New Pilgrim ChroniclesClick banner to order, click here
for book review

New Pilgrim ChroniclesClick banner to order, click here
for book review

An Ideal School District
Thoughts on true education
by Freethinker Bob

In the following, an ideal school district from a curriculum development perspective will be detailed. In order to do so, the following questions will be addressed:

  1. What would the schools in such a district look like?
  2. How would the district's students and staff be trained?
  3. Around what curricular foundation would the district's curriculum be centered?
  4. What advantages would children in said district have over other districts?
  5. What would make this school district ideal and why?

A vision of the ideal school district from the perspective of curriculum development could best be described as a hybrid of reconstructionism and progressivism. Progressivism is curriculum that is more student-centered and aimed at promoting "how to think, not what to think." (Hunkins & Orstein, p. 44) Progressivism seeks to make instruction and subjects differentiated, democratic and interdisciplinary. Reconstructionism, meanwhile, is more society and class-centered, and emphasizes direct action. (p. 50) Reconstructionism seeks to make methods of instruction and subjects taught forever experimental, questioning and changing.

Being a reconstructionism-progressivism hybrid, an ideal district would first take into consideration the negative historical intents behind compulsory public schooling in the United States.

As Robert Sterling points out in his 2001 essay "Apt Pupils," ".youth are trained very early in how they are expected to be useful. While mass education claims to be mainly about reading, writing and arithmetic, the "covert curriculum".consists "of three courses: one in punctuality, one in obedience, and on in rote, repetitive work." (p. 191) In other words, curriculum in schools today is rooted in the intent of making sure assembly lines and office cubicles have a constant supply of complacent, dependent, dead-gray workers and consumers.

An ideal district would also take
into account that the educational system Americans know today was not designed just to benefit an industrial economy and corporate state, but a military one. As Sterling paraphrases retired-teacher, author and 1991 New York State Teacher of the Year John Taylor Gatto, after Napoleon's France defeated Prussia German philosopher Johann Fichte laid the defeat on the fact that ".the Prussian people were too independent-thinking and weren't committed to important values like being eager to sacrifice oneself for society." (p. 193)

As a result, by 1819 a compulsory school system steeped in curriculum designed to regiment and conform citizens early on was instituted. The result? Two world wars, millions of global deaths and a schooling system that not only dampers one's intellectual curiosity and natural instincts but perhaps encourages Columbines.

An ideal district would also consider the negative roles teachers and administrators are expected to play in implementing such covert curriculums. As Gatto notes in his book Dumbing Us Down, there are seven universal lessons taught by mass schooling in America. The first, confusion, continues on unabated today in the wake of "No Child Left Behind" and its increased emphasis on standardized testing. Confusion is when teachers teach more facts and not enough connections, thereby not showing how things are relevant and can work together and interdependently. (pgs. 2-4)

The second and third universal lessons are class position and indifference. In preparation for their societal positions in life, students are often grouped by districts and parents/guardians into "intelligence" classes like special needs or gifted and remain there until leaving school. At that time, these students' dependency on needing to be grouped leads them to organizations and institutions that will do it for them.

This in-turn ensures a factional society where status replaces empathy. With indifference, meanwhile, the school day is set-up so that students are expected to get involved in a 50- or 90-minute lesson but then when the bell rings to forget it. The real lesson? No work is worth finishing so why care too deeply about anything. (Gatto, p. 4-6)

The fourth and fifth universal lessons are emotional dependency and intellectual dependency. Emotional dependency refers to how districts, administrators, teachers and parents/guardians never allow students to learn independence and responsibility. This ensures an engrained need on the part of the student that can be exploited later in life by anyone from employers to advertisers.

In much the same vein, intellectual dependency is perpetuated in schools. The state via its standards and district via its staff always decides for the student what is to be taught and when. The student is not encouraged to seek out knowledge but instead defer to intellectual "superiors" for meanings in life. (Gatto, pgs. 6-9)

The sixth and seventh universal lessons are provisional self-esteem and "one can't hide." Provisional self-esteem means a student is taught that his/her value is based on scores and ranking. In other words, the message becomes that one's self-perception is based almost exclusively on the ratings of outsiders. "One can't hide", meantime, refers to the idea that one has no private time or space; everything must be done for the prescribed "good" of the collective. This, of course, is clearly seen in a society where "play-dates" and the over scheduling of extracurricular activities have become the norm in childhood. (Gatto, pgs. 9-19)

According to Gatto, it takes around 100 hours for a solid curriculum to teach the fundamentals of education to individuals craving for learning. Children have this craving until the seven lessons above drill it out of them usually by grades five or six.

