Efforts to Institute an American Curriculum

In his book, {The Struggle for an American Curriculum; Herbert Kliebard} said, “Growing up is a serious business, much too seerious to be left to parents who forgot to wind clocks or internalize time discipline completely.” Others agreed with him. In the 1880’s, school records show that the City of Lowell, Massachusetts lamented that you should not send your child to school until the age of seven years, and that anything less was an effort by the parent to avoid parenting {Lowell School Committee Minutes}.

In Lowell, there was a struggle between the need for labor, and the desire to educate our children. There was emphasis on the “higher goals” of mankind. In the city, there was a natural conservatism in the face of poverty, caused the educational system to place the maintenance of the “status quo” above the need or desire for a strong academic curriculum. Vocational training was desirable, and maintained at all costs, but innovations in education were constantly improved upon in order to fulfill Lowell’s obligations as a planned community. As Lowell got older, it turned more rigidly to the separation of vocational and academic training. We literally introduced curriculum that matched those two areas.

I discovered that most of what has been done for the good of the student has been spearheaded by parents and teachers working in harmony. Most of the stagnation, when there has been some, occurs when they do not work in harmony. Initially, my goal was to encompass changes to the curriculum in the city to make a definitive statement on what problems were involved with making these changes. I like to bring back the ghosts of Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin, who were on opposite sides of the vocational/academic argument. Jefferson was definitely an academic scholar while Franklin saw the benefit of learning a trade, in his case, printing and writing. Both areas were addressed in the 1800’s. I have shown that in my earlier articles.

My Declarative Hypothesis was probably, “Teachers in the City of Lowell school system have had little effect on curriculum change in the city schools.” That, however, would not be the case. Throughout Lowell’s history, schools have been of supreme importance. This is especially true when the teachers/administrators/parents, have banded together to alter the curriculum. In the 1980’s one individual oversaw the implementation of a single curriculum for the primary and middle grades. His/her effect on the curriculum budget was large, but the effect on the school system was small. Parents and teachers were not introduced into the larger debate on where the curriculum was going and how it was supposed to get there.

Parents, working from the outside, have had little impact on the school system. Only when those three components work together, is there any real change. It is imperative that each school have a PTO, each teacher feels like there good effort is making a difference, and administrators want to involve parents and teachers in as equal a manner as possible. We do not want to be like Kliebard, lamenting the fact that everything was the parent’s fault. Even to the winding of the clocks.

There are some important ideas to work on in implementing any hypothesis. In Lowell, it was said that “Spelling by Writing” was “less tedious than idleness, and more salutary than mischief.” {School Committee Minutes}. By making the imitation of printed letters a part of the curriculum, early educators compared the act to a child making pictures of what a child saw. In High School, single words and phrases, early on, “Accent, pronunciation, definition, punctuation, and division into syllables was required. Much of our city’s early curriculum was based on repitition. In addition, in order to have order, Grammar School Principals were urged to become small district Superintendents with smaller Primary Schools reporting to them. {School Committee Minutes}

Lowell was ahead of most of the rural schools of the day. There was a regular Kindergarten program in 1892. It was widely accepted. Students could be three and one-half years of age and up at the time. Apparently the earlier push for seven year olds was not working. It is not known if this was because of the problems seen by working parents, or if this was something that was instituted because of a type of growth in the school administrators.

There was at the time, one Supervisor of Kindergarten, a Miss Deveraux. She ran the entire Kindergarten system, but made much less than a man. “Equal pay for equal work” was not yet popular in 1892. Local and rural towns were not made to be Kindergarten ready for generations. This was quite a feather in Lowell’s collective cap.

So, Lowell was the city that saw experimentation as an important and beneficial tool. We see curriculum changes all of the time. One of the most controversial new ones is the loss of Cursive as a writing tool. How will people come up with a recognizable signature, we ask? More on curriculum in the future.