The topic of engaging curriculum keeps popping up in my world, so I decided to write about it. The last major overhaul of the American public educational system was No Child Left Behind. Eleven years later politics and the media are still focused on standardized testing. I think we need to take a step back.
Much of what we are actually teaching our youth is no longer relevant and certainly not engaging. Look at the big picture. Steve Jobs complained that one of the reasons he couldn’t build factories here in the States is because we lacked engineers. Not engineers with bachelor’s degrees or master’s degrees. Engineers with what would be equivalent to an associate degree. Because these are the people that are trouble shooting at the factories in China (1).
Some of the most successful entrepreneurs have autism. Look at Mark Zuckerberg. Research shows individuals with autism are tapping into the left side of the brain. Exposing them to the arts helps them develop and connect socially. As engineer and autistic spokeswoman Temple Grandin reminds us, for many of those with autism the classes of art, music and dance are what help them stay engaged in school (2). These classes are the first to be cut during difficult economic times. And we seem to be reprimanding schools that attempt to create other kinds of engaging curriculum.
In my home state of Arizona, Tucson High School was faced with a high drop out rate. They created a Mexican ethnic studies course that spoke to their largely Hispanic student population. It worked. Kids enjoyed and participated in the class. Attendance and graduation rates for this group of youth proved the course was effective (3). And history repeated itself. Just like the “Survey of the Middle East” course taught at Tucson High in the 1980s, the class was banned for a variety of selfish political reasons (4).
All of these examples are of curriculum engaging youth in a manner that connects them to society and gives them tools for the real world. I started thinking of classes I wish I had in high school. A basic finance class where I learned about compound interest credit cards, what to expect in a rental lease, and the ins and outs of auto and student loans. A class incorporating local history. Because it is juicy and if it’s local, the more likely kids will connect to it. Maybe its because I come from Arizona, but other places have to be at least half as interesting from a politically historical perspective. Perhaps taking a page from Germany and providing more of a direct educational line for kids who are not interested in continuing to a four-year college, such as transitional courses for technical and trade schools. Keeping arts and music classes. Ok, that last one is unoriginal. And difficult with state legislators across the country slashing educational budges.
I’m writing this because I want to hear your ideas. What are your thoughts on curriculum that could be more engaging and relevant to American youth?