I've been thinking lately about public education's true purpose.
There seems to be a growing consensus supporting the need for a national curriculum. Personally, I have mixed feelings about this. Part of me is supportive, realizing the inequities which exist from school to school, and state to state. Children should be guaranteed comparable, viable access to knowledge, regardless of where they are schooled.
However, looking at the students in my classroom, I see a wide variation in abilities and interests. Should those come into play at all when planning a curriculum? I see the shift nationally for test/data driven instruction as an attempt to even out the playing field, but without consideration for the players themselves. Just as all players on the Little League team will not grow up to play in the Majors, my students will not all need the same skill set when they are adults. Without limiting their possibilties, we have to also acknowledge the discrepancies in innate abilities and work to maximize the potential of all learners.
Given a student driven curriculum is only one piece of the educational puzzle though. Isn't the socialization part of school just as important as the curriculum driven piece? Don't we have an inherent responsibility to teach children how to function in society as well?
As I look at my middle schoolers and picture them as adults in the workplace, I can fairly accurately predict which will be 'good' employees and which will struggle, floundering from one job to another, unable to meet the demands of their boss and the constraints of productive employment.
A student who is consistently tardy to school/class will likely be the same in the work place. The child who comes with no materials (despite the availability of those) will be the carpenter fired for showing up with no tools. Ones who cannot take a directive without a negative reaction will probably be the ones fired for insubordination.
Don't we as public educators, have a responsibility to also actively teach these life skills as well as the prescribed curriculum? How can we assure each child has the best opportunity to be successful in adulthood?