I spent a lot of time reading about curriculum options before I decided to toss out all curriculum and just teach my kids what they want to learn. At this point, my kids have learned reading and typing via their video games. And I'm pretty sure they've learned a lot more, they just don't need to check in with a teacher about what they learn, so I can't exactly tell you what they learned.
That said, this system has been a pleasure because we have fun days where we all do what we want to do. Not all the time, but most of it. The curriculum that works best for my family is no curriculum.
So, spoiler alert: In this post about how to pick curriculum, I'm going to tell you that all curriculum is stupid. But this brings to mind the Anna Karenina principle: Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. All curriculum is stupid for different reasons. So if we can categorize the stupidity of curriculum then we can better sort through it.
1. Predatory curriculum.
You intuitively know what this looks like. There are probably ads for predatory curriculum on this site right now. The more money a company spends advertising to you, the more suspicious you should be. Most curriculum comes to parents via word-of-mouth. Companies only need to take out ads when they don't have the benefit of word-of-mouth and you have to ask yourself why.
A great example of predatory curriculum is a TV advertisement for ABCmouse.com. This is such terrible curriculum that I am happy to put a link in here so that you can go over and hate them as much as I do. The advertisement says, "My two year old is already reading and writing thanks to ABCmouse."
The first problem with this is that we already know there are two ways a two year old is reading and writing. One way is if the child has Asperger's Syndrome and then research shows that the child's brain develops better if you do not let them read or write. Or, the child does not have Asperger's and then you're wasting your child's toddler years by forcing them to read and write too early.
ABCmouse must be aware of this research because they chose to put a black kid in the commercials. I don't think it's racist to say that almost every education company uses a white kid unless they're selling something that white people wouldn't want, and then they use a black kid. So ABCmouse is preying on the idea that parents are unsure what their kids need and they are pushing the educationally unsound idea that memorizing facts is good for toddlers.
2. Fear-based curriculum.
A lot of parents think that because they're rich that their kid should be good at school. But we know that this does not correlate, and in fact, it correlates in the opposite. If you don't spend a lot of time on academics then you're probably going to make a lot of money, and besides that, school does not reward cutting corners, but work does. So there is a whole world out there of parents who are trying to buy academic validation through their kids.
Academic prowess is genetic – in a way that is very similar to height. , but that doesn't stop some people from thinking that even if they don't have a particularly high IQ, their kid will. This leads to a whole industry of overpriced curriculum to do at home, designed to supplement curriculum in overpriced schools. And the only thing it does is ruin the relationship between the parent and child, because the child perceives they can never make the parent happy.
3. Denial curriculum.
Of course, every kid is not able to do every kind of subject. But school is insistent on all kids doing all subjects. Which means that parents eventually come up against the reality that their child is not going to Harvard and has limitations. The right response is to give your kid a Myers Briggs test and to start catering their schooling to their personality type.
The wrong answer is to buy extra curriculum in the subject where your child has already displayed extreme weakness and convince your child that it's worth their time to develop their weaknesses instead of their strengths. Of course you should play to your kid's strengths and go around their weaknesses. This is well established in corporate training circles where more money has been put towards how to make people succeed than we're able to put into our schools. We know that
people succeed best if they're focusing on their strengths.
So instead of helping your kid to do better at the subjects they're failing at, tell your kid they don't need to do those subjects. The best curriculum that you can give their kid is how to discover their strengths and leverage them. The whole curriculum industry is founded on the idea that your kid needs to be taught something that they wouldn't normally explore on their own. Because let's be honest, if your kid were going to explore it on their own, they probably wouldn't choose to do it in a workbook.