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Op-ed: Is our school curriculum our boss or our servant?

When teachers are trusted and respected to use curricula as their servants, the whole culture at school will change.
When teachers are trusted and respected to use curricula as their servants, the whole culture at school will change.

The most exciting and far-reaching thing that can be done to improve public education is to change the role of curriculum from being a ruler over teachers, parents and students to being a servant for them.

What does this mean? First and foremost, it means that teachers will be respected and trusted to perform as professionals and decide what their students need. It means that, if teachers are in charge of curriculum, instead of curriculum being in charge of them, they will be able help students develop their unique talents and use them to be contributors to society. It means that teachers will partner with parents to foster positive differences instead of trying to make students uniform in knowledge and skills. It means that students will excel in what talents they were born with. It also means that students will value one another for being unique individuals. Bullying and school-induced suicides will markedly decrease because children will hold each other in high esteem for being unique and different.

When teachers are trusted and respected to use curricula as their servants, the whole culture at school will change. Cooperation will replace competition for grades and awards; students will help one another achieve. A plethora of accomplishments will be shown in talent shows and knowledge presentations as students share their ongoing development. Virtually every child will qualify for high honors as creativity, curiosity, initiative, interaction, leadership and other human qualities are esteemed as highly as achievement in predetermined subjects.

When curriculum is servant, the whole school becomes oriented to the needs of students. Teachers and parents guide, advise and inspire students to develop their individual greatness. Curriculum comes primarily from the questions, interests and needs of students. High school classes are all elective. A variety of study areas are added as determined by student interests.

Another big benefit of using subjects of the curriculum as servants is that reading, writing and arithmetic, for example, can be used as means or tools for attaining higher abilities rather than learned as ends in and of themselves. When basic skills are learned for the purpose of developing curiosity and creativity, for example, they are learned better and at the optimum time for each student rather than at the traditional time.

With so many benefits of changing the role of curriculum from boss to servant, will real change occur? There are many people, especially policymakers, who are so heavily invested in the curriculum-as-boss way of doing things that they may be afraid to trust teachers to be in charge of curriculum. Leo Tolstoy once said, “I know that most (men and women), including those at ease with problems of the greatest complexity, can seldom accept even the simplest and most obvious truth if it be such as would oblige them to admit the falsity of conclusions which they have delighted in explaining to colleagues, which they have proudly taught to others, and which they have woven, thread by thread into the fabric of their lives."

When people get a little authority, they often enjoy exercising dominion over others and become a strong barrier against innovation.

What is to be done? School board members and district superintendents can use the curriculum-as-servant model to start a revolution. Your school district could lead the way.