What a Curriculum Should Contain

Education should have a pragmatic purpose. Education ought to be about building learners' abilities to do useful things. What is important to learn is whatever helps learners do things that they want to do or that they can be induced to want to do. Therefore, if we want to detail the knowledge students need to have, we should first detail the things students should know how to do. Then we can determine what knowledge will be useful in each case.

Depending on an individual's situation and goals, there are many things that might be worth learning. In order to give a very detailed prescription for what knowledge a student should acquire, we must take into account that not every child will need or want to do the same things. A curriculum must therefore be individualized. It must be built around an understanding of what situations a particular learner might want to be in, or might have to be in later in life, and what abilities he will require in those situations.

Nevertheless, for many people the notion of mandating the same knowledge for every student is appealing. Building lists of facts that one claims everyone should know is relatively simple to do. Furthermore, there is the attraction of providing standards that can be easily measured. But from the perspective of the teacher and the student, this approach spells trouble. Each mandated bit of knowledge removes more local control and drives the system towards fixed curricula and standardized tests, which not only diminishes teacher flexibility but also student choice, and therefore, student interest and initiative.

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