How an ‘Advanced Curriculum’ can actually ruin learning

This started out as a summary of progressivist John Dewey’s writing on Traditional VS Progressive Education entitled Experience and Education. But when I was writing it, I realized that each point needed their own post!

Let’s start with this:

“ imposition from above is opposed expression and cultivation of individuality”

There are many schools known to impose skills and information that is not age-appropriate to their students. “It imposes adult standards, subject-matter, and methods upon those who are only growing slowly toward maturity. The gap is so great that the required subject-matter, the methods of learning and of behaving are foreign to the existing capacities of the young. They are beyond the reach of the experience the young learners already possess. Consequently, they must be imposed; even though good teachers will use devices of art to cover up the imposition so as to relieve it of obviously brutal features.” (Dewey, Experience and Education)

A lot of parents are hooked into this perceived “advancement” a lot of schools sell that their students will be taught skills way above their developmental capacity. I’ve seen moms pretending to gasp in disbelief, “Imagine they’re teaching Algebra in the 3rd grade!”** saying it with a secret smile of pride that their 8 year old is already finding the value of X.

What happens ? The students will either seem like geniuses for a short amount of time and forget everything they were taught OR they will be stressed in the process of learning all this information and hate school altogether.

You may say that in a class of 40 children, there are only a few who can’t cope with an advanced curriculum. They are then labelled several things: lazy, slow, or diagnosed instantly with Attention Deficit Disorder. The parents try to figure out what is wrong with their child when in fact, most of the time, it only comes with the burden of a curriculum way outside their developmental capacity.

The teachers are frustrated that their students just don’t get it. “Even though good teachers will use devices of art to cover up the imposition so as to relieve it of obviously brutal features.“, said Dewey. I have spoken to a lot of teachers who have no choice but to implement a lesson plan way above their class’ ability. They’re positive that the kids won’t get it. And yet they continue on and even make tests and exams that cover the impossible because it is in their job description to do so. Even the teachers are giving up!

So does this make the students who pass these advancements geniuses? Maybe. Definitely, there are children whose strength is the retention of information, critical thinking, etc. I believe that there are children who can be given advanced concepts. But it has to be determined if the student is having high grades because he totally understood the concepts, comprehended the topics OR just MEMORIZED the information. Because believe me, a lot of students get high grades from memorizing facts … and then completely forget about them a minute after the exam. So where’s the learning there?

I am also for the exposure of advanced concepts to students who are ready for it. Why not go the next level if a student is obviously ready to do so?  But what about the other students whose strength lies in the arts or sports?  Unfortunately, the current curricula of advancement focus only on the academic subjects such as Math and Science. The purpose of which is the filtering out of supposedly of “slow” students instead of aiming for every child to learn.

**This is an invented example. Heaven forbid there is such a school teaching Algebra in the third grade!