Saturday, June 21, 2008
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.
Thursday, June 05, 2008
I showed up to the Charter School and met my very small class of seven, and they weren’t 12th grade seniors but to my surprise 10th graders. They were very good in grammar but I was teaching not grammar but writing. At first their writing was with simplistic sentences and vocabulary, not like college freshman—but like 10th graders! Very bright 10th graders but still 10th graders. Naively I thought that if they and I worked hard, their writing would improve a lot. One student who was straight-A did improve but the others didn't.
Charter School should junk the “so-called” college English classes as they were inappropriate for the students. It wasn't the students fault nor the teachers' fault but administrators had made a mistake. The Charter School’s curriculum was much worse than my public school curriculum at Fairfax High School.