A world without textbooks or homework and where getting the wrong answer is celebrated may sound like an elementary student’s dream, but if such a fantasy becomes a reality, it would damage a generation of young minds. That is, however, exactly what is happening in many public elementary schools.
Recently, I spoke with a fourth-grade teacher from the midwest, who shared her experience witnessing the shifting of curriculum from history and science towards overt political indoctrination, all to the detriment of students’ learning. To protect this person’s privacy, she will remain nameless.
In supervising fourth grade, she teaches a little bit of everything: math, reading, language arts, social studies, and science. Recently, her school district, like many others, switched to an “integrated curriculum.” On paper, an integrated curriculum sounds like a fair idea. Students learn subjects by exploring their intersections to deepen understanding. In practice, however, the curriculum all but eradicates history while working to push politics on impressionable children.
As the teacher reports, “It says ‘integrated curriculum,’ and some of its science, and some of its social studies but it really isn’t. It’s more of a push for the progressive movement.” Indeed, it’s a movement that has fundamentally altered her curriculum. As the school district’s new curricula are online, outsiders have the ability to dictate curriculum to teachers. The result? This teacher’s science and history classes were gutted.
History Deemed Expendable
In history classes, she taught things like U.S. government, the explorers, and the Civil War from a nuanced perspective that is still accessible to her young students. She told me:
I used to do a whole unit an Abraham Lincoln, and for some reason, it’s just all of that is gone, based on an integrated curriculum. When you look at our curriculum, they’ve removed everything that was in the textbook. They say, ‘Don’t use the textbook, and you don’t need to teach that anymore.’
The kids are missing out on learning why there was a civil war in the first place. They don’t learn the true meaning of slavery and how it got resolved because it’s just disappeared from the curriculum.
The only thing I can teach in social studies was a little bit of government. There wasn’t anything anymore about the Civil War; that was completely gone. I felt bad about that.
I spoke to a friend, who’s a fifth-grade teacher, and her Revolutionary War unit was gone. She used to do a great job on the colonists of America.
Science Replaced With Propaganda
Before the integrated curriculum began, this teacher engaged her students in an array of scientific studies. In the new curriculum, however:
My last unit of teaching was just a long unit on petroleum and how bad it was. It would talk about oil spills. We’d have an experiment that kids have to mix tempera paint and oil to simulate an oil spill, so when that happened, the kids would see how awful it was on plants and animals.
In reality, these are few and far between, where we have oil spills and causing great damage. But they take something that was awful that happened back in history, we’ll take that and say, ‘This is why no one should never use oil or gas.’
They’re trying to tell the kids that you are bad if you think that you should drive a car or a school bus without it being with renewable energy. I’m teaching renewable energy in the 4th grade and feeling that is there should be a debate on it, and it should be taught both ways.
Instead, it’s video after video after video how we killed animals, how it’s bad for the environment. It’s one-sided education instead of the time for debate. That is what it’s really changed in the elementary school year. It’s a one-sided script.
Science class under this curriculum mandate is not science, but political propaganda. Students have lost out on foundational skills that would benefit them greatly in middle and high school.
They don’t give you the base level of what these little students need, and so these younger kids are not experiencing what the past children learn, which was things like: how does the machine work?
They’re not looking at the different levels of electricity. They’re not looking at anything about the water cycle. It’s all in the electronics area or it’s always on the Internet. Nothing is about reading a book and learning about following directions anymore. It goes backward.
Science is taught in a very progressive manner. No longer the kids ever going to see a textbook in schools. It’s called ’21st-century learning’ so therefore without a textbook now.
I go to the Internet to get the curriculum guide and it’s about computers and making robots work. They’re just kind of step by step guides. Instead of learning where the energy comes from, we go right to the Internet and we just build a robot, but they don’t even know what’s going on. They don’t learn how the robot works.
