122. What to Teach

Since I can remember, most elementary schools have predictably taught reading, writing, spelling, handwriting, mathematics, science, social studies, music, art, physical education, and library skills. The last four were labelled “specials,” which usually meant that the regular classroom teacher was not in charge of teaching them; there were other teachers for them, and the classroom teacher got a break.
Questioning the rituals and traditions of a system can be difficult when one is part of the system. It can really annoy participants in the system, who often get more questions than they want from outside the system. I know this from personal experience; I learned, over the years, to choose my battles, and to stand my ground when I had the best chance of having an effect. And so I occasionally ignored my own priorities and taught children things I didn’t really think I should be teaching them.
But now I’m retired, and though I don’t want to make unnecessary trouble for people who are still working within the system, my old questions are still there, and I want to ask them. If I get some people to think or rethink, I’ll be satisfied for now.
Why is it that so many schools teach the same subjects to children who have such diverse interests and needs? Why are four of the subjects so often taught by specialists? Why is science, for example, taught by the regular classroom teacher, while art is taught by a specialist? What is the implicit message children receive? That art is too important to be taught by a regular teacher? That it’s not important enough? That it requires special skills that the regular classroom teacher just doesn’t have?
I think any system can benefit by occasionally shifting focus from the trees to the forest. It can be irritating to the people who are caught up in the details of the system. I remember hearing groans at staff meetings when rituals and traditions were questioned. Isn’t there
enough to think about without asking old questions we asked years ago? Yes, there is enough to think about. But nevertheless, there’s more.

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