“I teach high school math. I sell a product to a market that doesn’t want it but is forced by law to buy it.”
Thus says Dan Meyer, math teacher and part-time Google employee, in the beginning of this great video on TED that has been making the rounds lately. I encourage y’all to watch it. Even if you don’t have an interest in math education (which is the ostensible topic of the video), Meyer takes a nuanced and interesting approach to curriculum issues more broadly understood. The TED video has gained Meyer enough notoriety since it went live this month that he has been asked to appear on CNN to talk about curriculum design. On his blog, Meyer describes himself as interested in curriculum design and teacher education.
The Loyola Institute, as should be clear from our name, is interested in both equity and quality, which means that not only do we concern ourselves with issues of socioeconomic and racial segregation, under-service of students with special needs, etc, but we also concern ourselves with questions like, How do we create school environments that best prepare students for the 21st Century? Sometimes, I think, in the screaming over charters and governance and alternative teacher certification programs, we forget about curriculum. This is why Russ Whitehurst, in a video for the Hoover Institution, said that curriculum is the “orphan child of education reform.” (By the way, I only know of that quote because of today’s blog post by Mickey Muldoon of the Fordham Institution.) But curricula, particularly as regards textbooks and the pressure for teachers to teach the text, directly affect students’ engagement with the material. If the class material is too dry or too far removed from real life, as Meyer argues in his presentation on TED, students have a harder time engaging with, learning, and retaining the material.
Teachers like Meyers have the ability to play an integral role in the design of innovative curricula that engage students and teach them skills for the 21st Century, skills like higher-level problem solving, that involve more than just rote memorization. Who better than master-teachers, those at the top of their craft, to help guide the discussion about what curriculum best addresses the needs of their students and best maximizes their natural curiosities.
While writing this post I’ve been trying to conceptualize a macro-level curriculum and teacher education system that would incorporate master-teachers into curriculum development. I admit that I don’t have the expertise to say exactly what that would look like. But imagine a system of public education in which master-teachers and veteran teachers utilized their understanding of their students to help design innovative curricula; in which teacher education programs (both alternative and traditional) trained the next generation of teachers in dynamic methods best suited for these innovative curricula; in which researchers generated empirical data to determine best practices that help the teachers and teacher ed programs and to assess the effectiveness of their work; and in which researchers and policymakers developed dynamic tests to guide policy. Just imagine it.
I’m interested to know what others — particularly teachers and those with more experience in curriculum design — think about this. If you have a thought, fire away in the Comments section.