What are we prepared to give up in our curricula?

I had an interesting conversation yesterday with Elizabeth, our Assistant Head of Lower School and School Librarian. Elizabeth is an avid reader and epitomizes what it means to be a lifelong learner. She’s always open to new ideas and perspectives and reads widely and indiscriminately to inform herself and our community.

We talked about a TEDx video we had seen recently by Stanford Professor Paulo Blikstein, in which he makes the claim that we don’t want to give up any of the previous 20th century skills. He continues that we want to teach “fractions and basic arithmetic” but we also want to teach new, more advanced things. Professor Blikstein asks, “We need to make big changes not just in the means of education but also in content… What are we prepared to give up?”

We had both questioned in separate viewings of the video if he’s advocating for significant curtailing, if not deleting entirely, any part of the curriculum that could be answered instantly by technology. We asked an even more radical question:

  • Can we really just get rid of basic arithmetic in schools?
  • In response to her first question, I believe that school leaders and teachers should discuss these questions within their individual contexts. Institutional reflection is necessary before schools make any decisions about their curricula, especially about what to add, delete, or modify. Will Richardson puts it differently when he says that “we have to stop asking questions in classrooms that students can now answer with their phones (state capitals anyone?).” Maybe getting rid of basic arithmetic is not the answer. After reading Will’s post, I believe the more relevant question to ask is, how are students going to use basic arithmetic? Should assessments evaluate more than simple operations and require students to communicate meaning through real-world problems and application?

    What do you think? Does your school engage your teachers in such reflection? Would you get rid of basic arithmetic or anything similar that can be looked up or done by a machine?

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