What curriculum is taught in schools? The explicit or formal curriculum includes objectives, tests, materials, standards and syllabi, and transmits the culture or anticipates societal needs. The extracurriculum includes sports, clubs, student government, and school publications, while the implicit, or hidden, curriculum, emerges incidentally from the interaction between the students and school environment. The null curriculum includes many rich learning possibilities not part of the school curriculum.
What is the place of the extracurriculum in school life? Eighty percent of all students participate in this voluntary curriculum, which advocates argue builds self-esteem, civic participation, positive race relations, and professional and academic aspirations. Skeptics doubt these claims, and argue that the huge resources devoted towards athletics could be better spent on academics. Some states have instituted "no pass, no play" rules, excluding low-achieving students from participating in varsity sports.
How do the formal and the hidden curriculum differ? Test scores, curricular standards, public and political pressure are only some of the forces shaping the formal curriculum. But in addition to these intentional lessons, schools teach a hidden or implicit curriculum. The norms and mores of the hidden curriculum can reinforce formal learnings, or contradict them.
How do social forces shape curriculum development over time? Literacy and religion dominated the colonial curriculum, and sexism, classism and racism kept education in the hands of the few. As the idea of freedom grew in the eighteenthcentury, the curriculum shifted toward the secular and opened the schoolhouse doors to white girls and poorer children. As a result of nationalism, democratization, and industrial development, the curriculum in the nineteenth century moved toward universal literacy, vocational competence, and preparation for citizenship. In the first half of the twentieth century, John Dewey and the progressive movement promoted creative expression, social skills, and a more integrated study of subject areas. The mission of high schools was to meet the needs of all the students, not only the college-bound. In 1957, the Soviets launched Sputnik, and the poor performance of American schools was blamed for the country's "defeat" in the race for space. As a result, there was an increased focus on content performance, particularly in math and science. The curriculum in the late 1960s and the 1970s reflected the nation's social concerns, including peace studies, ecology and the contributions of women and minorities, and led to the dissemination of open classrooms. By the 1980s and 1990s, the social scene had changed dramatically, triggered by a more conservative national administration and A Nation at Risk, decrying the nation's mediocre schools. Spurred on by charges of poor standardized test scores, back-to-basics, a core curriculum and cultural literacy grew in importance. This traditional approach is reflected in the current standards and testing movement.
What are contemporary subject matter trends and tension points? National standards and testing continue to drive the curriculum, and No Child Left Behind has placed reading and math instruction on a curricular pedestal. While some advocate a phonics approach to reading, others support whole language instruction, and many teachers find themselves using elements of both. The recent emphasis on the traditional canon comes at the expense of women and non-Western authors. Although reading scores have improved, poor student writing remains a problem. Social studies curriculum has been criticized for lacking international perspective and doing a poor job in preparing students for their civic responsibilities. National math standards emphasize both an understanding of critical concepts and their application to real world situations, yet student performance here is another area of concern. U.S. students lag behind in foreign language instruction, and many educators prefer foreign language instruction to begin at an earlier age. Art education receives little emphasis in most schools, with three out of four students receiving neither theater nor dance instruction. The current emphasis to promote lifelong health benefits and enjoyment is compromised because fewer than one in three high school students participates in daily physical education programs. Health and sex education programs are receiving more public support due to the health threats confronting today's students.
What current curriculum directions may impact you? The knowledge explosion has produced more information than teachers or students can master. Some educators believe that we should now focus on how we learn and use knowledge, including critical thinking skills, metacognition, and critical pedagogy. Robert Slavin believes education is too much like "fashion and design," and looks to a time when the curriculum will emerge from research and reasoning, not popular opinion. The Saber-Tooth Curriculum teaches us that a curriculum should preserve the past, but not be limited by it.