Curriculum Wars – What’s Missing

In the many education feeds that I monitor, curriculum war stories always lack a fundamental reality check.

First, a short explanation. In the United States, curriculum wars are typically painted as a battle between conservatives and liberals over state curriculum and, by extension, textbooks. This is a simplification, but a simplification that serves our media’s consistent need to paint every story as an us versus them narrative (because, you know, reality is usually more nuanced and complicated). In this stereotypical simplification, the arguments boil down to the following:

  • Conservative Argument: These godless liberals are teaching our kids to hate the United States, man comes from monkeys, and socialism is the answer to all ills. No respect is given to authority, mom, God, or apple pie. We’re creating a generation of narcissistic, valueless, brainwashed citizens. (Free sample of such thought, check out this National Review Article).
  • Liberal Argument: These Christian fundamentalists are teaching our kids that global warming is a hoax, Ayn Rand was an economic genius, dragons actually once existed, and the United States is a paragon of virtue. (Free example, view Salon’s 11 heinous lies conservatives are telling our school children.)

They Miss the Point

Both arguments assume that students get their information from two sources: teachers and textbooks.

What they miss is the big, fundamental change that happened between when many of those making the argument went to school and the modern world.

It’s called the internet.

Knowledge is decentralized.

Curriculum can be questioned with a simple browsing to Google or (my favorite) hanging out in Wikipedia land. Google Now and Siri offer all kinds of perspectives and options.

 You Got to Surf this Wave

Students are going to find information. Sometimes it will be bad information. Often times it will be incomplete information. And, gasp, it likely won’t fit neatly into curriculum. Good teaching means you challenge assumptions and (as a side) encourage perspective. The internet features many views, often in the extreme, but there’s such a large buffet of options. A teacher’s (and parent’s) role is to be aware of what’s being consumed.

I’m not going so far to say teachers and textbooks don’t affect learning (they clearly do).

But I do not see danger lurking behind every curriculum battle.



Price Point

Missing from this infographic is the monthly cost of wikipedia ($0).

I’m always questioning the value of information in an age in which information (and miss-information) is, at least monetarily, cheap. I suspect there’s greater value in allocating funds towards gifted teachers who can prune and create quality content for students rather than the textbook companies.

You could always design your curriculum around Netflix and Spotify.

Online Textbooks Infographic