Beloved Projects on the Chopping Block
In a tragic bit of irony, even the beneficial use of an integrated curriculum was taken from students. Every year, this teacher would allow each student to research a state and give a presentation and report about it.
The kids really had a great understanding of states, regions, and the economic reasons for them why you might want to grow up and go somewhere else based on temperature, based on jobs, based on the natural resources of each state…
It was so much fun doing state reports. Now, sadly to say, I’m told not to, because there’s no time for it. That it would be a waste of time. It was probably the best thing about 4th grade.
They say, ‘What are you doing, teaching states? Why are you letting the kids do a state report?’ I said, ‘It’s reading, it’s writing, it’s research.’ There is so much to learn, and now I’m not allowed to do that because of the integrated curriculum.
These state projects were not just social studies. They taught kids valuable research and communication skills. The cross-section of skills that coalesced into a beloved annual tradition is how an integrated curriculum should function. Now it’s gone, and so is the teacher’s ability to be creative in working with her students.
Throwing Out Textbooks
This teacher’s district, like many others, has not just done away with history and science, but also textbooks in general.
The frustrating part of being a teacher in elementary grades is that they have no foundational skills. The textbooks that were used went through the different states and regions, the government, Abraham Lincoln… As far as studying history, we kind of lost all of that because I was told, ‘Please discard all of your textbooks.’ That was frustrating, and I asked why over and over and over again and was told that we now have an integrated curriculum, so do not use textbooks.
Ditching all books for computers teaches students to disregard the information that can be found in books, the teacher noted. Instead, they are being taught that everything can and should be learned online. Despite this push towards the internet, the students are not taught how to evaluate online sources for accuracy.
In youth and inexperience, it can be easy to mistake a valid source of historical or scientific facts with a poor alternative. This is a recipe for ill-prepared children armed with a legion of bad facts.
Parents None the Wiser
With the removal of important foundational skills and basic subjects, one would think the school district parents would be up-in-arms about the schools’ curriculum shift. Conservative parents especially should be fighting the school’s attempted indoctrination of their children. However, they are unable to have opinions on their children’s education, because they have no idea what’s happening.
The parents don’t even know what’s going on because it’s all at school. We hardly give homework anymore, which is so frustrating. I just disagree with a lot of things, but they keep it in school so that the parents don’t have to worry. The parents question very little and they just assume the teacher knows what they’re doing.
With limited homework, parents lack a window into what is being taught to their children. Likewise, the students are losing an important aspect of early education — drilling foundational subjects, like basic math, in order to better understand in the future.
It’s Great to Get the Wrong Answer
Just like an integrated curriculum, a “growth mindset” sounds great in theory. Rather than focus on shame of past mistakes, students can use their errors to learn and grow. Yet often, the in-school application of a so-called “growth mindset” actually keeps students from learning and growing. The teacher explains:
The way of teaching is to get them to get the answer first, and then some of the kids won’t know how they got there because they’re always in a group setting. We have to work together. We’re always talking about cooperative learning. I feel that too much cooperative learning now. We don’t have the skill base anymore.
We test them, but by the time we’ve tested them, they really have never learned anything in the first place. We know they’re at the bottom and they stay at the bottom because nobody sitting there saying, ‘Well let’s just skill and drill.’ They’ve left out all the basic skills. They left out drills.
No longer can a teacher do things like math flashcards, because that’s not acceptable. Some principals think that that would belittle the children if they see that they’re not getting their math facts fast.
We’ve changed a lot of ways that used to work in the past by saying, ‘We can’t identify the kids that are low.’ So they try to pretend that that’s why we need cooperative learning. Just give the answer. Don’t let them say the wrong answer and feel bad about it.
And then, they come up with this new math, and just say, ‘Getting the wrong answer is good because that helps your brain grow.’ So we’ve got this growth mindset, which is fine but we’re really allowing kids to get wrong answers and not be curious about how do we get to this right.
The fear of belittling or saddening students is directly keeping them from learning and thriving academically.