Truly Personalized Learning: A Top-Down Approach to Curriculum Design

Is A Standard Curriculum Necessary?

The argument for less standardization and broader curricula in schools is not an unfamiliar one. Standardized state curriculum, standardized testing, and Common Core state standards are, with good intentions, designed to provide students with the knowledge necessary to be academically successful and to equip/adequately prepare them for a fruitful collegiate career and post-grad life. Ideally.
But these standards, the “necessary knowledge and skills,” and the concept of what it means to be successful are one-sided. Are all students really supposed to be “on the same page?” Kevin Currie-Knight, college professor and former K-12 teacher, used to be on board with the lists of standard information and “one-size-fits-all” curricula — that is, until he realized that not only is forced learning unnecessary, but unproductive.

Why Shouldn’t Individual Schools Design Their Own Curriculum?

In his article on (Foundation for Economic Education) titled “Let’s Ditch One-Size-Fits-All Schooling,” Currie-Knight raises an interesting point that just as culture and society are diverse, so should be learning. Many of the things that students as part of a collective society “need to know” are so ingrained in our culture that they would have to actively try not to learn them. The author is not arguing for schools to stop teaching essential skills such as linguistics, communication, and computers, but rather to be given the authority to decide what and how to teach within these subjects.
On the flip side of this point is the fact that much of the standardized curricula taught in schools contains information and skills that students either will not retain or need later in life. I can personally attest to having lamented this very issue while in high school myself, during a math class in which I was struggling to grasp advanced computations and formulas. The teacher, when addressing the widespread complaints about the difficulty of the material, assured us of the likelihood that we would encounter a real-life scenario when this exact knowledge would serve us well. The example she used? Standing in a grocery store aisle, comparing prices of different paper towel brands, and calculating the cost per sheet to determine whether the price per roll was appropriate. I would like to assure her today, if I could, that I have never done this, nor do I remember how to.

Curriculum Diversity for a More Well-Rounded Society

I got good grades. I tested well. I was accepted to the school of my choice, where I made Dean’s List most semesters. My field of study had nothing to do with mathematics and, in fact, I was only required to pass basic math when I got to college. I remember wishing I’d been taught other things in high school, though — actual life skills like balancing a checkbook and paying bills. I wish I’d been counseled more about the financial implications of paying for college. It would have been great to have gotten job interview and resume coaching. These are all skills I learned on my own later in life because they were necessary, not because I was forced to learn them in school (but I would’ve seen value in them if they had been).
Currie-Knight envisions a world where schools can individually design their own curricula, choose from a number of pre-determined options, or opt to forego curriculum altogether. State-mandated decisions about who should learn what, when, and why are myopic at best and are merely guesses as to what will matter or be needed in each student’s life ten years from now.
The world changes rapidly, and each student in every pocket of culture across the country is going to want and need to learn vastly different things in order to best shape their futures. Wouldn’t society as a whole benefit from a more diversely educated young workforce than one in which every individual possesses the same knowledge and has followed the same educational path?
Join the conversation! Do you think personalized learning should start from the top down, with a more open approach to school curriculum? Comment below or tag us on social media to share your opinion.