Curriculum Challenges in the 21st Century

Contemporary education writer Charles Haynes once argued that the purpose of education was to prepare citizens to participate in our democracy. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan believes the purpose of education is to prepare individuals to compete in our economic system.

This argument goes back at least to the Renaissance when Philosophers argued about the worth of learning science if the scientist has no moral character.

Colleges recently dealt with this issue. After a number of high profile cases of greed leading to ethic violations, colleges instituted mandatory courses in business ethics. While these courses of today are too late for Bernie Madoff, one hopes they have been successful in deterring others from seeing Mr. Madoff as a role model.  The obvious point is that colleges and universities have recognized that youth of today are perhaps incapable of participating simultaneously in both our democracy with its system of laws, and our economic system with its winner take all approach.

As a teacher in high-poverty elementary education I have recognized many students do not come prepared socially emotionally for school. Others are not prepared academically. Can curriculums be developed to finally solve this dilemma and put the timeless debate between Haynes and Duncan as well as the social scientists from centuries back to rest? Can a curriculum promote moral character required for both positive economic citizenship as well political citizenship?

These programs may exist now and they are:

  1. Caring School Community (CSC)
  2. Promoting Alternative Thinking Strategies (PATHS)
  3. Skills, Opportunities and Recognition (SOAR)
  4. Strong Start

Caring School Community (CSC)

Caring School Community (CSC) is a K-6 curriculum enabling participating schools to develop into a caring community of learners. They create bonds amongst peers and even between children of different age levels. They accomplish this through: (a) class meetings to improve school climate, (b) buddy tutors to engage cross age relationship building, (c) activities designed to involve the entire family, and d. innovative lessons for teachers to use designed to integrate social emotional skills into the academic curriculum (Weissberg & O’Brien, 2004).


In a longitudinal study covering grades 1-3 over 3 years, PATHS was found to reduce aggression and increase prosocial behaviors (Conduct Problems Prevention Research Group, 2010). PATHS is designed for at risk young children who are beginning to demonstrate anti-social behavior. The PATHS curriculum is designed to be taught by classroom teachers with support from project staff. PATHS works with teachers to develop a common language, and provide cues that lead to the acquisition of prosocial skills (Conduct Problems Prevention Research Group, 2010). Posters are placed throughout the school and rules are developed for conflict management that may result when children are in the playground. Lessons are taught frequently with 35-40 lessons taught throughout the school year designed to enhance self-control, develop social awareness, and promote problem solving skills.

Skills, Opportunities and Recognition (SOAR)

SOAR has been developed with the purpose of involving parents, strengthening teacher instructional practices, and constructing opportunities for children to display the prosocial skills they have learned in the classroom. “Six years after the (SOARS) intervention ended, students reported engaging less frequently in heavy drinking and sexual intercourse, having fewer sexual partners, and engaging  less frequently in violent acts and misbehavior at school” (Weissberg & O’Brien, 2004, p. 91).

Strong Start

Strong Start is a K – 2 curriculums. Strong Start aims to prevent emotional and behavioral problems, promote social and emotional wellness, It can be used as a both a targeted intervention and a universal method for prevention (Caldarella, Christensen, Kramer, & Kronmiller, 2009). In their study of the Strong Start curriculum Caldarella et. al (2009) concluded that Strong Start improves social and emotional learning resulting in improved behavior among students exposed to this curriculum.

Social Emotional Factors

Daniel Willingham writes that children enter schools with different levels of ability to self-regulate behavior, that this ability to self-regulate is determined by what happened in the home environment (Willingham, 2011). Willingham maintains that students with low self-regulation skills do less well academically than students with high self-regulation skills. He also recognizes that stress is a factor in preventing the accumulation of abilities to self-regulate behavior (Willingham 2011).

In the adjustment to the first years of school children experience significant stress (Daniels, 2011). Recognizing behavior problems before the child enters school is key to maximizing learning time. It enables teachers to spend more time on instruction and less time responding to behavior problems (Daniels2011). The problem here is that many parents living in poverty are not able expose their children to prekindergarten or kindergarten camps in the summer before school, as the community Daniels studied did.

I’d like to hear what others think. I would be particularly interested to hear from teachers who have worked with these curriculums to see what their thoughts are.


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