I have always had mixed feelings about local control. On one hand, I think it is very important for people to feel a sense of pride, belonging, ownership, and engagement in their local school. On the other, I don’t want the school to reflect nothing more than what the local people already know and believe. That way, no one every learns anything new or is challenged to rethink what they know. Education is about tradition but it is also about encountering and grappling with new ideas.
So, I don’t want to seem wishy-washy, but I recognize that there is merit to both sides of the argument and that, as in so many things, a sensible balance is needed between the forces of localism and those who push against localism. I should add that, these days, I find no case to be made for federal control of curriculum, as the federal bureaucrats are even less thoughtful, less imaginative, and more rule-bound than their local counterparts. At least one can engage the local bureaucrats in conversation, and the conversation is possible. There is no way to engage the federal bureaucrats, because they are so distant and also so powerful. Once they gain control, it’s hard to hear dissent at all.
That said, I thought you might enjoy reading what Diana Senechal has to say about local control in response to a post earlier this morning (my note: growing up in Houston, where we almost never saw snow, we read “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” and yes, we imagined what it must be like to experience what Robert Frost described):
|There are two sides even to the points that this teacher makes.Yes, a school should be able to have sheep without that being part of the statewide curriculum.
Yet children in Phoenix should get to read “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.” The fact that they don’t see snow around them shouldn’t prevent them from reading about it. The teacher just might have to explain a little more about snow.
I see no reason why there couldn’t be a slim (but high-quality) common curriculum that left plenty of room for variation and choice. (I distinguish between curriculum and standards–the standards, as I see them, are not curriculum.)
Otherwise you could end up with schools that didn’t offer physics because they didn’t think the kids needed it; that didn’t teach Sophocles because his message isn’t Christian; that didn’t teach poems or stories about snow because, well, they weren’t relevant to the kids’ lives.
You’d have schools that based their curriculum on student and teacher preferences, with little or nothing to counterbalance them. Yes, I enjoy teaching my favorite works of literature, but I also want to be challenged to teach something outside of my preferences, provided it’s good.
Local control could also subject schools to the temporary emotions of the community. A few years ago, a Sixth Circuit panel in Ohio decided that a teacher’s curricular and pedagogical choices are not protected by the First Amendment. Parents had petitioned against a high school teacher who was teaching Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha (which the school board had ordered). There was more to this than Siddhartha alone, but still, it’s disturbing that the parents had more say than the teacher here. There should be some protection of subject matter. (I wrote about this case in a guest blog: http://www.joannejacobs.com/2011/05/evans-marshall-and-the-canons-of-the-profession/)
What I find constraining is not curriculum but the packaging of it–big, bulky, cluttered textbooks; bad tests; constraining pedagogical directives; and misleading jargon and buzzwords.