I am a fan of Core Knowledge as a concept. I believe in a rich and deep curriculum. I would love to see all students immersed in the study of the great ideas in history, literature, science, mathematics and other fields. I understand that a curriculum doesn’t teach itself. It needs teachers who are well educated and knowledgeable to make the ideas come to life. Some years ago, when I researched the implementation of Core Knowledge, I discovered that many of the most successful sites were applying the concepts in a progressive, constructivist way. Talented teachers were engaging students in real-life projects and activities to make the knowledge into an experience.
I am also an admirer of Robert Pondiscio, who writes wisely and edits the Core Knowledge blog. But I disagree with Robert’s takedown of Carol Burris’s post on this blog. Carol criticized the militaristic style taught to charter teachers by the Relay Graduate School of Education, and Robert for some reason took her post as an abandonment of knowledge. I think that is wrong. Nothing she wrote disparaged the content of curriculum.
If anything, the militaristic style that she criticized is the antithesis of teaching a great curriculum. No one learns Shakespeare by command and by wiggling fingers. No one reflects on history by shouting out answers when called upon.
In my ideal school, students would read, discuss, debate, question, and thirst to learn more. They would take the received wisdom and pull it apart. They would ask why it is wise and why it might not be wise. I don’t see how this kind of lively reflection can happen if a teacher commands obedience and silence at all times. It’s not that classrooms need be noisy. It’s that students need to care. They need to think. Compliance may get obedience, but can it create caring? Do students think on command?I don’t think so.
So while Robert and I are on the same page about curriculum, I think in this case he picked the wrong battle. Burris did not make a case against curriculum. She made a case against a teaching style that does not support the rich curriculum that Robert and I both admire.