First of all, I'd just like to say, how the heck did Conant get to be so influential? The majority of his proposals made in the 40s are with schools today: general education for all, electives, ability grouping, vocational education, remedial courses, gifted courses, the day divided into periods, an exit exam for graduation, etc. Now I'm sure that the relative standardization of these ideas was caused by more than just one man's opinion - he had a whole committee. And I'm sure most of these ideas were probably already being put into use and seemed to be successful. And this model of education is a "factory" model of sorts, so it's easily accepted by the public, who can be persuaded that you can churn out good citizens just like good cars, on an assembly line. But still. What steps do I need to take in life so that I can become president of Harvard and decide what schools will look like for the next 50 years?
So that I'll be prepared when I get there, here are my proposals:
1. Schools should implement a multicultural curriculum that gives all cultures equal status and validity in the classroom, utilizes the discourse and learning strategies of different cultures, promotes a positive attitude towards people of all cultural/ethnic/racial backgrounds, and enables students to recognize the need for and enact positive social change.
2. Schools should promote moral development of all students.
3. Schools should equally value multiple definitions of success by providing a wide range of electives and areas of specialization that students can choose based on their interests.
4. Subjects should be integrated, and students should be taught to see connections and relationships among different disciplines.
5. Elements of an activity curriculum should be implemented to allow students authentic opportunities to practice skills, use knowledge, and problem-solve.
6. Knowledge depth should be emphasized over coverage, providing students the opportunity to develop thinking skills and the ability to gather and evaluate new information rather than only memorizing facts.
7. Teachers should make use of team teaching, collaborating to work more effectively and utilizing each other's knowledge and skills.
8. Classes should be a heterogeneous mixture of 15-20 students, of various ages and abilities (as well as gender and ethnicity).
9. Schools should be nongraded, allowing students to learn and develop at their own pace, eliminating the stigma of failure or the promotion of students who have not mastered needed skills.
10. Schools should utilize flexible scheduling to allow more time for some subjects than others, more time for special projects and labs, more time for mastery of difficult skills, and more time for subjects of special interest.
Other items of interest:
~ neighborhood needs when constructing curriculum: I was very pleased by the intimate way I think this would look. What does the surrounding community look like? What do they value? What do students from this community need? What does the community need from its students?
~ unifying concepts of each discipline: what are they? how can we teach students to develop a conceptual framework for a discipline if we were not taught this way ourselves?
~ (from last week, with Ch. 8) how do curriculum goals and objectives relate to standards? how do they relate to instructional goals and objectives?
~ Conant's standards for pass and fail: for electives, have high standards, students fail if they don't meet them; for required courses, students pass if they have worked to their highest capacity. I think this is an interesting idea, and in some ways, I like the idea of measuring students against their own capacity, rather than on some arbitrary standards that are set that maybe not everyone is capable of meeting. But how do you know what someone's capacity is? How do you know when they reach it? In practice, I think this would be very subjective and end up becoming detrimental for some students if teachers don't have high expectations for them.