Evaluating curriculum

November 21, 2012

Trinity Area School Board voted earlier this week to eliminate some courses and incorporate the coursework of some of them in the curriculum of other courses. Superintendent Paul Kasunich has said the cuts were recommended because of low enrollment in the courses and redundancies.

Predictably, the changes were met with resistance. “I know nobody likes change, but things do change,” said director Scott Day. “When I graduated from Trinity in 1986, they were still teaching Latin. They did away with it and everybody survived.”

It’s true, nobody died, but it’s not as if teaching Latin was a silly waste of time. Those who studied it learned its influential grammar, the origin of many English words and how western languages work. Nevertheless, the world changes, and education must change along with it. It’s more important these days for students to learn Spanish and understand and use computers than to conjugate Latin verbs.

What Trinity did should be done more often and by every school district. Deciding what kids are taught is the most important job of the school board.

Among the changes Trinity has made are making majorettes and color guard after-school activities rather than courses. But why were they ever classes in the first place? They have no academic or vocational value. The job market for professional majorettes is weak.

More serious is the elimination of French. Students now taking French I need two years of a foreign language for entrance to college. Next year, they’ll have to switch to another language or take French II online.

French will be replaced by Mandarin Chinese, deemed more practical in light of the world’s shifting economics. Who knows? Maybe German will be nixed next in favor of Hindi or Tagalog.

Regardless of which tongues are taught, language education is important, not just intellectually, but in preparing our children for the job market. Students fluent in another language are twice as likely to find high-paying jobs as those who know only English.

The problem with language instruction in our public schools is not with which languages are offered, but how little and late they are taught. Most kids in Asia and Europe begin learning foreign languages in first grade, while Americans most often don’t begin until they are in high school.

Curricula must change, but we must not allow public education’s sole purpose to become job training. We must be careful not to eliminate courses that help students develop their reasoning and communication skills, or explore their creative potential. Art and music are essential components of basic education. Allow them to slip away and we’ll be graduating students who are narrowly programmed and intellectually undeveloped. Downgrading history and geography will produce adults less able to comprehend current events. Require students to read less and write less and they will not develop the ability to think for themselves.

One of the elective courses not eliminated by the Trinity directors was advanced public speaking. In an age when young people prefer to communicate by texting – and do so almost constantly – such a course may seem outdated and old-fashioned. But new technology has its drawbacks. Kids today may communicate with each other more, but in the detached and abbreviated manner of cell phones. They interact with actual humans less and are losing social skills. But speaking and listening have always been and will always be critical skills. And so, public speaking may be more topical and important than ever.

We hope that someday curriculum discussions, like Trinity’s, will draw big crowds to school board meetings, as issues involving sports often do.



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