In the grand scheme of education a debate has been raging for hundreds of years: what style of curriculum do we implement? Do we go with a classical liberal arts/Greek and Roman base or a modern style with technology and integration of topics? I am sure many teachers have an opinion, but usually we have to the follow the district plan. So that leads to the question: Which one is better?
Curriculum (from Wikipedia) “is the set of courses, and their content, offered at a school or university. As an idea, curriculum stems from the Latin word for race course, referring to the course of deeds and experiences through which children grow to become mature adults. A curriculum is prescriptive, and is based on a more general syllabus which merely specifies what topics must be understood and to what level to achieve a particular grade or standard.”
In other words, the classes each student takes and the topics covered. Most of us had required classes such as Algebra, World History, or Earth Science. But how do we decide the overall structure of the classes? Is Earth Science necessary to the future life of all students? Would it better for all of us to learn Latin or Metal working? The school district gods often decide the courses required, but sometimes I wonder if they are just following history or actually have reasons for choosing the ones that the do… Which leads to a comparison of the two basic schools of curriculum.
Point of clarification: I am using the modern sense of curriculum and not the classical ideal of the series of experiences planned or unplanned that progress a child into adulthood. In fact, I don’t think anyone uses that sense of the word anymore unless they are a complete ubergeek. I am also going to shy away from the concept of state and national standards. I want to look at the basic listed classes.
Let’s discuss each style and try to come to a conclusion…
Classical: In the original sense, classical education comprised language (usually Greek and Latin), literature, philosophy, history, art, archaeology, and other culture of the ancient world. Of course the classical world of Greece and Rome is the basis of our current Western civilization. So shouldn’t we learn these subjects? Understand where we came from? Have a basic understanding of the building blocks of our culture? For example, Greek and Latin have influenced all modern languages for the West. When people take SAT prep classes, they learn Greek and Latin to define words. These subjects are the basis of all others. The idea is that we create a framework for all other knowledge. A classical education does this.
Modern: A modern curriculum encompasses subjects such as history and English, but also ones such as study skills and graphic design. The idea is to create a curriculum that highlights the classics, but also incorporates the new technological classes and subjects. Every student needs to learn keyboarding and powerpoint, but somehow not home economics. I understand the need to create technologically savvy students in a world where technology rules. Students need to know how to navigate a computer. Students should be able to learn things like graphic design before college.
However, I mourn the death of the classics, if nothing else than we will lose our heritage. No one will be able to navigate the definition of words because they know Latin or Greek root basics. No one will be able to place a painting based on the style throughout history. Instead we will just use Wikipedia or Google to find the information. And then, I will be the weird girl who can recite Shakespeare or name the Greek pantheon. I will be regulated to a party trick, instead of being in the educated field. I mourn the death of the liberal elite… I mourn the death of the classically trained in rhetoric. I mourn the death of the Socratic method. I mourn the death of basic conversation. I love the idea of a classical education, but for the future of education (not a good thing entirely) my money’s on Modern!