Like a Kid Loves Cake

haulin netA much needed and compelling conversation is occurring in North Carolina public education. The topic is how to transform the high school core curriculum to better prepare our students for global competition.

The latest recommendations from the Globally Competitive Students (GCS) committee, an ad hoc committee advising the State Board of Education on new graduation requirements, calls for replacing two units of foreign language with one unit each of art and CTE.

In the friendly spirit of “co-opetition,” various departmental voices are lobbying hard for inclusion. Three departments (Career and Technical Education, The Arts, and Foreign Languages) would undergo significant growing pains if the 21st Century mandate reigned down that all high school students would be required to take some degree of these courses.

The teacher voices in this discussion are significant, loud and clear in a recent News-Times article by Cheryl Burke.

Career and Technical Education:

West Carteret High School agriculture education teacher Glen Howell was among the many CTE proponents to attend regional meetings. Mr. Howell and WCHS sophomore Jonathan Smith, vice president of the school’s Future Farmers of America (FFA) Chapter, attended a regional meeting in Richlands.

“We didn’t feel that CTE folks had been given a fair chance to speak about what we do for children,” said Mr. Howell.

“Students need to be exposed to the real world of work, leadership development and work ethic skills,” he said. “That is sometimes difficult to present in an academic classroom.”

Mr. Howell added that it was a shame that educators are being forced to battle over time in a students’ high school career.

“Who gets to say what is most important in a child’s life?” he asked.

The Arts:

But the arts are also an important part of a students’ well-rounded education, according to West Carteret art teacher Cindy Bunch.

Ms. Bunch said she had received several e-mails from the N.C. Association of Educators urging teachers to turn out for regional meetings.

“The arts teach students to think creatively and independently,” she said. “It’s all about finding solutions to challenges.”

She added that students involved in arts tend to perform better academically.

Foreign Languages:

West Carteret French teacher Marie Hurst supported starting foreign languages at an earlier age.

“In Europe they start at the elementary school and many students speak three languages,” she said. “Our students only get a hint of foreign language in the middle school. And Spanish is all that we offer (at the middle school level).”

The only middle school that offers a foreign language is Morehead City Middle School, which offers Spanish.

Ms. Hurst added that foreign language courses provide students with a broader knowledge of cultures, history and the English language.

“You study subjects, verbs and sentence structure,” she said. “I’ve had students tell me they improved in their English courses from taking foreign language.”

The Principal:

“All of these courses are an important part of a child’s overall education. They need the opportunity to be involved in all of these courses,” Mr. Patrick said.

He pointed out that many other nations have longer school years and start foreign languages at a younger age.

“I think the American school system needs to go back and look at how we educate children. In the world that students are entering today, they need all of these to compete.”

We in education love to gorge more requirements into the traditional model just like a kid loves to eat more cake. Sooner or later, we reach a breaking point.

Speaking of cake, the one glaring omission I see is that no attention is given to increasing the Healthful Living requirement beyond the one semester unit during the freshman year. This is troublesome when you combine increasing longevity and an age of abundance. If all of our students are to be globally competitive, then it only follows that all of our students need to practice healthful living.

The curriculum architects at the state department are faced with a daunting task. We in Carteret are fortunate to have one of our own, Tamara Berman Ishee (Director of Secondary Education), on the Globally Competitive Student Committee.

How can we best accomplish this ambitious transformation of the high school core curriculum? Do we extend the high school day and/or year? Do we shift some of the core curriculum down to middle and elementary? Do we need to think of this more as a K-16 initiative? K-99?

What do you think about the core curriculum for globally competitive students? What stays on the island? What gets the boot?

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