Letter grades, for example, are used to kill said inquisitiveness and turn learning into unnecessary competition. Why should the student make an attempt to learn something new when there are penalties for doing so? Furthermore, why would a parent push a child to learn for self-betterment when they—like their child—have already tied the child's educational "worth" to an "A", "B", "C", "D" or "E"? (Sterling, p. 192)

Along with grades, schools help discourage real learning by pitting students against one another. According to Robert Sterling, "If people can't compete in such a system, they will [then] resort to other techniques (bullying and social ostracizing) to punish and hinder those who compete with them." (p. 192) The purpose of such institutional structuring is to teach people their place in life.

If they, for example, are in a position of higher status, they need not empathize with the situations of their social "lowers." Is it any wonder the government and corporate-sector pushed the economy to the breaking-point with the housing market boondoggle and then decided to help remedy it by giving bailout money to multibillion dollar corporations like CitiBank and GM?

So what would the schools in my district look like? Well, ideally, a district would not exist because it could not principally conform to so many already-existing state mandates. Two examples of these mandates are attendance policies and letter-grading. My ideal district would employ neither attendance-taking policies nor grade evaluations. In addition, an ideal district would conclude any formal, institutional instruction at grade five or six when students have essentially maximized the educational fundamentals.

From a more realistic standpoint, however, an ideal district would simply mirror the time-tested curriculum of Montessori. As such, teachers and students would be trained along the lines of an elementary school curriculum based on self-directed, non-competitive, and cooperative-activities. These would help each student individually develop a strong self-image and higher levels of academic and social competence in order to face challenges with optimism.

Furthermore, students would be regularly encouraged to make decisions from an early age eventually learning to become effective problem-solvers who can make rational choices, manage their time and work well with others by exchanging and negotiating ideas. (

So around what curricular foundation would an ideal district's curriculum be centered? An ideal district would first utilize curriculum that always views the student holistically by placing an emphasis on psychological and social development. Secondly, the curriculum would stress that the student be an active, integral part of the classroom environment. The teacher, meantime, would act as a facilitator and guide.

Third, the curriculum would encourage the development of internal self-discipline as well as intrinsic motivation. A peace, conflict-resolution component would also be a formal part of my ideal district's curriculum. The curriculum would additionally adapt to each child's learning pace. (

The curriculum in an ideal district would additionally encourage students to recognize and correct own errors as part of the learning process. Furthermore, progress in the learning process would be detailed via multiple formats like portfolios of students' work, not through report cards and test scores. Learning would be reinforced internally through the student's own repetition of activities.

 The curriculum  would also stress  care of self and the  learning  environment as  vital to the learning  process. Along with  this, the curriculum would also emphasize the teaching of shared leadership and egalitarian interaction. Students would be encouraged to regularly teach, collaborate and help one another. Perhaps most important, however, the curriculum would be multidisciplinary and interwoven. This would foster a love of learning environment where students could choose work based on their own interests and abilities. (

So what advantages would students in such a district have over those in other districts? Well, such a district's students would develop higher levels of independence, empathy for others and a lifelong love of learning. They would see school as not boring or a competition for the prize of grades. Also, they would not receive a homogenized, "one-size-fits-all" education.

By grade five or six a student and their parents/guardians would be able to decide whether institutional schooling should continue, or whether education should come by way other options like apprenticeships, individual tutoring and so on. After all, does every student truly need let alone benefit from receiving twelve years of receiving a standardized, elementary-middle school-high school education regiment?


[1] Grand Blanc Montessori. [accessed August 9, 2009].

[2] Gatto, John Taylor. Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling. Gabriola Island, BC, Canada: New Society Publishers, 2002.

[3] Hunkins, Francis P., and Allan C. Orstein. Curriculum: Foundations, Principles, and Issues. New York: Pearson, 2004.

[4] Sterling, Robert. "Apt Pupils." In You Are Being Lied To, edited by Russ Kick. New York, New York: Disinformation, 2001.

"Even a broken clock is right twice a day." --Tony Soprano


Brian Wright Professional Services

Affiliate Sale Items




Web Hosting from $7.95 a month!


Coffee Coaster Blog
Your Ad Here
Main | Columns | Movie Reviews | Book Reviews | Articles | Guest