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A National Curriculum in Australia? (Jennifer Buckingham)

In Australia, the idea of a national curriculum has been on the federal government agenda for several years. The 2004-05 federal budget contained a reference to investigating the feasibility of an Australian Certificate of Education. A report was duly commissioned but the potential ACE was buried under the avalanche of attention given to private school funding.

A year later, The Australian newspaper began its campaign for curriculum reform and as a result discussion of a national curriculum has reached a prominent position in the daily news. The problems with state curricula were given a public working over by former education minister Brendan Nelson, and now current federal education minister Julie Bishop has staked her claim on the issue and is gunning for reform.

According to Ms Bishop and her supporters, including The Australian, state-developed curricula are rabidly anti-government, radically left-wing and outrageously politically correct. Numerous examples from syllabus and curriculum documents demonstrate how schools are being used as vehicles for social engineering, with a decline in academic rigour.

Professional teacher organizations and state governments are united in their opposition to Bishop’s plan to overhaul curriculum, but for different reasons. English and history teachers associations and teachers unions do not dispute that curriculum has become ideologically-charged and even defend its right to be so. State governments, however, deny that their curricula are biased and intellectually impoverished and reject any need for reform.

In the court of public opinion, it appears that the federal minister is gaining ground. A recent poll revealed that 69 per cent of Australians are in favour of a national curriculum. University academics have also been confirming what parents and employers have long suspected – that there has been a significant decline in standards and therefore in the abilities of high school graduates. It is not just English

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More on Constructivism (John Dewey)

Ardent Readers:

Apparently my last missive ruffled some feathers, which I knew would happen sooner or later.  It is one thing to express self-righteous indignation about ed school, but when it crosses the line into criticism of constructivist or “discovery learning”, then it’s like a Congressman talking about revamping Social Security. 

The terms “constructivist” and “discovery learning” mean different things to different people.  To the ed school gurus as well as book publisher/snake oil salesmen peddling their wares to school boards who eat this stuff up (and make the final decisions on what textbooks to adopt) it means students construct their own knowledge out of whole cloth.  To the more traditional-minded, it means the connection that students make between information given to them directly and applied in new situations, or which lead to new insights.  

Students may remember having made a connection all on their own, but may not remember the guidance and information that a teacher or book imparted that got them there.  There may be an “illusion” of pure discovery at work here: people see what they want to see.  One interesting case in point is the TIMSS Videotape classroom study of math and science classes in other countries.  When the video was released, constructivists said “See? See? Japanese students work in groups, are given challenging problems without instruction on how to solve them, and the student has to invent his or her own solutions.” 

But an interesting paper by Alan Siegel of NYU in fact shows just the opposite. (You can find his paper here, but best to right click and then download rather than try to view online; it takes forever that way which may result in adding to an already foul mood for some of you after reading what

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Is Constitution Day Unconstitutional? (Dan Lips)

America’s schools and universities recently marked the birth of the U.S. Constitution by complying with a federal mandate to teach about America’s most important document. But the congressionally-directed celebration may turn out to be a lesson in irony-at least in one Nebraska high school.

Congress created Constitution Day in 2004 when Senator Robert Byrd (D-West Virginia) inserted a provision into an appropriations bill to require that all schools and universities receiving federal funding to celebrate “Constitution and Citizenship Day” by holding an educational program on the U.S. Constitution on September 17. (This year, the 17 falls on a Sunday, and so the government granted schools leeway to hold the lessons this week.)

Few would disagree that it is important for students and citizens to understand our founding principles and American history. But Senator Byrd’s amendment stands at odds with the Constitution, and one public school teacher in Lincoln, Nebraska, has picked up on this irony and is sharing it with his students.

David Nebel’s AP Politics and Government class will comply with the federal mandate by considering whether the federal mandate is constitutional, reports Margaret Reist in the Lincoln Journal Star. Students will review the Constitution and write papers arguing for or against the mandate’s constitutionality. In the spirit of “Citizenship Day,” students are encouraged to send letters and a copy of their essays to their Nebraska senators and Sen. Byrd.

Now that’s making the Constitution come alive, even if it’s not exactly what Sen. Byrd intended.

Congress itself could benefit from a similar exercise. The Constitution provides strong guidance on which powers are delegated to Congress and the federal government and which powers are left to the states and people. It does not grant Congress any explicit role in education. Indeed, the word “education” does not appear anywhere in the Constitution.

But the

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