State University Los Angeles, I student taught at Lincoln High School, a public school within Los Angeles Unified. The master teacher had two student teachers team teach in each class and encouraged us to try new methods in our 11th grade American history class. We showed our Mexican-American class slides of Mayan, Toltec and Aztec civilizations. We used discovery method and had a text which was a compilation of documents from the 17th century on. We broke up our students in small groups and asked them if they were Pilgrims leaving England for America, what would they bring on their ships? After they worked on this problem for a class, we then showed them the list of items brought from the book. At that same there were a wave of new curricular materials produced including books, slides, and films.

My second semester of student teaching, I was at Pasadena High School teaching high school students an Introduction to Sociology, Anthropology, and Psychology class --an entirely new class. Since I had a background in sociology, psychology, and history, I was given this class. I had use of the excellent film library from Pasadena City College, and remember showing a film on the Bushman in South Africa for the anthropology segment. I much enjoyed teaching this innovative class.

Another innovative program in the 1970s was Poets-in-the-Schools which brought live poets into the public schools to teach creative writing and then at the end of the program produced a small booklet of student work. I thought this an excellent program. By the 1980s one program was beginning to send poets to teach creative writing in the juvenile halls. I taught creative writing to female students at a country work camp. I give my students short stories and p0ems to read--they were really fine critics making good comments about the stories--and then taught them how to write poems and short stories.

Another way that reform was done is California Writing Projects at UCLA and UC Berkeley and eighteen other sites around the state. For thirty years public school teachers go to the university states taking summer and year-long institutes where "every site of the California Writing Project conducts an annual invitational institute where" experienced teachers of writing demonstrate exemplary classroom practices, study research, and write extensively."

Now Poets-in-the Schools has been established in the public schools for 30 years, and young students who started writing there then go on to become adult poets. Many seniors in high school take classes such as psychology, sociology, or anthropology. And multi-cultural text books and teaching methods in public schools have been mainstreamed for decades now. The California Writing Project has a thirty-year history.

What we did was start small-scale projects in public schools or small scale project like the Writing Projects at the universities. I'm not saying very attempt at curriculum reform was a whopping success. Some were and some weren't. But as the small-scale programs prove their successes, they are enlarged to other students in other public schools. But all the efforts were within the public system to give improvements to that system.


mjolinr said...

I wanted to contact you, but I'm not sure how. I don't know about charter schools, but I do know about public schools, through my children. I am currently a student studying sociology and I can see that the schools need to be fixed.However, what should be done and how can I help in improving the problems I see. I found your blogg by accident, and I have realy enjoyed your writing.

California Writer said...

What do you think are the major problems of the public schools that your children encounter? It's good to hear what parents like yourself have to say. One way to look at how to improve the U.S. public schools is to compare them to public schools in other countries. As a sociology student, that might be a project you can do for some class. I've heard that Australia funds its public schools very differently than the U.S. does. Perhaps these topics would be included in your school writing.