As a task force of educators and counselors works this winter to develop and create a new and sustainable Vermont State Colleges system, the dialogue on our Act 46 public elementary schools will continue.
The demographic shifts leading to consolidations, school administrations, pandemic closings, uneven broadband, and the loss of a community resource are all issues affecting the future of public education in Vermont.
Mandated by the Vermont Constitution, public education – which dates back to Vermont’s establishment as a republic prior to union membership – was seen as necessary for all of our citizens to develop the knowledge and judgment that a functioning democracy would need.
What is largely missing from the discussion today – and arguably the most important topic – is the quality and relevance of our public school curriculum to the current and emerging needs of Vermonters today.
The curriculum varies from district to district and from classroom to classroom. Although ultimately best measured by the quality, capacity and flexibility of the individual teacher, the content taught is key to the education of tomorrow’s civic citizens.
I was fortunate and unfortunate to spend my high school years at Phillips Exeter Academy where I received sophisticated education in the sciences, arts, and humanities. What I missed, however, was a variety of lessons that every young person needs in life, such as: B. Learn to drive, manage finances, and prepare to vote, serve on a jury, cook or touch a meal.
What follows is a prospective new curriculum for the world we live in today that can be used based on age and development. This is in part the result of my own teaching experience in the late 1960s at Mount Abraham Union High School in Bristol, and in part the result of speaking with educators.
I am offering this “game plan” for discussion, knowing that certain topics will be controversial and that there is an ongoing professional scholarship in education and curriculum development. There are those who will insist that some of what follows is entirely within the realm of parenting and not in our schools.
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We need to remember, however, that much of the current curriculum was developed when intact families and cohesive communities were much more the norm and internet access was just a privilege area. Our public schools today have had to adopt non-traditional school subjects and services where broken families and limited government services have otherwise failed our children. Meals, counseling, specialized training, and health care come to mind.
When I was a kid, with the exception of “hot lunch” (finite variations on excess farm produce like “yellow cheese”, sugar, powdered milk, corn and wheat) and primary screening for hearing, eyesight, lice and worms from unpasteurized milk, health care was exclusively our parents’ province.
My aim here is to incorporate established and emerging critical skills and problems that citizens face today in communities, families, and the nation so that our children and grandchildren are prepared to understand and manage them in the future.
I hope that this prospective curriculum will lead to discussion, change and an enrichment of our current curriculum. And let’s include the students in this discussion. Too often we underestimate the insight and clarity our children are capable of.
• Humanities: reading, writing, history, philosophy, ethics, world religions, ethnic and Indian studies, world language systems (second language), research and essay writing.
• STEM: biology, chemistry, physics, astronomy, math, geology, ecology, artificial intelligence, technology and engineering.
• Citizen competence: Citizen rights and duties, overview of the political systems, architecture of municipal, state and federal governance (executive, legislative, judicial), consideration of diversity, justice and inclusion, criminal justice, the essential role of education in citizen participation, civic duty participate (vote and serve).
• Art and culture: performing arts, visual arts, generative arts (digital storytelling: film, music, writing), the role of art in social change, art history and appreciation.
• Media literacy: journalism or opinion, trusted sources, social media, propaganda, fact checking, censorship, blogs, podcasting.
• Financial literacy and basic economics: managing personal finances, basic personal degrees, basics of savings, banking, taxes and retirement, overview of economic theories.
• Agriculture, food supply chain, nutrition and hunger: farm-to-plate overview, regenerative agriculture, basic nutrition, animal welfare and maintaining good health.
• Environment: Monitoring the well-being of the air, water, soil, flora and wild animals as well as advocating behavior and interests in the preservation of a healthy planet.
• Gender, sexuality and pleasure: reproductive physiology, sexually transmitted diseases, puberty, LGBTQIA justice, privacy, pornography and family planning.
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• Sportiness: Options for individual and team sports (competitive and personal challenge), disabled sports, and health risks and benefits.
• Overview of career options: for-profit, nonprofit and government sectors, employment, craft, occupation, services, entrepreneurship, craft.
• Personal wellbeing and health: stages of development, basic health maintenance, exercise, health screening, self-exam, substance and behavioral addiction research, understanding disability, maintaining mental health, and driver training.
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