Traditional curriculum takes a liberal arts approach because the adults in the last half of the 20th century decided that well-roundedness was the most important outcome. Over the last 20 years, however, a competing approach has gained strength, one that makes a young person immediately productive upon graduation from high school.
High schools have made a number of attempts to diversify curriculum offered in a classroom or workshop setting, and to tailor courses to license and certify students in trades and professions. Students can follow career paths so that they can be immediately employable in society upon their exit from the public school system. Opinions as to whether this is an improvement in school curriculum vary. Many parents still want to see well-rounded students even if at the expense of their children being workforce ready.
Technology has surfaced as a fly in the ointment, however. It has been integrated into society to such an extent that making students workforce ready has changed in nature. Knowing how to use software for various purposes and how to go online for pertinent information has superseded well-roundedness or a streamlined set of trade and professional skills as the most important guiding principle.
Use of technology is finding itself in the driver's seat for the next phase in school curriculum improvement. But that's a problem because of the cost of computers. The public schools have not been able to find a good way for providing them so that students can access them enough to develop the necessary skills. But even if that problem disappeared, the larger issue is that the curriculum has not changed in the core courses that have traditionally been deemed necessary in order to be well-rounded. Thus, skill development in using software or learning to use online resources has taken a back seat..
The current structure for schooling may have taken students as far down the road as it possibly can take them. Those in charge of school curriculum improvement should not look at repairing the road or constructing bridges and overpasses to circumvent the rough spots, but should find new territory on which to construct the infrastructure for a new mode of transportation. Instead of passing bonds for new buildings for new classrooms with desks for students, bonds should be passed for internet cafes around a city, for new curriculum using formats for streaming the content of courses, for teachers as tutors in one-on-one online environments.
To reach that point, a very large shift in what is important for children to learn will have to happen. Given the emphasis on testing and passing core curriculum that present-day parents think are important, impetus for change will have to be attention-getting, abrupt, possibly radical. Whereas, Kozol's book "Savage Inequalities" did help in waking up the world of the 1970s, a book of such magnitude would not wake up today's run-at-lightning-speed virtual society. Gladstone's "Outliars" should be that wake-up book for our nation. It gives all the reasons people need for making a major shift. But, most, even in education, have allowed it to go unnoticed.
The stakes are high for our country's standing in the world in the near future. Improving and designing new curriculum to keep our country at the forefront of success, wealth, and innovation will need some courageous pioneers. Time is of the essence. Other nations would love to take top honors in offering its education as a model for the rest of the world.
But, Americans tend to rise to the occasion when they get tired of a Sugar Act, a Stamp Act, a Quartering Act, and a tea tax. A new constitution resulted the last time that occurred. I am confident the territory for a new infrastructure in education will be found in time for a bright future outlook.