Okay, got home with the curriculum for my son's prospective new school, which they were kind enough to provide me in advance. This is a generic “American curriculum” school, and we're looking at Grade 6.
There's no more history and geography. That has been replaced by “Social Studies,” which combines the two. The subject this year is Ancient Civilizations, which certainly turns my crank. It is good to note, as well, that this has been broadened beyond just ancient Greece and Rome: the year includes "Egypt, Mesopotamia, China, Persia, the Gupta, the Han, East Africa and Mesoamerica." Sounds great, if a lot of territory to cover. But then, they seem inadvertently to have listed China twice—as China and Han. Makes me worry about how competent they really are to teach this stuff. I might also wonder why Mesoamerica but not the Andes (and suspect they think the latter is part of Mesoamerica). It also includes “hunter/gatherer” and “tribal.” Now I'm worried. It's surely too much in one year, and tosses apples and oranges into one basket.
At first I also feared this might be a materialistic view; but the curriculum says it will pay attention to the “beliefs, institutions, and technology” of the cultures, which does seem to cover the field. I'm a little unhappy that one focus of the course will be “to examine gender roles in various civilizations,” leaving an opening for political propagandizing and bogus science. But at least it does not seem to be a major element of the course.
I'm also a little taken aback by “The learner will be able to describe instances in which changes in values, beliefs, and attitudes have resulted from new scientific knowledge and from technological knowledge.” This sounds as though the study of beliefs may be faked, especially since there is no indication of the reverse, how values, beliefs and attitudes can produce new scientific knowledge and new technology. Beliefs and values might be dismissed as arbitrary results of material conditions. In other words, we might have a purely materialist, atheist, and even explicitly Marxist view of history.
There's no more English either. This is now “Language Arts,” even though only one language is involved. I'm disappointed that no specific books are cited to be read. This, as E.D. Hirsch has persuasively argued, matters. The curriculum includes not just books and reading, but “speaking,” “media” and “viewing.” This seems to the good; there are a lot more than texts going around these days. Moreover, I think some training in public speaking is part of a good education, and I feel my own education was lacking in that. Another big plus is that they are apparently now teaching MLA style. I was never formally taught it, and always thought it should have been part of high school training.
On the other hand a lot of the material proposed to be covered seems a bit of a waste of time. “Students will reflect on and evaluate their successes with the writing process.” “Students will evaluate their level of understanding through the reading process.” “Students will reflect on and evaluate their growth as readers.” “Students will reflect on and evaluate their success as effective listeners and speakers.” “Students will reflect on and evaluate their effectiveness as viewers.” “Students will reflect on and evaluate their effectiveness as consumers.” These are things, as a student, I might want to do on my own time at home; but I do not need a teacher and a classroom to do it. It ought not take up learning time. Nor does it seem terribly interesting.
Neither does it seem useful to send your kids to school so they can learn to “participate effectively in viewing situations.” I think they already know that.
I'm also not excited about “students will analyze the ways in which images construct meaning”; “students will construct meaning from ... visual information,” or “students will ... construct meaning from a variety of genres.” First, this is self-contradictory as expressed: either the reader is constructing the meaning, or the text (here “image”) is; you cannot have it both ways. But the idea that meaning is arbitrarily constructed is also offensive to anyone who believes in the existence of absolute values. Which is to say, anyone who believes in religion, or truth, or right and wrong.
I also seem to see a rather different attitude to visual and to print media. “Students will view and understand the strategies of non-print media to influence media consumers.” Why only non-print media? Exactly the same issues and the same rhetorical strategies appear there. I suspect this will really only amount to a diatribe against TV advertising. A terrible waste of time, because advertising is not limited to TV, and attempts to persuade are not limited to advertising. In fact, because of the tough laws against consumer fraud, advertising is probably a poorer model for rhetorical tricks than the news or opinion or entertainment pieces on either side.
I suspect here either Luddism, a hostility towards “visual technology” simply because it is relatively new; or Marxism, a hostility towards TV because it is wholly subsidized by (mostly corporate) advertising.
Science, too, comes in for a measure of tomfoolery. I lament my own lack of a proper scientific education in earlier school years. But why should they list, under “The Nature of Science,” “students will work as part of a team, share ideas and offer reasons for their findings with others.” This has nothing to do with science, and is pretty directly counter to how the great scientists actually worked. Why is it being slipped in here illegitimately as part of the nature of science? What are they trying to pull? Again, “Students will develop an attitude of respect and understanding for life and the environment.” Nothing to do with science; those who study infectious diseases are in no way required to respect infectious diseases. This is scientism, true science supplanted with a superstitious pseudo-religious worship of “nature.”
On balance, I do think I will send my son, and monitor the situation. The good news is that it is not a public school, and they are not using certified teachers. So, with luck, there will be some common sense, and the sillier parts of the curriculum may be ignored.