“Educators in California are locked in pitched combat over a statewide model curriculum overflowing with terms like ‘hxrstories’ and ‘cisheteropatriarchy,’” reports the Manhattan Institute.
I’ll give you a moment to untangle your brain from what you just read.
How on earth is ‘hxrstories’ pronounced?
Don’t worry, the x remains in oppressed silence, and the word is pronounced like “herstories.” “The prefix ‘her’ instead of ‘his’ is used to disrupt the often androcentric nature of history,” explains The Baltimore Sun.
Do you remember learning new words as a kid? Cool words, like photosynthesis and kaleidoscope, that you couldn’t stop saying because they were funny to you or made you sound smart?
Well, now your kids can enter 21st-century society with a vocabulary designed to help them “‘critique empire and its relationship to white supremacy, racism, patriarchy, cisheteropatriarchy, capitalism, ableism…and other forms of power and oppression….[and] build new possibilities for post-imperial life that promotes collective narratives of transformative resistance,’” shares Emily Benedek in her article discussing California’s new ethnic studies curriculum.
Nevertheless, this situation in California is cause for concern.
As Albert Mohler says, “What happens in California schools doesn’t stay in California. The state has for decades enjoyed outsized influence on such things as curriculum and textbooks because if a textbook is adopted in California—the nation’s most populous state—that book will produce enormous sums of revenue and will likely be adopted around the nation.”
Breaking it down
Is all lost?
Are U.S. curricula doomed to ignominy in the annals of history…ahem…“hxrstory”?
The truth is the forces that shape curricula standards in our nation can themselves be shaped. So let’s explore what curriculum is, how it’s developed, and how it’s changed—and more specifically, how you can change it.
1. What are curricula?
“In the simplest terms, curricula is a description of what, why, how and how well students should learn in a systematic and intentional way,” says the International Bureau of Education.
That boils down to two facets. Basically, curricula are a set of standard courses that schools or government entities assign to their school districts in the form of learning materials, as FindLaw points out. But curricula are also designed to offer students a variety of experiences that will foster learning and fulfill a community’s educational needs.
Curricula are a vital component of upholding Standards of Learning (SOLs) and are part of Instruction—how information is delivered. “Standards are about what students should know or know how to do; curriculum is about how they’re taught to know or do those things,” says Vox.
2. How are curricula developed?
In general, “school districts (typically controlled by locally elected boards) have the authority to make educational decisions for their schools, including decisions about the curriculum and methods of instruction….States have some authority over curriculum as well, insofar as they often set minimum curricular requirements for school districts,” says Phi Delta Kappan.
However, “school boards often turn to state and federal governments for guidance on what to teach and how to teach it [because] the federal government has the means to research which skills will be most useful to students after school, as well as which teaching techniques are most effective. State governments have insight into the kinds of skills that are useful to the local economy, and can often recommend specific classroom materials.”
Gathering all the available data is a good thing when developing SOLs and curricula—but far-away government bodies shouldn’t make those decisions for your community and its future. Luckily, “[s]chools may decide upon curricula based upon local community views and values as to educational content and methodology,” concludes FindLaw.
Where do textbooks fit in?
Textbooks are not curricula in and of themselves. But they’re at the core of each curriculum and how it’s carried out through instruction by most teachers. (Read more on the distinction between textbooks and curricula here).
Tamim Ansery, a former textbook editor, shares how textbooks are shaped around curriculum requirements: “Once [a textbook company settles on a pedagogical idea, they] shape the pulp to fit key curriculum guidelines. Every state has a prescribed compendium of what kids should learn — tedious lists of bulleted objectives consisting mostly of sentences like this: ‘The student shall be provided content necessary to formulate, discuss, critique, and review hypotheses, theories, laws, and principles and their strengths and weaknesses.’”
After textbooks are built by textbook developers around curriculum guidelines, they’re sent off to be reviewed by the state or local body responsible for adopting textbooks for their schools. Whew.
For example, in South Carolina, the State School Board is primarily responsible for heading up state textbook adoption. Terrye Seckinger, a member of this board, told NWEF president Melvin Adams in an interview that “[textbook adoption] has become a very complicated, sort of colluded situation because textbook adoption companies have to send out the published books to everyone on the adoptive list.”
Other common problems with curricula
After textbooks are reviewed, if they’re approved by three school districts, they “can be adopted free of charge to any other district in the state,” adds Seckinger. This isn’t always good for students in the end—causing yet another curricula-related problem—because it impacts the variety of curriculum and instruction available to students.
“When states adopt, say, a math curriculum, they might adopt an AP curricula, maybe a couple of general ed math curricula, and then they adopt curricula that really doesn’t have all of the components needed for schools that they perceive to be slow learners or rural schools… It is totally unfair to those students. When you don’t have all of the material, you’re not going to have all of the content knowledge you need to pursue and excel,” Seckinger concludes.
Another problem with many curricula isn’t what they are teaching kids…but what they aren’t teaching kids. Often, curricula fall short of giving students a big-picture view of life and the skills necessary to succeed in it.
“For example,” says Professor’s House, “how many of these basic life skills are actually part of the core curriculum in the K-12 American education system?
- Personal finance
- Loan and money management
- Car/home maintenance
- Basic survival and emergency preparation
- Socialization and networking”
It’s no secret that education reform is necessary and curricula is just one part of a whole system that needs attention. Its ripples move far and wide, influencing every American student. So, what can you do to spearhead needed content reform?
Are curricula changes possible?
What happens when the district subjects your child to curricular material that goes against your values? Who is going to take a stand if curricula need to include more life skills or present a wider variety of perspectives? You are the perfect person to take action because you are the one who cares!
In an interview with NWEF, Rachel England, mother and former school board member, shared how she was able to reform a curriculum at her local school. When she was new to the school board, she systematically reviewed the school’s textbooks, particularly history and science—the two courses that are most often misrepresented by curricula.
“So I was reading very carefully and I got to a section in the science where they were—and I knew they taught evolution, everybody knows they teach evolution—but the way they were teaching it was as a fact. And I was like, ‘Oh, this can’t be happening.’”
So she took the matter before her superintendent. “And he immediately was like, ‘I am sorry, I did not see that’ (of course, he can’t read through all the stuff), and so he was like, ‘I will address that, we’re going to table that and we’ll come back to that.’ And several months later, they brought that curriculum back, it was re-worded as a theory, and one among many theories, which I’m fine with!”
Like Rachel, make use of your resources. Get in contact with officials at your school and begin building relationships with them.
Learn as much as you can about your school’s SOLs and curricula. Attend school board meetings and consider running for the school board to get even closer to the processes and decisions that are affecting your children’s education.
Visit Noah Webster Education Foundation to find more resources and get involved!