Before we go any further: Bill Wong is a construct; focusing on him reminds us of the level at which education is delivered and makes impact.
The short and sweet of "what to teach" is "what you're told to teach" if you work in public education. Unless you're working on the fringes (e.g., Special Education) -- then there is more, but not much, latitude. [See the earlier entry, Bill Wong I. "What to Teach" here .
The next day after RP had met with me Bill's Superintendent and Principal called. He had excitedly summarized our discussion to them (Aren't small schools great). He outlined Bill W's profile of test scores and "rhapsodized" [Superintendent's word] over and the impact that Bill's high involvement in Ethics might bring to the class.
For their part they were a bit dismayed. To me, at least, they made their expectations clear: RP would, when the time was appropriate [Bill is 11 years, 2 months old, not yet ready for RP's high school History classroom] teach Bill W what he taught other students in the same class: The District and State Approved American History Curriculum. Further, he would use the same text for all and would get through all thirty chapters over the course of the same year.
I observed to them that I was dismayed that "what to teach" is not in the teacher's hands . The superintendent agreed that "how to teach" is much more in the teacher's control, but added that the teacher has "significant" control over the "what?"; even if to a lesser degree. How, I asked, is there real influence on the "what"? The principal responded: by means of adjustments of student projects to suit individual interest and readiness.
OK. Sure, this can be a part of History class' activities, but this level of teacher control can be likened, I argued, to allowing a passenger to adjust the volume on the radio and to open the glove box at will, while control of destination, speed, safety, bathroom and gas stops remains with the driver.
And, I might add, the most significant lack of control is yet to be stated. The student has even less control than the volume-adjusting teacher. To what extent does this correlate with her or his investment, or disinvestment, of energy and focus in learning about the living of a full and worthy life?
Bill's profile above is our imperfect stand-in for the most advanced edge of his consciousness about, caring for and understanding of existence. Each of us has our own version of Bill's profile. I believe that, before we decide to stay faithful to the economies of delivering a canned series of lessons on any subject for any age, we should study the possible gains, and, yes, the costs, of having education be located exactly at that edge of readiness for each individual.
I said as much to the two administrators who had visited me. They left shaking their heads at the envisioned chaos that would follow implementation of the "cutting edge" approach to individual educations. What do you think.
More entries in this series are forthcoming. Central to their concern will be that cutting edge and how we use it to define and negotiate each individual's path to a future.