Philosophy “matters” more than curriculum

The title of the Education Week blog, “Curriculum Matters,” is a play on the two meanings of “matters.” It addresses all kinds of curriculum issues (matters); and because curriculum influences everything in the school, it “matters” above all else.

That is why blogger Catherine Gewertz described how principals are being brought up-to-date on the implementation of the new Common Core curriculum.

Both national principal organizations (NAESP and NASSP) are training principals on this new curriculum because it influences everything else:

Gail Connelly, the executive director of the NAESP, said she hopes those sessions can help fill what has until recently been a void.

“There is a tsunami that’s about to hit our schools, and I’m worried that our principals are not prepared,” she said.

Leading Change

Principals must understand many moving parts of school life to lead their staffs toward the common standards, the NASSP’s Mr. Riddle said. Not only must they grasp the content and pedagogical changes in the standards, but they also must recognize a host of other potentially necessary changes: grading practices, daily schedules, how students are grouped and their progress monitored, and implications for special education, English-language learners, Advanced Placement, technology, and counseling.

According to these spokespeople, curriculum is at the heart of everything, but that is social scientific crap.

Cut the Crap

Philosophy, not curriculum, is at the heart of everything. At the heart of every school is the community’s belief about what it means to be educated. American policy makers define “educated” as scoring high on standardized tests, so that is the curriculum (no matter what it is called).

The Common Core curriculum will come and go, and schools won’t improve because a new curriculum does not get to the heart of the matter. If we were to define “educated” in a useful, inspiring way, however, we would immediately improve education because philosophy “matters” above all else. The history of American education is the story of a pendulum swinging from one curriculum to another. The latest one is “Common Core.” It won’t improve education any more than its predecessors.

Because philosophy matters above all else, an inspiring, useful definition of “educated” would improve education.  An uninspiring one will not. What is your definition?


#1 Ann Allen on 06.01.12 at 4:31 pm

I concur Dr. Hurley. I offer one more question in response to your thoughts. Where were the principals during the multiple days of training provided for teachers?

I believe that any leader who provides (or requires) training which asks teachers to drastically change is ethically obligated to work alongside the teachers in making the change. Principals attending the Common Core training with teachers, hopefully, was part of district planning. I also believe that the tsunami has already hit and that princpals are in the clean up stages.

#2 casey on 06.01.12 at 5:32 pm

Yes, Ann. Another way to say it is, “Does your philosophy require cooperation and teamwork (being at the same training), or does it require bureaucratic hierarchy (BH) — everybody responsible for their job description?”

All of us have been taught that BH is both efficient and effective, although often it is neither. My experience is that being in an inclusive community is always more efficient and effective than being in a BH. I wonder if social scientists have conducted studies to find out if that is never true, sometimes true, or always true? If we never form inclusive communities, we will never be able to study this possibility. Of course philosophers don’t need studies. They already know it depends on what the researchers believe. If they believe BH is effective and efficient, they will design studies to find that. If they believe BH is not E & E, they will design studies to find that, too.

#3 Lucian Szlizewski on 06.01.12 at 6:06 pm

I’ve never been one for ‘standardized’ anything except for ‘manufactured parts’ for manufactured ‘things’… of which principals, teachers, and especially students are NOT… We have been on this merry-gone-aground since the little minds have tried to solve the big problems with little solutions… common core being the latest.

I agree with Casey.. it is about philosophy, but I’ll add, it is also about a quality of pedagogy that recognizes differences as well as similarities, and knows how to group, re-group, and differentiate when necessary. Content and curriculum (usually the same thing) is just stuff we use to build understanding, learning to learn, enhance creativity, and build accomplishment and self-esteem.

In reality, any content will do. Even houses are made of a variety of materials and the most interesting ones are usually quite different than the ‘standardized’ housing fields sprouting up all over the world.

Historically standardization, at best, is a minimum, and at worst… being forced to wear a pair of shoes that don’t fit.

#4 casey on 06.01.12 at 6:24 pm

Yes Lucian. Content (curriculum) matters little, but we periodically fool ourselves into believing it makes all the difference. As you point out, the difference is always in the dedication teachers bring to what they teach. It always has been, going back to Socrates, and it always will be.

#5 Kathleen on 06.03.12 at 10:51 am

I totally agree that Common Core is putting the cart before the horse. Educators today seem to be living in fear, doing what they are told by people who think that educating children is just like producing widgets.

#6 Queenie on 08.29.12 at 4:28 am

I believe that the six virtues will eradicate a coercive culture from a school community. Fear will be dead, and teachers and students will have more time to concentrate on the teaching learning process.

#7 casey on 08.29.12 at 4:44 pm

Thanks for commenting, Queenie.

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