Often, parents ask me how long my son has been skateboarding. This is parentspeak for, “I hope your kid is a lot older than he looks because I don’t want to think my own kid is slow.”
I think the core parent worry is that their child is falling behind and the parent’s job is to keep that kid out in front. We all pretend to not think that, because it’s not a healthy way to parent—as if we are in a race—but I think most of us battle against thinking that way sometimes.
I think using curriculum is caving to the wrong side of that struggle. Here’s why:
1. Curriculum is an anachronism.
It used to be that rich people hired tutors to teach their kids all the things that rich kids memorized. Painters, pianos, geography, the stuff that the lower classes could never pick up just from living. You could tell someone’s social rank by finding out what they had memorized.
That’s what being “cultured” meant.
But we don’t believe in such a canon anymore. That went out the door in the 80s, when college students could substitute Adrienne Rich for T.S. Eliot in Poetry 101. And the Internet is the final nail in the idea that memorizing has merit—you can look up anything on the Internet, so it’s the information synthesizers, rather than the memorizers, who make impact today.
2. Curriculum is arbitrary.
The Education Report explains why national curriculum standards stifle innovation. There are a lot of reasons for this conclusion, but basically it’s because curriculum is arbitrary. And curriculum is more about the person who designed the curriculum than about the student receiving the curriculum.
It blows me away that parents take the very forward-thinking step of taking their kid out of school and then make the anachonistic decision to use curriculum, as if we are living in Renaissance England and we are all aiming to have our kids accepted into the landed gentry.
Curriculum was designed to keep parents sending their kids to school. First, school was created to get the kids out of the factories. Then, when it was clear that rich people would not put their kids to work, we needed to think of ways to keep the parents believing the kids should be in school. So we came up with arbitrary standards that kids should follow so they can go to elite colleges. But you no longer need to learn proscribed curriculum to get into college. So why are we using it?
Answer: Fear. The more you rely on curriculum, the more you are parenting out of fear.
3. The best curriculum focuses on doing something.
Business school is falling out of favor because you learn more about running a business by running your own business, rather than studying how to run a business. We have clear data on this because the stakes are high and quantifiable and Silicon Valley loves a good argument.
But Joi Ito, director of The MIT Media Lab, generalizes this problem to all of education (via BoingBoing). He says that teaching kids through text books and standardized testing is like teaching kids by having them read the dictionary. It’s totally impractical and it demotivates their thinking.
This is why I think parents are splitting hairs when they talk about which curriculum they are using and which is best: they all suck the life out of learning. Which is why, when people ask how my son got so good at skateboarding so fast, I tell them, “We homeschool. And right now we have a skateboarding curriculum.”