Curriculum stresses cultures from King Arthur's time to Japan

August 08, 1994|By Tanya Jones | Tanya Jones,Sun Staff Writer

Constructing a model of Mount Fuji, decorating paper kimonos and celebrating Grandparents' Day are a few of the ways kindergartners at Roland Park Elementary/Middle and five other Maryland elementary schools might learn about Japan this year.

It's all part of an experimental curriculum that is designed to provide a broad cultural blueprint for the children as they learn basic skills.

The program, developed by "Cultural Literacy" author E. D. Hirsch Jr., is based on his belief that "everyone within a culture would share a base of knowledge," said Mary Lusk, associate director of the Core Knowledge Foundation, which wrote the curriculum.

Although the curriculum stresses content, teachers will incorporate skills such as grammar and reading to meet the educational requirements of their district and state.

"It's better to teach what a noun and a verb is with a sentence about King Arthur rather than with a sentence about a cat crossing the lawn," Ms. Lusk said.

This summer, teachers and principals from Roland Park and Lyndhurst Elementary in Baltimore, Catonsville Elementary in Baltimore County and elementary schools in three other counties have been planning lessons for the program. "They normally would not learn about ancient Greece or Native Americans so early," said Patricia Williams, a Lyndhurst special education teacher who attended a recent workshop about the new curriculum. "This is Leonardo da Vinci, the Mona Lisa, the Crusades. I mean, this is exciting."

The program also seeks to standardize lessons -- students in a particular grade will learn the same information no matter where they go to school.

Educators at the workshop said current standards for what children learn vary from school to school, and even from teacher to teacher.

"Content [in instruction] is out of vogue, and it's a crime," said Maurice B. Howard, city assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction. In many schools "no one knows what's being taught from grade level to grade level," he said.

With the new curriculum, a fourth-grade teacher beginning a lesson on the Vikings and Norse mythology could be sure that all her students had learned about Roman mythology in third grade and Greek mythology in second grade, Ms. Lusk said.

The book by Mr. Hirsch, a University of Virginia professor, and an accompanying list of items that every American should know were criticized by some educators for not being culturally diverse enough.

Ms. Lusk said that the curriculum includes a broad range of cultural information.

Judith Jackson, whose children are entering first and second grades at Roland Park, said she questioned at first whether the curriculum would leave out any cultures.

So she reviewed it herself.

"I found some African tales; I found some Indian tales," Mrs. Jackson said. "I didn't see any slants that I think would be offensive to anyone."

About 150 schools around the country use the curriculum, Ms. Lusk said.

The Abell Foundation is funding the first year of Maryland's pilot program with a $22,000 grant to each school in the program.

The money is used to pay teachers as they work during the summer to research and plan lessons; it can also be used to pay for extra books and materials.

Calvert County's Huntingtown Elementary, Cecil County's North East Elementary and Dorchester County's Vienna Elementary will also be using the curriculum.

Schools that wanted to teach the pilot curriculum applied to the State Department of Education and were chosen by the department and the Abell Foundation.

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