by James Bailey |

Last spring the New York Times published a couple of articles in its "Disrupting Education" series about the growing role of Silicon Valley in the schools. The second one ended with the obvious observation that we should be thinking about the curriculum as a whole, not just narrowly about coding (although procedural literacy is fundamental.)

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What if some other subject—say data science (which involves computing)—turns out to be more important and broadly applicable for students lives, careers and communities?

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The article closes with a quote from the founder of code.org that is spot on:

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We have a lot of debate in this country about how to teach and not about enough about what to teach.

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Since this sounds like, and perhaps was, a quote from this selfschooling.com website, and since selfschooling.com has unique resources for teaching data science, we followed up with the journalist. She had no interest, and her reason was a bit surprising. Basically, she said she was focused on companies that had the resources to affect millions of students. She might get around to covering startups later.

Come again? Whence the assumption that the conversation about schooling is a competition among companies, with the big ones having the loudest voices? That turns out to be a silly question. The conversation about curriculum has indeed been reduced to a competition among companies, because academia has forfeited its role. Graduate schools of education are only interested in measuring the effectiveness of whatever happens to be taught. It would be highly annoying if that whatever were to change out from under them.

In the article the president of Microsoft correctly refers back to America's response to Sputnik, which impacted the school's curriculum big time (calculus in, Latin out, etc.) A lot of the work was done at the so-called Cambridge Convention. There were, however, zero companies represented at this meeting. No Pearsons. No IBMs. All academics. Angela Walmsley describes it in her History of the New Mathematics:

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The sole purpose of this meeting, which became known as the Cambridge Conference, was to discuss the future of secondary school mathematics in a place where mathematicians could consult with physicists who had been working on revising the curriculum for over two years.

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Now it is all companies. Just like the normal schools, they have a vested interest in keeping the curriculum the same. There is huge money to be made in providing whizzy ways to entice students to study stuff they have no use for. If the stuff that does the enticing provides a new stream of "assessment" data for the normal schools to busy themselves with, we have ourselves a twofer. To be continued.

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