Learnin’ em Good.

Today’s subject is something of a touchy one in the world of education, so I will try to tread lightly upon it.  It is the matter of curriculum.

Let me first say that my opinion here depends largely on what is meant by the term.  If by curriculum we mean a general set of ideas and skills that we aim to get across to the students by the end of the school year, I’m all for it (depending, I suppose I should say, on what those ideas and skills are).  If, however, we mean what is commonly meant by the term – that is, the method and organization by which we impart a set of ideas and skills – I must plant my feet firmly against the notion.

And I am happy to say that the school I now work for agrees with me on the matter.  Which was, and continues to be, welcome news.  In fact, the first day I met with the head of the English Department, she told me this: “My philosophy is simple:  teach what you love.”

Of course there are guidelines.  There are binders of lesson plans from years past and books that are required for 9th and 10th grade reading.  And in Ukarumpa it’s a bit of a complicated process to change novels in the curriculum (which I admit I tried to do when I realized I hadn’t read half of them).  Any new book has to be approved by a committee of parents and teachers – and then individual parents themselves have to sign off on them as well.  But, I was told, short stories and poems and essay were (except for some rare exceptions) exempt from the approval process.

As such, I was able to take the existing novels and plays (both in 9th and 10th grades), add some short stories and poems and essays here and there, re-arrange the order – and voila! my syllabus now looks almost just like what I’d teach if I was given complete control.

The emphasis of the English Department here is six-fold: Reading, Writing, Speaking, Listening, Viewing, and Analyzing (were it me, I’d probably try and condense that list a bit – as it is, it comes across as a bit overwhelming, methinks).  So the 9th and 10th grade curriculums here (unlike the States, where we do things like American Lit for a year and Brit Lit for a year and the like) are something of a hodgepodge of all those things.

The way I’ve organized it, we cover Short Stories in the first term of 9th grade, Mythology in the second, Novels in the third, and Drama is the fourth.  The 10th grade is a bit more like my arrangement the last two years, with an emphasis on Fairy Stories and Realism in the first quarter, Romanticism and Disillusionment in the second, Shakespearean Drama in the third, and Modernism in the fourth.

I am, I must confess, a bit distraught by the fact that in term two I’m supposed to teach my 9th graders the basics of the dreaded “Five Paragraph Essay.”  I say distraught because (when given the chance) I typically try to break students free of the “Five Paragraph” model.  And now I’m expected to shackle them with the very chains of structural slavery.  I suppose I must simply convince myself that, upon their release one day, it’s the prisoners who will appreciate their freedom most.

4 thoughts on “Learnin’ em Good.

  1. I love reading your blogs, Alan! Praying for you and thinking of you, too! “Teach what you love with guidelines!” So funny! I know your kids love you!!

  2. Glad to see that Calvin and Hobbes made the trip with you to PNG. First cartoon reminds me that there are 3 types of peple in the world: those who can do math and those who can’t…..

  3. Well, it seems that you will be stretched and challenged a bit with the curriculum, which can be a good thing, but not so much as to change your basic philosophy. Are you pursuing changing some of the novels?

  4. interesting. i don’t remember having to approve what the teacher assigned as reading for my girls. that would have been wonderful. could have kept a lot of the trash reading out, in my opinion. but i guess it would be a headache to have to go through such a lengthy process as you describe. still, how wonderful that you found a way to work around the obstacle and make it your own…in your own way.


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