"The Curriculum Trap"
1994-2005 by Ed Dickerson, all rights reserved.
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The "Right" Curriculum for Your Child

Feet, Shoes, and Shoehorns

Wherever two or three homeschoolers gather together, they discuss curriculum, as in, "What curriculum do you use? I use XYZ!" Few weeks pass that I don't receive a call something like this: "I have a nine-year-old boy that I'm going to home school. What curriculum would you recommend for him?" Sometimes, families apologize for using a particular curriculum, as in, "I know you don't approve of . . ." These ideas reveal a fundamental misunderstanding and common misuse of curriculum, a misunderstanding and misuse which cause frustration and burnout.

To demonstrate, let's accompany the "nine-year-old boy" mentioned above on an imaginary journey to the nearest shopping mall in search of shoes. We enter a shoe store, and inform the salesman, "We'd like some 'nine-year-old boy' shoes, please." The salesman nods, retreats into the back room, and returns with a shoebox clearly labeled "nine-year-old boy shoes." As the salesman begins to fit the shoe to our "nine-year-old boy's" foot, we quickly recognize that foot and shoe match poorly.

"Oh, no," we conclude, "the child's foot is deformed!" After all, the box clearly says "nine-year-old boy shoes." In fact, inside the box lid, distinguished doctors of podiatry (the box assures us they are indeed "distinguished") attest that these are indeed proper shoes for "nine-year-old boys." Therefore, the boy's feet must be defective. In other words, "If the shoe doesn't fit, blame the foot."

Perhaps we recognize the folly of blaming the foot because the shoe doesn't fit. Instead, we identify the true culprit--the incompetent salesman. We fix him with a knowing glare and unmask his error. "If you knew the proper shoehorn technique, those shoes would fit just fine." In this case "If the shoe doesn't fit, blame the technique, or the technician."

Of course, you wouldn't fall into those errors--concerning shoes. You know that healthy children's normal feet vary in size and shape. You would insist the salesman find a pair of shoes that fit, and if he failed, you would seek help elsewhere.

We know that children's minds vary more than their feet, yet we accept these same errors when it comes to curriculum. When a "nine-year-old boy" curriculum doesn't fit, we often blame the boy, feeling that he "isn't where he should be." Or we blame the teacher and his technique. In other words, if the child's OK, and the curriculum's OK, it must be the teacher. In the homeschool, this amounts to condemning parents' efforts. Far too often, we attempt to force the developing intellect to conform to the curriculum. Within limits, minds and feet can be forced into shapes of our choosing, as when ancient chinese culture bound young girls' feet, but such efforts distort and cripple.

Remembering feet and shoes may help us recognize that the attempt to shoehorn a child's unique mind into the arbitrary shape of the "perfect" curriculum can only detract from achievement, increase frustration, and promote burnout.