Curriculum discussion is vapid


Do you ever hear parents who send their kids to school talking about curriculum?

No. Right?

Do you know why? Because it doesn’t matter. If you use curriculum or you do not use curriculum, that is a very big question. Riverdale is a school that is following child-directed learning: no set curriculum. Most public schools are to-the-test learning: established curriculum. That is a huge difference. Beyond that, if the kid is doing well on the test, the curriculum doesn’t matter.

So why are homeschool parents obsessed with curriculum? It’s a red herring. There are huge, enormous questions for parents to be asking instead:

1. Why are we teaching to a test? My son visited my friend Melissa in Austin and they played in a gym all day. Is that better?

2. Is it a good model for girls to see moms making their life revolve around their kids? Should dads be more involved?

3. Should kids focus on learning languages and music? The benefits to learning these at a young age are huge.

Of course those are not the only three big questions, but those are three of the 300 questions that are way more important than choosing what curriculum you use.

I think parents use the choice as a way to bury their heads in research. As if that will somehow make them a “good” homeschool parent. But the more time you spend trying to figure out curriculum, the less time you are spending figuring out answers to really meaningful questions.

14 replies
  1. Mark K
    Mark K says:

    As a teacher, you can mostly talk or you can mostly listen. You can choose or create structures you think will be best and try to impose those, or you can observe the structures that are forming organically as a result of natural processes.

    The latter approach is not something that comes easily for most of us. We want to control and be responsible. We want to make something of our kids rather than provide support for their own process of making themselves. This is one of the ways our own institutionalized learning makes it hard to break out of the pattern. If we let go and watch the process happen, we feel powerless and like we’re not doing anything at all.

    A child’s curiosity and talents and inclinations and choices will build a curriculum. My opinion is that you should struggle mightily to just get out of their way as much as possible.

  2. Zellie
    Zellie says:

    1. Using a curriculum does not necessarily mean using tests. Yes, spending the day at the gym is better!

    2. It’s not good for any kid to see a parent’s life revolve around him. Kids should see parents striving for their betterment while the kids are also well attended to. Tricky.

    3. Languages and music should be learned but in a natural way, not like “school” for young kids.

  3. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    I think the homeschooling parent needs to always be mindful of the way their child is being educated. That is to say, the parent has to always be doing a self-assessment, closely monitoring their child’s progress, and making adjustments as necessary. A highly customized approach where both the parent and child need to assume personal responsibility for the end result. It’s hard because if the end result doesn’t match expectations (parent’s, child’s, and/or society’s) then there will be second guessing and judgment. I’m not sure how curriculum fits into child directed learning (unschooling). However I think the child should be introduced to some extent a variety of subjects so they can make choices and be made aware of those choices. Ideally I think child directed learning is based on projects which incorporate multiple disciplines. Math, science, writing, etc. do not exist by themselves but rather need to be correctly interwoven to be considered successful.

  4. TR
    TR says:

    Sorry a bit off topic but in regard to teaching your kids music, what seemed to work the best in teaching your son with Asperger music? My spouse minored in music at college so teaching our son music is very high on her list of things to do. We were wondering about any good methods and/or pitfalls we would be watching out for

    • Penelope Trunk
      Penelope Trunk says:

      This is a good question. I have had many failings in this area. Like, I recently had a Spanish speaking person come live with us to teach the kids Spanish and it was so bad that it lasted less than two days. Here’s the link to that debacle:

      On a good day I tell myself that music is a second language and I’m doing fine. On a bad day I tell myself that this is BS and I have to send the kids to school in Mexico or something.


      • L (another Lisa)
        L (another Lisa) says:

        To teach a child a second language just speak to the child in the second language. I know this is overly simplified. If a child lives in Japan they learn Japanese, if they live in France they learn French. There is no teaching. If you can’t speak to your child in a second language your child doesn’t become bilingual. Music is different. With any language the exposure starts when a child is an infant way before they learn to speak they already have a large receptive vocabulary. With music the child needs to be a much more active participant to learn to play an instrument. I think when we talk about children learning or even adults for that matter we confuse the what, why and how of all of it. We may say that kids should learn a foreign language (the what) and have very good reasons for it (the why) but that doesn’t mean that we have the resources (the how) to expose them to a foreign language so they learn it effortlessly. By resources I mean another person who they can interact with that will just speak the foreign language with them.

  5. Amity
    Amity says:

    Hi, I hear your point, Penelope. I was homeschooled/public schooled and now I teach at a public school and I do a lot of curriculum design, and I happen to be good at it. The reason I am good at it is because I hate set in stone plans for learning. So I look at the learning standards that are required and I find creative ways to meet them, I write those ways down and how they meet the learning standard, and then deliver some semblance of what was written down.

    I am so good at this I do it in an advisory capacity for other organizations besides my “real” job. People pay me to design curriculum and the truth is that many people have no idea about how to go about it. Good for me, right?

    My advice to those who fret about it is to relax a little bit about curriculum. Look for multiple standard sources–don’t like the state standards for something? Poke around. For languages (my teaching area) I use ACTFL guidelines and throw in some of my state standards (which are unrealistic, since they assume k-12 second language learning and we start them in 9th grade).

    I love the ISTE standards for teachers and learners. I like the simple language of the Common Core. I adore the Virginia standards for the language as well.

    There is so much out there to help guide you with curriculum design. Try using Understanding by Design by McTighe.

    By the way I hated every second of public school and can’t believe I now teach in a public system. But luckily I am smart enough to keep “unlearning” and designing standards based curriculum that allows my students a lot of freedom. It is not perfect but I wanted you to know there are come creative curriculum designers out there.

    Try not to buy a set curriculum and lay it on your child (I feel bad for people who think that is the way to go). Be smart enough to cobble it together from a variety of sources and well-researched enough to answer, if asked: “We meet X standards by doing just this learning activity.” But who is asking? Most people have no idea about learning standards, designing curriculum or even the basic cost effective open educational resources out there.

    I would love to talk more about all this with you if you want to shoot me a mail. My grad research is on open education. You might like it.

  6. JAL
    JAL says:

    I have been homeschooling my children for nearly 20 years, and would not say that HSers, in general, are obsessed with curriculum. I’m certainly not, having never considered using one. I can also tell you, Penelope, that Riverdale Country does promote a child-focused program in the lower grades, but their high school program is just as high-pressure, test-focused and VERY narrowly college prep-oriented as the other private schools in NYC.

  7. Karen Loe
    Karen Loe says:

    I GET IT!
    I completely get your point and I agree. When the conversation moves to curriculum, I simply stand up and sit someplace else.

    However, I think homeschooling parents talk about curriculum ad nauseum because they are scared. Shitless. An they simply want someone else to weigh in on things. It’s comforting.

    • jeanlp
      jeanlp says:

      Or, maybe we’re excited about all the great stuff there is to learn, and we express it a little differently than you do. :)

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