The current push to standardize “institutions, mechanisms and statistical averages” will never succeed. Standardization is a goal that dehumanizes people and squelches creativity, and the “heavy hand of bureaucracy makes people powerless, then listless.”
Vaclav Havel, the former Czech activist, writer, political prisoner, and eventual president, outlined his thoughts about trends in Western democracies during a series of speeches in the nineties. "There is no need at all for different people, religions and cultures to adapt or conform to one another. ... I think we help one another best if we make no pretenses, remain ourselves, and simply respect and honor one another, just as we are," he says. Havel died earlier this month.
As the year draws to a close, Havel’s words resonated in an unlikely way when I read EdWeek’s list of top ten most memorable curriculum
stories from 2011. Story #1 according to EW, is “Multiple ‘Curriculum’ Meanings Heighten Debate over Standards.” Writer Catherine Gewertz in an article last March begins, “Calls for shared curricula for the common standards have triggered renewed debates about who decides what students learn, and even about the varied meaning of the word ‘curriculum.’"
The common standards in English/language arts and math have been adopted by all but seven states. But exactly how the standards will drive local curriculum remains to be seen. Some believe that the core standards provide a framework so broad that all states will be able to work within them in their own individualistic ways. Others feel that common standards imply common testing, which will then require standardized lesson plans and general curriculum. And, of course, hovering over the entire debate is the question of teacher evaluation and how core standards, core curriculum, and core testing with standardize teacher evaluation and teacher education.
The definition of curriculum, then, is an abstract contender for the world’s biggest ball of string, a candidate for the Guinness Book of Records. States’ rights, federal meddling, unions, politics, RttT, supervision, evaluation, -- and oh, yes, student learning, nearly an afterthought. The transcendental aspect of standardization that Havel worries about exists on another level, rarely reached in our national discussions about education. It seems unlikely, then, given the polarization of thought that has taken over our national discourse, that we will see real reform or wholesale improvement in our children’s education any time soon.
Still, insists Havel, the difficulty of changing an entrenched system is no reason not to try. "I do not know whether or not the world will take the path which that reality offers,” he says. “But I will not lose hope." And I will not either as we begin another year in education.